My wife and I often sit together in silence, or work quietly in the garden together, unafraid of the absence of words. It’s the same when I am working at L’Arche Kent’s garden; most of the time we are all of us content just to get on with our tasks quietly. Gardening is a visual art, and like a good film, the action often proceeds in silence – especially the action of the Unseen Gardener.
For our wedding anniversary once we burrowed under the Channel to Lille, where patronal loyalty drew us to Mass at the Church of Saint Maurice. Silence was an effective part of the liturgy, as was that essential component of the motion picture, the movement of people. Blessed with a big church in a depopulated city centre, priests and congregation opened the Word in the nave before processing towards the altar after the homily.
Before the homily – silence.
For some minutes the priests joined the rest of us in contemplation before the preacher opened his lips. All were ready to listen. Silence had allowed us a period of reflection and, dare I say awe; a deeper hearing of the Word that was enhanced by the homily.
All this is a roundabout reflection on today’s Liturgy just before Corpus Christi. I am firmly in the camp that holds that the language at Mass, spoken and unspoken, should be readily understood by those present. Although mostly the priest is addressing God, there is no need for long or rare words – the Lord knows what we want to say even before we do. What can I give him, poor as I am? I can raise my heart and mind to him, but I often find myself deliberately switching the mind off, as the translation we have now is a stumbling block, inelegant, inharmonious; puzzling rather than enlightening.
And yet …