Tag Archives: silence

Cardinal Sarah and the Power of Silence

I have been rereading Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. It is such a profound and enriching book. I find this true even more so on a second reading. I feel someday the Church will call him Saint Robert.

This beautiful video gives some sense of who Cardinal Sarah is, and his insights on silence in the life of Christian faith:

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Carmelites Today: Two Examples

Not very far from my home is a Carmelite Convent. It was founded in 1957. I believe there are only a handful of nuns living there, and I believe they are all quite advanced in years, but I am not sure. I have been interested in the life of prayer and contemplation. Since reading Cardinal Robert Sarah’s amazing book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise I have become even more interested in silence and its role in the life of faith and the pursuit of holiness. So I’m curious about communities who live out lives of contemplation, prayer, and often silence.

I am also curious about why a woman would enter a convent. These two videos show some of the life inside a Carmelite convent, one in England and the other in New Zealand. The first is very beautiful, but I wonder how many women would seek out such a place. The second shows what appears to be a more vibrant life and younger nuns. Of course every video has a perspective and manipulates the material to its own ends. Regardless, I find both fascinating.

Again, I can’t say whether either one of these options presented is attractive. I don’t know what young or old women think and feel about such things, except what they say in the videos and, frankly, it’s still mysterious to me at some level. Regardless, the first video seems to present a convent of old women taking care of very old women. There are just no young women at that place from what I can tell. The second video seems more attractive, more vibrant. Still both places seem to have merely a handful of nuns. I wonder what such a video (or film) might show if one had been made a hundred years ago. Would we have seen convents of hundreds rather than a dozen or less, and of all ages more well represented?

Because of my own proclivities I noticed the nuns in the first video take the Eucharist in the hand, while in the second they recieve it on the tongue. Does this matter to the life they live? Does this reflect their ages — the older nuns in the first and the younger in the second? I have heard religious groups with more traditional practices are growing while others are fading. I can’t tell from the videos, but I wonder.

Finally, I love that there are nuns, and we need their prayers. As I wrote previously, we need more nuns (and sisters).

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Is Music a Civilizing Force?

This short talk by Roger Scruton is worth listening to in its entirety. His thoughts on silence are especially profound.

I have come to realize that rock-n-roll’s purpose, among other things, is to un-civilize the individual. We love rock-n-roll precisely because we want to be un-civilized. I do believe there is some value in occasionally “letting down one’s hair.” I really can’t say it’s all bad. But I also believe it has to be appropriately counterbalanced with beautiful music that leads us to perfection of the soul.

This idea of perfection of the soul is laughed at by moderns. No one believes in perfection anymore, in part because they don’t think it’s possible, but more profoundly because they don’t believe there is an objective standard by which to measure perfection. But they also do not believe in the soul. Why seek to perfect something that does not exist? And why go to the effort if there is no life beyond this one? I would posit, however, that the existence of music, and the phenomena of human experiences of music, are an excellent argument for the existence of the soul, its eternal nature, and its desire for perfection.

Then, when I think of the Mass, I consider its music and what that does to us. I wonder about appropriateness, and form, and the teleological purpose of liturgy. I also think about Scruton’s comment about the soul being prepared to receive good music. Can poor music at Mass harm us in some way? Can the repeated use of poor music at Mass cause the souls present to be temporarily incapable of receiving proper music when presented? How might we fix this?

Why in the world did God make music, and what is the relation between music and the human soul?

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Traditional Latin Mass at Notre-Dame de Paris to commemorate Summorum Pontificum

July 7, 2017 was the ten-year anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio (Apostolic Letter) Summorum Pontificum. Those of you who love the traditional Latin Mass know the importance of this letter.

On that anniversary a traditional Latin Mass was celebrated as a commemoration and celebration at the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral. Here it is. It’s worth watching full screen with the audio up.

Things I observe:

  • The Mass is not stuffy or old feeling. It is certainly traditional, but does not seem at all out of date. The word is “timeless.”
  • A traditional Latin Mass seems more appropriate in Notre-Dame de Paris than does a Novus Ordo Mass (which one can find on the Notre-Dame website linked above). I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. That is, the “fittingness” of the form of the Mass (NO or TLM) and the church setting.
  • The Mass is beautiful. I am not against the Novus Ordo Mass. I have experienced some beautiful ones. I also participated in the choir at a Latin Novus Ordo Mass recently celebrated in my parish. However, this Mass above is truly beautiful and feels appropriate when one thinks that the King is present in their midst.
  • They have someone to direct the singing of the congregation. We could use that in the TLM I go to once a month in a nearby parish. It can get confusing without someone directing for those of us who are still learning the TLM (which is most of us).
  • The church is full. Maybe this is always true for this famous and grand cathedral, but on a hot and humid July day in Paris (many of the congregation fan themselves) this church is packed. Apparently not a few folks in France like the old ways.
  • At times I wonder if they are used to celebrating the TLM at Notre-Dame. I see little moments that seem to indicate not everything is going 100% smooth, that they are trying hard to make it work — and they do. I could be reading into it as well.
  • There is a mix of old chant and more “recent” polyphony (18th century, etc.). At least one of the polyphonic songs (really a prayer) I sang in the choir at our Latin Novus Ordo Mass.
  • I have never been to France, but I love this church. I studied it in art history class. What beauty and grandeur. A church truly appropriate to celebrate Mass in. Someday I may get there.
  • I love the moments of silence. This is one more reason the TLM is an antidote to our modern world. Silence is necessary for our humanity and our worship of God.
  • Latin! I love that I can follow the Mass even though they are French and I am not. We have a shared faith, and shared language, and a shared worship. This is true in many ways with the Novus Ordo Mass, but Latin brings us all together.
  • There is no altar rail. I don’t know if there never was, or if it was removed at some point (French Revolution? Post Vatican II?). I see some people having trouble kneeling to receive communion — bad knees, age, etc. I can relate. But kneeling is appropriate.
  • I love the humanity. Parisians dress better than where I’m from, but I see all kinds — well dressed, casual, sloppy, women with veils, most without, some folks with praying hands, some with arms crossed, some confused, some seeming to know exactly what is going on, etc., etc. All very human.
  • Excellent video coverage. Beautiful.
  • I must be strange to enjoy watching a complete Mass, but I did.

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Quaerere Deum: A look at the daily life of the Benedictine Monks of Norcia

The true Benedict option:

From the YouTube description: “In the Jubilee year 2000 the monks of Norcia breathed new life into the birthplace of St Benedict. Armed with only their faith and zeal they founded a monastic community which has been attracting men from all over the world to follow St. Benedict’s ancient Rule. Many of their friends have long wanted an insight into the inner workings of their life and so they have produced this high quality up to date film which shows the monks as they go through the daily ora et labora. The title of the film, ‘Quaerere Deum,’ means to Seek God. This is the true calling of all monks, the first and most essential quality of an authentic monastic vocation, as laid out in the Rule of our Holy Father St. Benedict.”

The Monks of Norcia website.

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“To ruin the liturgy…”

Here is Cardinal Sarah on the “reform of the reform”:

But here is my hope: God willing, when he wills and as he wells, the reform of the reform will take place in the liturgy. Despite the gnashing of teeth, it will happen, for the future of the Church is at stake. To ruin the liturgy is to ruin our relationship to God and the concrete expression of our Christian faith. (Sarah 134)

Here Cardinal Sarah sees a direct connection between the liturgy (from the Greek λειτουργία, meaning “the work of the people), to our faith. I would guess he would see the way we do liturgy today is not unlike whether the ancient Israelites followed the temple rules in their day, or instead made up new rules and tried to innovate. What would God have thought? How well would those Israelites have created a liturgy better than what God gave them? Is it likely they would have created a liturgy more suited to their souls, more in harmony with their human nature? According the the cardinal, ruining the liturgy ruins our relationship to God.

I was trained to believe none of this is true, or not very important. I was trained to view liturgy as basically inconsequential. I have come to believe otherwise. Much of my understanding derives from a better anthropology than what I once had. I also believe what we have in the Old Testament, though we are not bound to worship exactly as the Israelites did, is a picture of what a human being needs in terms of ritual, liturgy, and cult. When God gave Moses the law and instructions for the tabernacle, and then later to David and Solomon instructions for the temple, and gave them specific instructions for worship, He did so in complete accord with how He created them. God knows what a human being is and needs. We should keep that in mind when we consider how best to do liturgy today, and from what & where we draw our models and our inspiration.

An aside: There are those who would stop the “reform of the reform” because they think it’s not necessary and is grounded in a love of traditions than in more important things. Others say it does not go far enough because the Mass of Paul VI is too fundamentally broken that it should just be scrapped altogether rather than reformed. I don’t know where I stand, I’m not theologian or liturgist, but from what I know of Cardinal Sarah, I stand with him.

And from what I’ve read, I would guess the cardinal seeks reform that is more traditional than even many reforms might seek.


Sarah, Robert, Nicolas Diat, and Michael J. Miller. The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2017. Print.

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be not afraid of liturgical silence

The following is an excerpt from The Power of Silence, the latest book from Robert Cardinal Sarah.

Nicholas Diat: What would be your fondest wish concerning the place of silence in the liturgy?

Cardinal Sarah: I call Catholics to genuine conversion! Let us strive with all our heart to become in each of our Eucharistic celebrations “a pure Victim, and holy Victim, and spotless Victim”! Let us not be afraid of liturgical silence. How I would love it if pastors and the faithful would enter joyfully into this silence that is full of sacred reverence and love for the ineffable God. How I would love it if churches were houses in which the great silence prevails that announces and reveals the adored presence of God. How I would love it if Christians, in the liturgy, could experience the power of silence! (Sarah 138)


Sarah, Robert, Nicolas Diat, and Michael J. Miller. The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2017. Print.

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