Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Awesome Beauty of Silence

This morning's Mass at the Sacred Music Colloquium was a Requiem Mass in memory of the deceased members of the CMAA, among whom Msgr. Schuler. Dies Irae was sung in octave alternatim by 250 people to create a beauty of enormous power. The ordinary was polyphonic, a setting by Spanish composer Joan Brudieu (1520-1591), a Mass that was only recently re-transcribed and has probably never been sung in the United States. It was sung with stunning elegance by the choir directed by Wilko Brouwers.

And yet, after all this music, and there was so much of it, and after a full week of unbelievable sounds in liturgy after liturgy, something interesting happened during the recessional. It was done in complete silence. You could only hear footsteps. Even those sounds faded after a time and everyone slowly knelt and prayed for a long while.

I was struck by a sudden and amazing irony that after a full week of the most magnificent music one can hear in a lifetime of listening, there was a special beauty to the silence. There was almost a sense I had that it was the most beautiful moment of the week, and my mind raced to John Paul II's talk about the importance of silence, and how little we permit it to live on its own during Masses today.

Why are we so afraid to be silent? Maybe because of the messages it conveys that we don't want to hear? It is hard to say, but we do resist it, don't we? Its power overwhelms us, especially in this context. The silence reaches deep within us and calls us to something deeply contemplative, a profundity that can surpass everything else. Music has to be wonderful to improve on it and there are times when even the greatest music cannot improve on it.

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