One late afternoon some 20 years ago, I was walking behind a couple headed for a weekday Mass at the University of Scranton campus ministry center. The girl was reminding the boy that we don’t sing or say “alleluia!” during Lent.
“You’re kidding!” he exclaimed.
“No, you don’t have alleluias again till Easter,” she explained.
“I suppose the next thing you’re going to tell me is that we don’t say amen in Advent,” he rejoined.
They both laughed.
We do back off on the Gloria, though, until “Silent Night” triumphs over “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” The only times we can expect to hear the Gloria this Advent is on Dec. 8 and 12, when we offer mighty praise for the gift of the Blessed Virgin — to the world and Church via salvation history and also to the Americas.
The Gloria is an exultant praise song, and, though we often forget it, Advent is both a season of waiting and a time of penance. We are asked to give something up and to stifle our spiritual hip-hip-hoorays for a little while.
There’s something to quieting down until it’s absolutely the right time for something to sound again. The shepherds of Bethlehem understood that. They surmised that the only way to keep night watch was to listen carefully.
The experimental and sometimes eccentric composer John Cage taught that the beats and measures of rests in music were as important as the melody and harmony. Silence speaks. In our spiritual and liturgical lives, it’s the same. We can’t really speak or sing effectively unless we’ve come from some deep empty space.
We have recently heard news of research finding that, aside from school and work time, the average person spends some nine hours a day wired. We listen to music on iPods, flip on radios or TVs or webcasts as soon as it gets quiet, and troll for general bombast. All day long and into the night, we are surrounded by noise.
“Be still and know that I am God,” says Psalm 46. The psalmist knew that God can only break through if we are all ears and attentive. There is something about stillness that not only calms our nerves but also attunes us to majestic messages.
This Advent, as we move into winter and all the bells, chimes, trumpets, carols, rowdy cousin-kisses, and laughter of Christmas, it might do us some good to stop a moment. That’s when we can slip into our slow and steady heart room to hear what God is saying. Fasting from hubbub may well wake us to something new or previously unnoticed. We may even discover the hints and echoes of God and the whole communion of saints.
We can slip into the kitchen, the living room, or the driver’s seat and resolve to keep our electronics off. Let’s resolve to shush a while. That way the holiness of a holy season can get a Word in.