The Rich Silence of the Eucharist
Susan Windley-Daoust, Director of Missionary Discipleship
Welcome to September! In many ways, the busiest time of the year: schools are starting, people are harvesting, Fall projects are underway. Perhaps it is the most necessary time to stake a spiritual claim for silence.
After a year and a half of planning, I went on an 8-day silent retreat this summer. I came back and joked everyone in the diocese should go on an 8-day silent retreat and all of our renewal challenges could be solved! Okay, perhaps not. But…nothing beats doing nothing but letting God speak. It isn’t always easy (God: “now that I have your full attention…”), but there is also joy and goodness and the profound reminder that God is our true home. There is a lot I can say about the fruits of making time for a good retreat. But I mostly want to talk about the connection between the silence of the Lord and the Eucharist.
I was at a retreat center that had 24-hour access to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (and a daily Mass and holy hour). Although I had done an 8-day retreat before, and usually take a shorter retreat every year, those were in places that didn’t have all three of those gifts. The first thing I noticed was that this felt like the safest space I had been in spiritually my whole life. I do not exaggerate. I did not expect this tangible feeling of spiritual safety that seemed to ground this space—and of course that helped me make a deeper retreat. But also, it was a real oasis from from constantly feeling like I was playing racketball with the world: open the laptop, walk out the door, and the ball is zooming at me from my right, left, front, back, more! Instead, the space I was in felt like an embodiment of the St. Patrick’s Breastplate prayer: Christ before me, Christ behind me… (look the prayer up; it’s worth it!).
It was clear to me—and no one said so, it was a silent retreat—that the richness of the silence came from the presence and adoration of the Lord in the Eucharist. It was supplemented by the prayer of others and the concrete silence itself. But I could hear God speak because of the rich silence that exudes before, and with, the Eucharistic Lord.
I am sharing this because now that I am back in my busy world, I am fighting for the silence—not 24-7, because God has not called me to that, but some silence before God every day. Many of you, like I, pray every day. This is good! But in a world that focuses on doing, speaking, acting—the most counter-cultural thing we can do is maintain silence before the Lord, because we can’t listen when we’re always talking.
So… how do we seek the rich silence of God in the Eucharist?
- One obvious way is Eucharistic adoration, or if not available, prayer before the reserved Blessed Sacrament. So many people find it easier to quiet themselves before the Lord in this way. Often the chapel or Church is quiet. But the unveiled presence of the Lord, in particular, can induce a quiet within the soul. St. John Vianney shared that he asked a simple farmer in his parish what he does at adoration every morning before chores. The man said, I look at the Lord and he looks at me. May we all be so simple, because of the heart of relationship is exactly that: resting in the gaze of the other.
Some find all kinds of distractions when they pray (welcome to the human race!). And that can happen in prayer before the Eucharist as well. But I find it happens less often before the Eucharist, and even then the distraction may be some things the Lord wants you to offer to him in prayer. The more you pray, the more the distractions cease, or are rightly set aside or offered to God.
- The other way we can find rich silence before the Eucharistic Lord is to embrace the silence of the Eucharist in our reception of it. Receiving the Eucharist at Mass (or in a homebound/hospital ritual) should be done with intentionality. If you have been Catholic all your life, this can actually be hard—there is a lot of muscle memory and autopilot in the Mass! Not to mention a whole other set of external distractions.
We can strive to receive the Eucharist intentionally with prayer before and after reception. Praying before Mass (as well as through it) helps. If attention is your problem, simply pray “Lord, help me pay attention” or “Lord, I want to see.” Or more generally, you could pray as you settle into the pew before Mass, “Lord, take me in your love as I take in you.” That is a simple prayer you can repeat to yourself if your mind wanders. The Lord does the active work, but we need to foster the disposition to receive the sacrament in all its fullness: and the Eucharist is the Lord’s chosen way to be in union with us. No other religion communicates anything quite this simultaneously personal and infinite. We’ll spend a lifetime learning to receive the Eucharist with openness to God’s presence. We can start today.
After you receive the Eucharist: St. Teresa of Avila said that it is the most opportune time to pray and make requests of God, and recommended spending an hour in prayer after reception of the Eucharist. Well, she was a cloistered nun and we may not be able to do one hour. But perhaps we can do a few more minutes. Remember this is moment is privileged time in your life and pray for your needs, including your greatest need—union with Jesus Christ. If your parish’s Mass ends and you get home within 10 minutes or so, consider taking some extra time to continue your prayer.
Receiving the Eucharist at Mass is not usually a silent affair, but you can create some silence in your soul. Silence, when it comes down to it, is not a lack of noise. Silence can be a positive, a focus of attention on the infinite God. And that is the ground of all discipleship, renewal, and evangelization. I invite you to join me in finding that rich silence in this first year of Eucharistic revival.