Silence during the Passion

By Fr. Edward Looney | For The Compass | April 7, 2022

There is a time to be silent and a time to speak up. At least that’s one takeaway from our two Gospels proclaimed during the Palm Sunday liturgy. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, saluted with hosannas, is unsettling for the Pharisees. They demand that he tell his followers to fall silent and stop with their nonsense. Jesus disagrees. He says, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” In this moment, there is no need for the followers of Jesus to be silent. The acclamations of praise for the King of Kings are appropriate and necessary, according to Jesus.

Contrast this with the Passion narrative we hear on Palm Sunday. There are several occasions where it would have been better for individuals to be silent.

It would have been better for Judas, the betrayer, to be silent, rather than to speak to the authorities and hand Jesus over to them.

It would have been better for Peter to remain silent when people accused him of being Jesus’ follower rather than denying he knew him.

It would have been better for the crowd to remain silent rather than to request Barabbas to be released and Jesus to be crucified.

There are also appropriate times during the Passion Gospel where silence is warranted. As Jesus prays to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, he speaks, but surely leaves moments for silence so he could listen for the Father to speak in the depths of his heart. And at the moment of Jesus’ expiration, it is appropriate for us to kneel in silence, so we can behold what Jesus just accomplished, praying, mourning, and reflecting in silence.

Silence allows us to marvel so the mystery we are contemplating can penetrate the depths of our minds and hearts and is an appropriate disposition for us as we enter Holy Week. On Holy Thursday, we will have the opportunity to be silent with Jesus before the altar of repose, symbolic of Jesus’ agony in the garden. In silence, we will pray with him in that hour. On Good Friday, we will have a moment of silence as we stand before the cross on which hung our salvation and offer a gesture of reverence. On Easter Sunday, we can foster silence as we ponder the empty tomb and are stunned and in awe of what God accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

What role will silence have in your Holy Week? At times, the Lord might prompt you to speak up. And at other times, he will invite you to stillness and silence before the mystery we contemplate.

Fr. Looney is pastor of the Catholic parishes in Brussels and Lincoln/Rosiere. He is the author of “A Lenten Journey with Mother Mary.”

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