Liturgical Music

Rest Within Music


It’s probably a little unusual to write about silence in a post about liturgical music.

All the same …

The purpose of sacred music is to glorify God and sanctify the faithful (Sacrosanctum Concilium ¶ 112). That’s a big job. At a recent practice our Schola director remarked how music can take the assembly to a place where words alone cannot go. She mentioned the impact silence has at the end of a song. Only a few moments are needed after the last note has been sung for both music and lyrics to resonate in the soul, only a few moments for them to take hold and be carried within well after the liturgical celebration has ended.

In music notation a rest is an interval of silence, marked by a symbol indicating the length of the pause. Within a song, a rest is just as valuable as any note played; in fact, W.A. Mozart is quoted as saying, “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” Silence and music go hand-in-hand.

Brief periods of reflection are a part of liturgy. After all, we are trying to take in and make sense of a mystery that is beyond our comprehension. The Paschal Mystery is so vast, simply so awesome, that it is broken down into smaller pieces for us to feast on. Music is what makes it portable, light enough for us to carry throughout the day. Music demonstrates that liturgical silence is not empty but full of meaning.

Let nothing be preferred to the Work of God – Rule of Benedict 43:3