We are realizing more and more clearly that silence is part of the liturgy. We respond, by singing and praying, to the God who addresses us, but the greater mystery, surpassing all words, summons us to silence. It must, of course, be a silence with content, not just the absence of speech and action. We should expect the liturgy to give us a positive stillness that will restore us. Such stillness will not be just a pause, in which a thousand thoughts and desires assault us, but a time of recollection, giving us an inward peace, allowing us to draw breath and rediscover the one thing necessary, which we have forgotten. That is why silence cannot be simply “made”, organized as if it were one activity among many. It is no accident that on all sides people are seeking techniques of meditation, a spirituality for emptying the mind. One of man’s deepest needs is making its presence felt, a need that is manifestly not being met in our present form of the liturgy. For silence to be fruitful, as we have already said, it must not be just a pause in the action of the liturgy. No, it must be an integral part of the liturgical event.
Commentary: If I may coin a term that best describes my understanding of what the Holy Father says in regard to silence at the liturgical event, it is "sacred silence". Aware that this term "silence" may invoke a number of misconceptions regarding passivity and fruitlessness, he makes sure to explain in no uncertain terms that the silence of which he speaks is one of a kind of "stillness", not so much a silence of merely idly doing nothing.
For some decades now, as far as I know, the Mass had become rather mechanical in that we sought to bring it to conclusion in the shortest time possible. This entailed a cutting of corners in the celebration of the liturgy, and one corner that could be easily chipped off without being overly visible was the moment of silence. Today, Masses seldom witness moments of contemplative silence anymore.
But the Spirit works to restore all things and to bring them to their creative glory all over again. The Holy Father, in his wisdom, seems to have now brought this silence back to emphasis in his celebration of papal masses at the Vatican. Observant priests around the world, in their modeling after the Alma Mater, have also now begun to restore this liturgical discipline as a part of our Eucharistic spirituality. This is beautiful.
The moment of sacred silence is more than a mere inactivity. In fact, it is very much an activity; it is an activity of creating a sacred space within our souls for the Spirit of God to bring to consciousness how God had acted within that moment of heaven's coming down into our midst at the liturgical celebration. When heaven comes down in all its glory and splendour, and all human words have been exhausted, then there is but one thing left for all creation to do: worship in awe and silence before the I AM.