St. Luke describes the couple Zechariah and Elizabeth in the most positive terms: “Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing the ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.” Advanced in years, they had no child until the Angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to bid him the good news that at last, their prayers were heard: a son will be given them and no ordinary boy will he be for “he will be great in the sight of the Lord…he will prepare a people fit for the Lord.”
Perhaps he was already resigned to the fate of barrenness and so, although this news of an answered prayer was something he waited for so long, Zechariah responds to the angel: “How shall I know this? I am an old man and my wife is advanced in age.” Old age tempers the daring spirit of youth. While one is young, even the impossible is attainable – a person is driven to test life to its limits. But when advancement in age overtakes a person, he becomes more resigned to limitations: “to accept the things I cannot change.” There simply are dreams that cannot come true. Zechariah should have rejoiced that his prayers were heard – but there is simply one problem: the answer came in too late – I am old and my wife is advanced in age. The reality of limitations overcame him. It kept him from believing. He started to object.
Thus, the angel declares: “You shall be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fullfilled at their proper time.” The angel subjected Zechariah to silence. Perhaps it was because Zechariah was allowing his darkness to speak so much to him. With the plank of his human limitations before his eyes, he failed to see the fact that God is not subject to limitations. “To God, nothing is impossible.” Looking at himself, he failed to look at God. Even as the angel spoke, Zechariah wasn’t listening because the voice of the limitations of his old age kept interfering in his mind. And so the angel silences him until all these come to pass. Unlike St. Joseph who listened in silence to what the angel had to say in his dream, Zechariah was conversing with himself in his own mind: How can this be? I am old. It simply is impossible.
That is why he had to be silenced so that he may allow God to open his heart to give heed to what was said (Acts 16:14). The Holy Father writes, “Knowing the content to be believed in is not sufficient unless the heart, the authentic sacred space within the person, is opened by grace that allows the eyes to see below the surface and to understand that what has been proclaimed is the word of God.” (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 10.) When the angel announced himself as Gabriel who stood before God, he said: I was sent to speak to you, and to announce to you the good news.” He was assuring Zechariah that what he revealed was worthy of faith because his words were not his own but those of God who sent the angel to announce the good news. The angel’s words were worthy of faith because they were the words of God himself. Faith is the assent of man’s thought to the revelation of God who neither deceives nor can be deceived. “Knowledge of faith opens a door into the fullness of the saving mystery revealed by God. The giving of assent implies that, when we believe, we freely accept the whole mystery of faith, because the guarantor of its truth is God who reveals himself and allows us to know his mystery of love.” (ibid.)
Silence opens our hearts to this grace of faith. Faith enables us to recognize the trustworthiness of the word of God. When we believe we freely accept the saving mystery revealed by God. Because the guarantor of this revealed mystery is God, we adhere to it as we are sure that God will never deceive us. All that he reveals is true!
We ought to get back the dimension of the sacred in the liturgy. The liturgy is not a festivity; it is not a meeting for the purpose of having a good time. It is of no importance that the parish priest has cudgeled his brains to come up with suggestive ideas or imaginative novelties. The liturgy is what makes the Thrice-Holy God present amongst us; it is the burning bush; it is the Alliance of God with man in Jesus Christ, who has died and risen again. The grandeur of the liturgy does not rest upon the fact that it offers an interesting entertainment, but in rendering tangible the Totally Other, whom we are not capable of summoning. He comes because He wills. In other words, the essential in the liturgy is the mystery, which is realized in the common ritual of the Church; all the rest diminishes it. Men experiment with it in lively fashion, and find themselves deceived, when the mystery is transformed into distraction, when the chief actor in the liturgy is not the Living God but the priest or the liturgical director. - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Chile, 1988)
Do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the "image," through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified. - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Spirit of the Liturgy )