When we think of silence we most often think of something empty and dead. Today man is surrounded by noise: not only audible noise, but sights, sounds, and information; and he cannot imagine of a world without his cell phone, Internet, and TV. What would be the point of silence?
To answer this question we have simply to look at what the Seminary is. It is a place of formation; formation in the spiritual life as well as on the scholastic level. Its two-fold aim is to impart to candidates for the priesthood the holiness and knowledge required by their vocation. But he cannot receive these things unless he is properly disposed. That is, he cannot hear unless he is listening, and only someone silent is truly listening.
The purpose of silence is not to despise sound and speech; it is to hear and receive what one is being given. Silence is the basis of recollection and is indispensable for serious academic work. It is also extremely helpful for keeping order in community life. This material silence, however, is just a means to help keep a more fundamental, more important interior silence.
It is not external but internal silence that we call the principle of recollection and prayer. This is the silence that one keeps by not allowing himself to be distracted and absorbed in the things around him. This silence is what allows for interior reflection and is opposed to curiosity, which does nothing but look for chances to abandon oneself to the world. Union with God in prayer or in simple recollection is not possible without silence, nor will one be attentive to grace if he is constantly distracted.
“Silence,” says Archbishop Lefebvre, “should be the very atmosphere of the seminary." He encourages seminarians to keep it not only for their own benefit but also for the good of their neighbor. He calls it “a great act of charity." When seen in its relation to the very object of the seminary, this should be something obvious. In silence then, the seminarians find a chance to practice both the positive and negative aspects of the spiritual life: mortification and active virtue.
Although contrary to our senses' natural bent for stimulation, silence is essential for a soul in formation. It renders one teachable, open to intellectual formation. It provides matter for temperance and charity and, most importantly, it facilitates the action of God in the soul, for God speaks in silence.