Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Call for the Silent Canon: Praying the Eucharistic Prayer in a quiet voice

While the recent trumpet sound from Cardinal Sarah has inspired many priests to move towards ad orientem worship, perhaps now would also be a fitting time to discuss another of the liturgical points which had been made so well by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – namely, the silent Canon in which the priest prays the Eucharistic Prayer in a quiet voice which is not heard by the people.

"In 1978, to the annoyance of many liturgists, I said that in no sense does the whole Canon always have to be said out loud. [...] The Eucharistic Prayer, the high point of the Mass, is in crisis. Since the reform of the liturgy, an attempt has been made to meet the crisis by incessantly inventing new Eucharistic Prayers, and in the process we have sunk farther and farther into banality. Multiplying words is no help – that is all too evident. [...] silence, too, silence especially, might constitute communion before God."  (Spirit of the Liturgy, part 4, chapter 2)

The Silent Canon prior to Vatican II

In the more than 1,000 years prior to the Second Vatican Council, the Eucharistic Prayer was said in a quiet voice in the Latin Church – so as to create silence at that highest moment of the Mass. The liturgical directives specified that the priest would say these prayers in this quiet tone.

It was common at a sung Mass that the Sanctus hymn would continue as the priest began to pray the silent canon (having himself spoken the Sanctus). In many places, where more elaborate Mass settings were used, it was not uncommon that the second half of the Sanctus (i.e. the Benedictus) would even be delayed until after the consecration! Thus, both "halves" of the Eucharistic Prayer would sometimes have music sung over the silent praying of the Roman Canon (aka Eucharistic Prayer I).

In low Masses without music, the whole Canon was silent, and the people were left in that contemplative quiet as the miracle of transubstantion was accomplished.

After the Second Vatican Council

After Vatican II, the silent Canon (or quieter Eucharistic Prayer) almost entirely disappeared. This is surprising, since no document from the Council, nor any subsequent legislation from the Church ever indicated that the Eucharistic Prayer had to be said out loud.

Many times, critics of the silent Canon will state that the GIRM rejects this option in paragraph 32: “The nature of the ‘presidential’ parts requires that they be spoken in a loud and clear voice and that everyone listen to them attentively.”

This paragraph is read in light of GIRM 30: “Among those things assigned to the Priest, the prime place is occupied by the Eucharistic Prayer, which is the high point of the whole celebration. Next are the orations, that is to say, the Collect, the Prayer over the Offerings, and the prayer after Communion. These prayers [...] are rightly called the ‘presidential prayers.’”

However, there is no place in the GIRM where the Eucharistic Prayer is listed as a “presidential prayer”, nor has the Eucharistic Prayer ever been understood as a “presidential prayer” in the Church's tradition. Even GIRM 30 does not specify that the Eucharistic Prayer is presidential, but that the Orations (Collect, Prayer over the Offerings, and post Communion) are the presidential prayers.

Therefore, GIRM 32 cannot be interpreted as stating that the Eucharistic Prayer is to be offered in an audible voice. This is precisely why Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger insisted that the Eucharistic Prayer may be prayed silently, and highlighted this point again as Pope when a number of his books on the liturgy were published in German in a single edition. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is the only pope to have addressed this issue (albeit, in his personal theological writings), and he maintains that the Eucharistic Prayer may be prayed silently.

We further note that, although the Eucharistic Prayer is said by the priest alone, this does not make it a presidential prayer. Indeed, there are many other silent prayers of the Mass that are said by the priest alone and are not “presidential” in nature. An example: The prayer at commingling which is clearly for both the priest and the people is still not presidential and is said silently.

The Eucharistic Prayer CAN'T Be A Presidential Prayer

We further stress that the Eucharistic Prayer cannot possibly be a presidential prayer, since GIRM 108 states that “one and the same priest celebrant must always exercise the presidential office in all of its parts.” In other words, the celebrant who presides over the Mass, says all the “presidential prayers” himself – thus, the opening prayer and prayer over the gifts and post-communion prayer are not shared among the concelebrants. However, the Eucharistic Prayer is, of course, properly shared with the concelebrants. This indicates that the Eucharist Prayer is not a presidential prayer (else it could not be shared by the concelebrants). And, since the Eucharistic Prayer is not a presidential prayer, it need not be said out loud.

For sake of completeness, we mention one other argument given in opposition to the silent Canon. GIRM 78 states that “the Eucharistic Prayer requires that everybody listen to it with reverence and in silence.” Some will maintain that, since the people are meant to listen to the prayer, the Canon is not permitted to be said silently.

To make an argument about how the priest is supposed to offer Mass based on a single line from the GIRM which is not even addressed to the priest but rather to the faithful is dubious at best. We reply that it is clearly the intent of the GIRM in this paragraph not to insist that the Canon be said out loud, but rather that the people NOT be speaking out loud. In other words, this portion of the GIRM emphasizes that silence is MOST FITTING to the Eucharistic Prayer – emphasizing that the people should adopt a spirit of silence at this moment of the Mass. To use a paragraph calling for silence as a way to insist upon more noise is to do violence to the document itself.

In any case, Pope Benedict XVI knew the GIRM well, and he continued to affirm that the Eucharistic Prayer can and should be said in a quiet voice. Perhaps the best way to assist the people in their silent reverence during the Eucharistic Prayer would be for the priest to adopt this same reverential silence as he offers the Canon of the Mass.

Why the Silent Canon?

But why would we want to pray the Eucharistic Prayer in a quiet voice anyways? Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI offers one answer: “Anyone who has experienced a church united in the silent praying of the Canon will know what a truly filled silence is. It is at once a loud and penetrating cry to God and a Spirit-filled act of prayer. Here everyone does pray the Canon together, albeit in a bond with the special task of the priestly ministry. Here everyone is united, laid hold of by Christ, and led by the Holy Spirit into that common prayer to the Father which is the true sacrifice – the love that reconciles and unites God and the world.” (Spirit of the Liturgy, part 4, chapter 2)

Even as ad orientem worship unites the priest and people in a common act of adoration of God, the silent Canon unites us all in the true sacrifice being offered. The silent Canon, perhaps even more than ad orientem, drives home the sacrificial nature of the Mass and offers that most needed corrective to modern liturgies which focus more on communication than prayer, and ultimately are reduced to banal chatter between the priest and the people.

The silent Canon also reminds us that the greatest mysteries are accomplished in silence. For nine months, Christ was silent in his Mother’s immaculate womb, destined to be born in the stillness of a quiet cave. Silent in his death, the night itself was hushed with quiet when he rose from the grave. Returning in glory on the last day, he will fulfill those words as he puts all the world to silence: “Be still and see that I am God.” (Psalm 45:11)

Man adores the Lord in silence. And, as Mother Teresa would remind us, “In the silence of the heart, God speaks.” The Eucharistic Prayer is the heart of the Mass – silence here will open our souls to the voice of our Heavenly Father.

Having transitioned my parish to the silent Canon a year ago, I can testify that there is a profound peace and harmony which only silence can bring to the life of a parish. I pray that my brother priests will take up the call of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, as the silent Canon is so complimentary to ad orientem worship which, in a real sense, it completes.


Father G said...

Believe it or not, it was actually permitted to say the Eucharistic Prayers silently for Mass in the Ordinary Form. The rubric appeared in the English translations of the 1st and 2nd editions of the Roman Missal (at that time referred to as the Sacramentary). The rubric appears in the Order of Mass just below the Sanctus: "In all Masses the priest may say the eucharistic prayer in an audible voice.", implying that the norm was to recite it silently. This rubric appears to have been printed only in the editions for the USA. It is no longer found in the 3rd edition.

Father G

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Fr G,
Yes! I recall asking about that rubric in seminary, and receiving a very stern warning "Don't even think about it!"

However, I don't use this as an argument for the silent Canon, since it seems to have been added only to the USA (as you mention) and was apharently absent from the Latin typical edition.

At the same time, it is a nice anectdotal point -- we have always known that it's permitted to say the Canon quietly, and that rubric shows this!


Father G said...

I learned today that the same rubric is found in the "Sacramentary for Celebrations Proper to the Society of Jesus" published in 2001. To my knowledge, this sacramentary is still in use and no new edition has been published since. Does this mean then that a Jesuit who celebrates Mass could technically still recite the Eucharistic Prayers silently?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Fr G,
I would kindly invite you to re-read the above article and check the references I have made -- every priests is permitted to pray the Novus Ordo Mass with the silent Canon according to the current liturgical law of the Church.
It really is fairly obvious once we reflect on Ratzinger and then take a careful look at the GIRM - the Eucharistic Prayer can be prayed quietly by the priest, as it stands right now.

Fr. Drew said...

Excellent article. Interesting that the rubric for the offertory in the Novus Ordo similarly implies the preference for silence.

I too have been praying the canon in the low voice, not quite *silence* in my parish(es) for almost 2 years now. I also notice a heightened attentiveness on the part of the people. What also I found was how easy it was to switch to Latin from the vernacular when the canon was silent. Ad orientam facilitates this, too.

Strong point about "silence" driving the sacrificial nature more than "ad orientam".

For me the remainder of the continuation of the reform will consist mainly in: silence, Latin, ad orientam, right distribution and reception of Holy Communion and chant. I don't see it much more complicated than that. I won't pretend it's easy. But at least, for me I can start to see–I won't say a "finish line" but at least a clear course.

padre11 said...

What do you make on par. 89 in the text of the Roman Canon: "in the formulas that follow, the words of the Lord should be pronounced clearly and distinctly, as the nature of these words requires"? For this reason, even when praying the canon in a lowl voice such as at a sung Mass with split Sanctus/Benedictus I have prayed these parts audibly, namely from the Hancock igniter through mysterium fidei.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The same rubric of "clearly and distinctly" was applied to the words of consecration in the traditional Mass as well -- this does not mean "out loud" or "in a loud voice", but rather that they are said carefully and with greater attention.

Matthew said...

Padre11 -- Please turn off your predictive text mechanism. The 'Hancock Igniter' has no place in any known liturgy, traditional or otherwise.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Fascinating, thank you for this

Ben of the Bayou said...

Dear Father Erlenbush,

This is a great, well-reasoned argument which I fear will be mostly ignored. In any cas, thanks for putting it out there!

My question is this (and it may be unanswerable): if Ratzinger/Benedict believed so strongly in the "silent" Canon, why did he never lead the way by his own example, particularly as Roman Pontiff?

Fr. Marco Schad said...

In response to Fr. Erlenbush, the rubrics for the EF say "distincte et attente", while the OF rubrics say "distincte et aperte". My Latin is not great, but those are not quite the same. The Oxford Latin Dictionary translates "attente" as "diligently, carefully, with concentration, with close attention" while translating "aperte" as: "1) manifestly 2) openly, publicly 3) plainly, clearly, frankly 4) without disguise/reserve." Manifestly, openly, publicly... that sure seems like they mean publicly audible, especially when considered along with GIRM 218 (on concelebrated Masses):

"The parts pronounced by all the concelebrants together and especially the words of Consecration, which all are obliged to say, are to be recited in such a manner that the concelebrants speak them in a low voice and that the principal celebrant’s voice is heard clearly. In this way the words can be more easily understood by the people."

At least in concelebrated Masses (and it is difficult to imagine the mind of the legislator did not intend the same for all Masses), the principal celebrant's voice is to be heard clearly so that the words can be more easily understood by the people.

I don't disagree with the desire for a return silent canon, but I find it difficult to reconcile with what I see as the rather clear intent of the rubrics and GIRM, at least not without a clear change in rubrics.

We ought not to fall to the liberal disease of contorting words to find permissions beyond what were intended. Then we are no better than the terrorists, I mean "progressives"... OK, maybe this isn't quite at the level of a clown Mass, but still, it's a slippery slope.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The best translation is "clearly" or "plainly", as this is more in accord with the tradition and also in line with the approved translation in the English Missal.

As to the GIRM on concelebrated Masses -- I'm always suspicious of quoting a paragraph which is giving direction to others (concelebrants or lay faithful) as mandating what the presiding priest must do. This is just not a good hermeneutic.
A similar example is quoting the girm on the placement of the altar as encouraging the priest to face the people (299 is about the location of the altar, not the priest).

While certain passages presume a loud canon, it is clearly NOT mandated in any place. And this is also the opinion of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

We are not talking about clown Masses or cheating the rubrics -- this is simply a matter of recognizing that (although presumed and accepted as the common practice) the loud canon is not mandated.

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