Saturday, September 16, 2017


Praytell's article,

Silent Canon? A Clarification on Cardinal Sarah’s Comment

has a good commentary on the history of the silent Roman Roman Canon and the allowance or return of the audibly prayed Roman Canon. The inspiration of this article is based upon what Cardinal Sarah said about the Silent Canon this past Thursday night in Rome in a brilliant address on the Liturgy that transcended the EF Mass and touched mostly on the OF Mass. He seems to indicate a revision of the OF Mass to allow a silent canon but it isn't completely clear that it advocates it across the board.

 Early in the revision of the Mass in 1970--it was still possible to interpret the rubric for the canon to allow a silent canon in that the rubric stated the canon "may" be celebrated audibly. That rubric changed in later 1970's missals and "may" was no longer used.

When I started celebrating the EF Mass exactly 10 years ago, one of the things that I did not recall as a child is that the Roman Canon was prayed silently. Thus my own recollection was the canon was always aloud although until 1967 or so in Latin and only the Roman Canon was prayed until that same 1967 date when three other "canons" were invented.

I have to say that I felt extremely uncomfortable praying the canon silently in the EF. What is lacking for most modern Catholics, to include this priest, is the spirituality, thoroughly Catholic, of contemplation and silence in the liturgical prayers of the Mass to include the Canon. Most adults and children today, thanks to soundbites, our electronic gadgets, Facebook and video games, have a very short attention span and any amount of silence is discomforting, especially at Church or Mass where one's mind cannot focus long enough to endure longer silences without the mind drifting to all sorts of other distractions which are purely mundane.

These distractions to modern Catholics also occur in the Ordinary Form when the contrived silences after the reading, the homily and Holy Communion, where there is absolutely no liturgical action or public prayer, overwhelm actual participation and lead to the drifting of thoughts and the antithesis of contemplation and prayer.

So in terms of mutual enrichment of both the EF and OF Roman Missals, how can we find a middle ground for both forms and thus a point of unity in terms of the recovery of contemplation, awe and wonder during the praying of the Canon which can be heard by the laity?

Pray the Canon in a low voice and audibly but with the use of a microphone in large churches is the best solution for both the EF and OF Masses. To be honest with you, over the years that I have celebrated the EF Mass, I wear a cordless microphone and I pray the canon in a low voice which is audible and it is carried through the church over the speakers. It is clear that I am praying softly but there isn't dead silence. And if I interpret the rubric of the EF Mass for a low voice Canon, it isn't to be said silently without the priest using his lips to voice the canon--correct me if I am wrong.

The greatest problem with the vernacular canon and prayed facing the congregation is that the priest reads the prayer in a "proclaiming way" which comes across not as prayer that could lead to quiet contemplation, but as though it is a "reading" directed to the congregation for the people to hear. This is especially true when the priest establishes eye-contact with the congregation, turns his head toward all present and makes the liturgical gestures at the consecration toward the congregation. This is truly a corruption of the prayerfulness of the Thanksgiving of the canon and the contemplation required of the Canon. It comes across not as prayer at all but as just another reading of the Mass for the congregation to hear. It also comes across as a mere reenactment of the first "Lord's Supper" and not a remembering of what the institution of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday anticipated, Good Friday's Most Holy Sacrifice of the Cross and the establishment of Christ as the Eternal High Priest and the Sacrament of the Priesthood to make that High Priesthood visible!

Ad Orientem or at least the "Benedictine" altar arrangement is the antidote for this corruption!


Victor said...

"Pray the Canon in a low voice and audibly ..."

For what it is worth, the Novus Ordo was fabricated to be noisy, to keep away the God of Silence.

Why are people so afraid of Silence? Does not God speak without words to the heart of every person in Silence? Is there a fear that the mysterium tremens will disturb one's cozy life? Why are so many ignoring Cardinal Sarah's observation that God is the God of Silence?

Anonymous said...

Bee here:

Ironic that you should bring up this discomfort with silence.

I attend the EF Mass every Sunday, and have gotten very used to the silence of the whole Mass, except, of course, for the "Nobis quoque peccatoribus..." (Well, hypothetical silence. I won't go into how the wailing or sudden outbursts by children startle the nerves as the plena voce cries reverberate off the walls and ceiling of a silent church...) But sometimes the priest will say the Mass in a sort of whisper that allows those of us in the pews to keep track of his prayers while we're praying along with him from the missal.

The other day on Sept. 13, I attended a Mass, talk and procession in honor of Our Lady of Fatima's 5th apparition 100 years ago this year. The church was very full; not many seats left and there were some people who stood in the back. Many people in attendance were not from our parish, and so may not have been familiar with the Latin low Mass that was offered. But much to my surprise the organist played instrumental sacred music through the entire Mass! It was that sort of weird, never ending classical music that might go from a recognizable tune to just what I think of as "muzack for organ." It was so distracting I found it hard to even think about God, let alone pray.

I think I will ask one of the priests on Sunday why this was done. I suspect it was to prevent people from beginning to talk during the Mass being as they are unaccustomed to silence. If that is the reason, I think we have a very long way to go in restoring reverence and sacredness to our worship.

God bless.

Fr Martin Fox said...


I am no expert on the usus antiquior, but my understanding is that the parts the priest prays "silently" are, in fact, to be prayed audibly. The words of the prayers -- including the Canon -- are to be spoken. Further, my understanding is that the voice is to be loud enough that the server can hear the priest's words. So that is clearly not silent.

Whether the priest's words should be amplified? I will leave that question to others. It is not my practice, for whatever that datum may be worth.

Dialogue said...

The priest is not speaking to the congregation during the Canon, nor is it possible for the congregation to join him in the primary action of this prayer. Therefore, it seems reasonable for it to remain inaudible, as it always was before.

George said...


I've never attended a Latin low Mass where there was organ accompaniment. Being that it was on a Fatima appariton anniversery, I would think that Marian hymns would have been the music chosen . If this was the case, appropriate as they would be to the occasion, it would have been better to have them played just prior to, and at he end of the Mass.

John Nolan said...

Father AJM,

Until mid-1967 the Canon was said 'silently' except in concelebrated Masses (which became more commmon after 1965 but were hardly the norm), so I'm surprised you don't recall it as an altar boy.

There was no requirement, or necessity, for the server to be able to hear the words of the Canon, except for the closing 'per omnia ...' which was said in a raised voice.

If the priest's words are amplified then the server's must be also, otherwise those at the back will hear a very lopsided version of the Mass.

Also, in a sung or Solemn Mass there is singing during the Canon (Sanctus and Benedictus, and in the French tradition a motet after the Consecrations, often 'O salutaris Hostia').

By the way, we don't 'pray the Canon with the priest'. I know the words by heart, but were I to articulate them, even 'submissa voce' I would be guilty of a serious abuse.

The Mass, whatever Modernists and Protestants might say, is not a re-enactment of the Last Supper. It is an adaptation of the rituals of the Temple. The priest and ministers enter into 'the holy of holies'; in the early basilicas the central mystery was not seen by the people as curtains hid the altar at this point, and in the east it is carried out behind the iconostasis.

The silent Canon serves a similar purpose.

TJM said...

I was an altar boy prior to Vatican Disaster II, and recall only hearing very clearly, the words "nobis quoque peccatoribus." The rest was sotto voce

Anonymous said...

Bee here:

John Nolan said, "By the way, we don't 'pray the Canon with the priest'. I know the words by heart, but were I to articulate them, even 'submissa voce' I would be guilty of a serious abuse."

I have never said the prayers of the Canon aloud or even 'submissa voce' with the priest, but even at the Novo Ordo Mass I will say the words in my mind just after the priest says them, and pray them as I read them in the missal at the EF Mass. Is this wrong of me? At the Novo Ordo Mass should I just be listening? If so, what about the EF Mass? What should I be doing as the priest is praying the Canon?

God bless,

Henry said...

"To be honest with you, over the years that I have celebrated the EF Mass, I wear a cordless microphone and I pray the canon in a low voice which is audible and it is carried through the church over the speakers."

You can take the priest out of the Novus, but you can't take the Novus out of the priest?

I'm not certain that an audibly understandable canon violates the rubrics, but surely it deprives the faithful of the opportunity for a full union with the priestly prayer which, as Cardinal Sarah recently emphasized, is possible only in contemplative silence.

However, I am certain that any sound of the priests voice, loud enough to understand the words, destroys my own spiritual contemplation of those words, for it forces me to merely following them passively. The couch potato mode of listening to someone praying aloud is incompatible with any silent mode of personal prayer.

rcg said...

If we are not co-priests adding our two cents to the Canon then we would benefit greatly from knowing what the subject and intent of any given section of the Mass is about, contemplaiting it, and adding our intentions and prayers appropriate to that segment. I imagine that we are like passengers on an airliner. The pilot should be facing forward, we only need to know what phase of flight we are in so that we may act accordingly and lend our prayers to the successful execution of the journey.

John Nolan said...


Joining with the priest in the Canon means uniting your prayers to his. it does not mean praying the same words at the same time, even if these are words that are completely familiar. When I hear the words spoken audibly in the Novus Ordo, even though they are in the familiar Latin, I am forced to become a listener. This is not helped by the fact that in the NO the priest does not even begin the Canon until the choir has finished singing the Sanctus and Benedictus.

The praxis of the new Mass is linear, which reflects its horizontal ethos. In the past, when I had more patience and less liturgical sense than I do now, I experienced the following at the Offertory. Everyone sits down while the collection is taken. It is then brought up with the bread and wine as part of the Offertory procession. Everyone then sings three verses of an 'Offertory hymn', something which didn't exist before 1965. Only then does the priest commence the Offertory prayers (aloud, of course.) Oh, I'm forgetting that if there is a 'children's liturgy' the kiddiwinks all troop up with their artwork which then has to be admired by all and sundry, and explain (or have explained for them) what they have been engaged in during the last quarter of an hour.

The rest of the Mass is rushed through using EP II because it's short. This is not 'ressourcement' or a return to a putative earlier style of celebration. It is aliturgical, indeed anti-liturgical by any standards of liturgical history and practice - and yet the congregation sit in their pews and don't seem to see anything wrong with it.

God help us. This morning, because of an interregnum in our little village parish, a priest came from down the road in Oxford to celebrate the Sunday EF Mass. He is a Dominican and used their rite. Some of the congregation were perhaps not familiar with it (it predates Trent by 300 years) but this posed no problems; the Propers are the same. The Canon is the same - no minor elevation by the way - it's interesting how the NO has morphed this into THE major elevation, with a 'Great Amen'; an entirely 20th century concept.

Dialogue said...


During the Canon, laymen should be contemplating the Crucifixion, not simulating the Sacrifice.

Anonymous said...

Bee here:

Thank you John Nolan and Dialogue for your helpful instruction.

I have a couple of very old prayer books (dating from the 1930's and 1940's) I found at book sales that have pages of prayers for use during the various parts of the Mass, including the Canon. Since Vatican-II changes happened when I was 8 or 9 years old, and I learned to follow the Mass with a missalette, I had no idea we were not supposed to pray the Canon along with the priest.

Truly, I think I would rather immerse myself in contemplative or meditative prayer during the Canon anyway. However, I would like to make sure to pray for the Church, the Pope, my Archbishop, the "faithful,' and those who have died, as the priest does at various times in the Canon. But I could do that on my own at the beginning of the meditation.

Thank you for this instruction. It is very helpful to me.

God bless,

TJM said...


You are a breath of fresh air - a Catholic who is open to learning and deepening their Faith. Certain priests should learn from your example!

Dialogue said...


There's nothing wrong with laymen reading and understanding the Canon, but only a priest can offer it "in persona Christi capitis".