By: Louis J. Tofari
A reader writes:
I am a great follower of the Traditional Latin Mass. It was the Mass of my youth and I remember how I enjoyed it. After Summorum Pontificum I have found SSPX priests that come to my country to celebrate this Mass, and likewise there is a local priest who also performs this rite.
However I have a problem with Low Mass, because I cannot follow the Mass in my missal because the prayers of the priest are completely secret. I have suggested the SSPX priest to allow for reciting in low voice the initial words of the important paragraphs, at the beginning of the Offertory, for example, but this priest has answered me that this is not possible because it is a very solemn rite, which I know of course.
However, some time ago I came across YouTube with a re-enactment of the Mass as was celebrated at the 1500s, with attendance of faithful and acolytes, and the prayers were very much as they are at present, but I noticed that the priest read those in a low, although audible voice. By the way it was High Mass.
My question is that if the Mass was prayed like that in the 1500s, and the rite did not change noticeably until VII Council, why do the priests not recite the Mass as it used to be done, with the exception of the prayers that are secret such as the Offertory and the Consecration?
There are several points that need to be addressed here.
For starters, it is the practice (praxis) in the Latin Rite (thus all the Western Mass rites, e.g., Roman, Dominican, Carmelite, etc.) that the Canon and other prayers of the Mass (such as the Offertory prayers) be offered in the secreto (secret) tone by the priest.
However, there are other parts of the Mass that are prescribed to be said in the clara voce (loud), or even the submissa voce (low) tone by the priest. This difference of tones occurs in all of the rites of the Mass — Low, High and Solemn — though adapted according to the form due to what is sung or not, any overlapping of singing that may occur, etc.
So it is not accurate to refer to the traditional Roman Mass as the “silent Mass” — as is becoming popular by some good-willed proponents — since it certainly is not “silent”. In fact, this is a misrepresentation — referring solely to the Low Mass form — as it is the sung Solemn Mass that is the ideal form of the Holy Sacrifice according to the Roman Rite. The Low Mass is merely an abbreviated form of the Solemn Mass.
Certainly one can understand the desire for the peace and quality of silence — that is, a contemplative spirit and atmosphere found in the Roman Mass versus that of the Novus Ordo Missae, but it’s important that we make proper distinctions in distinguishing their differences (and again, it cannot be emphasized enough that the first and foremost issue with the New Mass is that of doctrine, from which everything else flows; i.e., beauty is an aspect of truth).
All of this having been said, even though some of the most important parts of the Mass are indeed said in silence (for example the Roman Canon), you can still easily follow these with any lay missal. So if you do not have one already, I would heartily recommend that you obtain one.
As for announcing the first few words of each silently-said prayer, this is actually against the rubrics, and is only allowed twice during the Mass:
- For the words, “Orate fratres” as the priest faces the faithful just before the “Suscipiat” response of the acolyte.
- For the words, “Nobis quoque peccatoribus” after the consecration; but even here, this is supposed to be uttered in the submissa voce, not the clara voce as sometimes heard.
As for the recreated Mass done recently in Sweden, there are several issues here.
First, there is the accuracy in which the recreation has actually been portrayed. Recall, the organizers themselves are offering a reconstruction based upon their interpretation of the texts, which could be inaccurate (not an uncommon occurrence).
Second, it should be noted that before the promulgation of the codified Roman Missal via Quo Primum in 1570, there were many, many variants in how the Mass was celebrated. This could even perhaps include which tone of voice the celebrant was using for certain parts of the Mass.
Thirdly, it should be noted that there were quite a few revisions that occurred from the Council of Trent until 1962 (the year of the last typical edition of the Missale Romanum), which have even affected what tone of voice should be used for certain parts of the Mass. Some of these revisions — or clarifications — occurred as late as the New Code of Rubrics that had been long foreseen and was finally implemented in July 1960.
To conclude this answer, it should be understood that the volume of the voice used by the sacred and inferior ministers during Mass is not a point of doctrine, but of praxis, and therefore is possibly subject to revision. As a case in point, many of the parts of the Mass that we Latins are traditionally accustomed to being said in silence (e.g., the Roman Canon) are said aloud in the Eastern Rites, such as the consecration formula in the Byzantine Rites.
However, obviously our traditions of praxis are important, and considering the immemorial tradition of the celebrant praying the Canon in secret (with exception to a bishop when he is concelebrating with the newly-ordained priests or consecrated bishops — which is the traditional practice in the Roman Church), we Romans should want to preserve and maintain this practice that is unique within the Universal Church.
For the faithful in the pews, the quiet parts of the Mass allow for reflection, contemplation, and prayer, or for praying along with the priest in reading silently from the missal. It has been said that the altar at Mass is the meeting place between Heaven and earth.
Good post. There is also something to be said for docility. We are to be docile to Holy Mother Church in many instances like this ‘silence’ business. We may find the silence strange, not what we are used to, and maybe not what we would like, but holy docility takes us out of what we want/like, into the realm of serenity – Holy Mother Church wants silence here, now, and we can be happy with that.
You could say the same for any of the Commandments, Precepts or Councils of God. We are docile, as well as obedient, and content with that, simply because that is what GOD wants.
Yes, well said, Barbara. Indeed, if we want to be obedient and docile to God, we have to obey His Commandments, Precepts, and Councils. That’s really what traditionalism is all about, I think, which the world doesn’t understand.
Straining at gnats again I see. Why doesn’t this site address the huge issue of the rampant gluttony particularly among women in the traditionalist movement. When I was a trad I would guess that AT LEAST two thirds of the female members of the congregation were pushing 250 pounds. The only way a woman can get that fat is if they combine the deadly mortal sins of sloth and gluttony.
Why come here to register a complaint? Why not go to one of your New Order Religion sites and see how willing they are to recognize let alone address any vice?
Ganganelli–Your logic tells me that G.K. Chesterton was also guilty of sloth and gluttony. Unless, of course, you only aim criticism on women. That would make you a judgemental sexist. Is that right???
An excellent article written by Fr. Ladis J. Cizik on “Holy Silence and The Cannon of Mass” published in the Remnant, gives a beautiful explanation of this need for silence. It is very lengthy so I won’t reprint it all here. Maybe you can find it in the archives of the Remnant if interested in reading it in its entirety.
He begins: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence. Holy silence makes its presence especially known during the Canon of the Mass; just as holy silence prevailed on Calvary on that first Good Friday. Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, spoke just a few words that were audible from the Altar of His Cross; just as the priest, acting in personal Christi (in the person of Christ), speaks very few audible words at the Altar of Sacrifice during the Canon of the Mass. The disciples of Christ who were present at Calvary, according to Sacred Scripture, spoke not one word; just as the faithful at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass attend to the Sacred Mystery in rapt holy silence.
In his classic work, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Rev. Dr. Nicholas Gihr writes of the Cannon of the Mass:…the silent recitation appropriately indicates that here is a mystery, which the consecrated priest alone can accomplish not the people. To consecrate the material elements, to offer the Body and Blood of Christ, is a priestly privilege; the congregation present can contribute nothing to the accomplishment of the sacrificial act. This is symbolically indicated by the silent recitation of the Canon.”
After the Sanctus and the lighting of the Sanctus candle, “holy silence now reigns supreme as the Canon begins. The priest is said at this point to be entering “into the cloud”, calling to mind Moses, who was alone at the top of the Mount Sinai conversing with Almighty God on behalf of the people.”
“Likewise, the priest of God, at the Canon of the Mass, has entered into “the cloud” not to dialogue with the people but to commune with God alone, to pray and offer Sacrifice for the whole Church, on behalf of the faithful.”
“Gihr provides five chief reasons for the Canon being prayed in holy silence: (1) The silent recitation of the Canon betokens the Consecration and sacrificial act to be an exclusively priestly function. It is noted, however that while these prayers are “silent” to the congregation, they MUST be pronounced with the priest’s mouth, audible only to the priest himself. (2) “The holy silence is quite suited to indicate and to recall the concealment and depth, the incomprehensibility and ineffableness of the wonderful mysteries that are enacted on the Altar. “(3) Silent prayer is related to religious silence, and therefore expresses the humility, reverence, admiration, and awe which the Church administers and adores the mystery of the Altar. (4) the foreign language (Latin) and the silent recitation serve to withdraw the sacred words of the Canon from ordinary intercourse and to protect them against every desecration. (5) Mystical reasons are given for holy silence which include: Jesus praying in a low voice on the Mount of Olives, as well as on Mount Calvary; and “the Altar becomes not merely the cross, but also the crib…”as in “deep silence…the almighty Word of God descended from His royal throne in Heaven to the crib at Bethlehem; in the manner the King of Glory at the consecration comes down upon the Altar amid the most profound silence.”
If the reader is referring to the Mass in “an ordinary parish in Sweden” in the year 1450, it was a time prior to the Council of Trent’s codification of the Roman Rite which was done primarily because there were so many deviances and abuses throughout the Catholic world (just like today!) that it was necessary to eliminate them so the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was protected against these abuses.