Silent Canon? A Clarification on Cardinal Sarah’s Comment

Editor’s note: In a speech to the Fifth Roman Colloquium on Summorum Pontificum, held recently at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, Cardinal Sarah raised some eyebrows by making comments about the Eucharistic Prayer that seem to misunderstand or question the reformed liturgy’s prescriptions. He said:

“The silent praying of the offertory prayers and of the Roman canon might be practices that could enrich the modern rite today. In our world so full of words and more words more silence is what is necessary, even in the liturgy.”

The Catholic Herald from London reported on the Cardinal’s talk so as to suggest priests might now be permitted to pray the Eucharistic Prayer quietly in the reformed liturgy:

“He [Cardinal Sarah] suggested that priests may also whisper the canon in the Novus Ordo, as is common in the older rite.”

Pray Tell invited liturgical expert Fr. Dennis Smolarski, SJ to comment on the issue. His remarks follow.

In the Roman Rite, the silent recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer after the Sanctus seems to have begun in the second half of the ninth century in Frankish territory and eventually became the practice at Rome. Prior to that, various liturgical documents indicate that the entire Eucharistic Prayer was chanted or recited audibly. The exception to the post ninth-century practice of inaudible recitation was at ordination Masses of priests and bishops, where the newly-ordained had to concelebrate with the ordaining bishop and the Roman Canon was said aloud so that the newly-ordained could synchronize their recitation with the presiding bishop.

In 1964, the first post-conciliar instruction on the liturgy, Inter Oecumenici, introduced the first modification to the “silent canon,” by decreeing (no. 48f) that the entire concluding doxology (“Through him, …”) be sung or recited aloud, rather than merely the final “for ever and ever.”

The practice of reciting the entire Eucharistic Prayer aloud during any concelebrated Mass became the norm when the post-Vatican II Rite of Concelebration was promulgated in March, 1965. In May 1967, the second post-conciliar instruction on the liturgy, Tres abhinc annos, was issued and gave general permission (no. 10) for the entire Eucharistic Prayer to be said aloud at any Mass with the people. When Eucharistic Prayers II, III and IV were issued in May 1968, the accompanying rubrics did not mention the possibility of saying any of these texts “quietly.”

When the current Order of Mass with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) were published in 1969, the Eucharistic prayer was specially noted among the description of “presidential prayers” (cf. 2002 GIRM, no. 30) and the norm was given that “The nature of the ‘presidential’ texts demands that they be spoken in a loud and clear voice …’ ” (cf. 2002 GIRM, no. 32). Though the 1969 Order of Mass did include the rubric (no. 28, now no. 32) “In all Mases the priest may say the Eucharistic Prayer in an audible voice,” implying that saying the Eucharistic Prayer audibly was not required but only permitted, when the complete revised Latin Missal was published in 1970, that sentence was omitted (though it still erroneously appeared in U.S. English versions!). A commentary published in Notitiae in 1970 noted that the change in this rubric was made to correspond to the paragraphs of the GIRM about presidential prayers.

In 1978 a question was asked of the Congregation for Worship as to whether it would be permitted to re-introduce certain gestures from the earlier Missal that were omitted in 1969, and the answer given in Notitiae was,

“Where the rubrics of the Missal of Paul VI say nothing or say little in specifics in some places, it is therefore not to be inferred that it would be proper to observe the old rite.”

Thus, it seems inadvisable for any reason to violate the clear norm of GIRM no. 32 by reciting the Eucharistic prayer quietly.

In contrast, during the Preparation of the Offerings, the first option given in the Missal for the “Blessed are you” prayers is that they be said quietly (cf. 2002 GIRM nos 141–142, Order of Mass nos. 23, 25).  If there is no singing, the rubrics permit (but do not require) the priest to speak these words aloud and permit (but do not require) the people to recite the acclamation, “Blessed be God for ever.”  Thus, if more silence is desired during Mass, it is in line with the Missal to enact the Preparation of the Offerings in silence before the “Pray, brothers and sisters, …”

The GIRM encourages silence during the liturgy (cf. 2002 GIRM no 45) especially during the Liturgy of the Word, where in many places little silence is experienced after readings or after the homily. In contrast, the Eucharistic prayer does not seem to be an appropriate place to introduce reflective silence, especially since these texts are so rich in content!

Share:

28 comments

  1. The Cardinal did not suggest that anyone saying the NO Mass should recite the Canon silently. He suggested that, if we were considering ways in which the two expressions of the rite might enrich one another, one of the things he thinks should be discussed is the silent Canon. He specifically counselled against experimenting with either expression of the rite and arbitrarily introducing elements of either expression of the rite in to the other without legitimate authority. There is consequently no question of any of the norms of the GIRM being violated at the Cardinal’s behest, rather of them evolving organically over time.
    I see no evidence in what he actually said (as opposed to what he has been reported to have said) to support the conclusion that he has either misunderstood or questioned anything. This post seems something of a straw man that unfairly questions the competence of the head of the CDW. His biggest crime seems to be suggesting that we should consider (only consider) readopting a practice with more than a thousand years of history, that other notable figures (Joseph Ratzinger for one) have also advocated.
    There are other aspects of the speech that are potentially far more noteworthy – his reference to the speech he gave to the 2016 Sacra Liturgia conference, his use of the phrase Reform of the Reform, the speech as a whole against the backdrop of Pope Francis’ most recent motu proprio…
    The rebuttal, unnecessary as it was, made for interesting reading, but I wonder if it couldn’t be said to have a hint of that same archaeologising tendency condemned by Pius XII. After all, the fact that when my house was built there was no indoor lavatory doesn’t make it a good idea to rip out the existing facilities! The idea that there is some ideal, primitive, form of the liturgy that should be our aspirational goal is surely as questionable as the idea that the liturgy should have been frozen in aspic in the 16th century.

    1. “He specifically counselled against experimenting with either expression of the rite and arbitrarily introducing elements of either expression of the rite in to the other without legitimate authority.”

      and

      “There is consequently no question of any of the norms of the GIRM being violated at the Cardinal’s behest, rather of them evolving organically over time.”

      So, given the first sentence, how does the second sentence happen?

      Might a reader not unreasonably conclude that the the norms being changed by “legitimate authority” is reasonably implied?

      1. The rebuttal deals extensively with why, under current legislation, the Cardinal’s proposal couldn’t be implemented and neglects the fact that the Cardinal explicitly says that no change should happen, until such time as legitimate authority has mandated it. I imagine that this organic change can, under the conditions he describes, only come about as a result of the ‘gravitational pull’ of the EF. If that seems inconceivable, one need only think of the rise of the vernacular liturgy in the wake of the Council; there was no popular appetite for it, it was proposed by a vocal minority and quickly gained traction. I imagine that the silent Canon would have to be proposed by a non-vocal minority… 😉

    2. I share your view – the Cardinal didn’t advocate priests now doing the Eucharistic Prayer silently in the reformed liturgy. It is the Catholic Herald, which is sympathetic to the Cardinal’s mindset, which suggested this. But I believe that the Cardinal does “misunderstand or question the reformed liturgy’s prescriptions” (as I wrote).

      I think that the suggestion of Ratzinger and Sarah on this point is very unhelpful and mistaken. Pope Gregory, and every priest up until the Carolingian transformation of Catholic liturgy at least, proclaimed the Eucharistic Prayer out loud. This is weighty, and it is apostolic tradition.

      What the church later did for 1,000 years is significant but not really conclusive, for Sacrosanctum Concilium implicitly and explicitly calls for pruning away unhelpful developments and restoring helpful ones. Vatican II clearly was ready to get rid of things that are a thousand years old.

      Pius XII on archaeologizing has been surpassed by Vatican II, for Vatican II both built upon and went beyond Pius XII. I don’t think it ever works to cite Pius XII on this, not since Sacrosanctum Concilium.

      awr

      1. Father, I would be happy to believe that Ratzinger and Sarah understand it ‘differently’ – but, to say that they ‘misunderstand’ it is to presuppose that the editor is right and is therefore a value judgement.
        I’m not convinced that the bald statement that every Catholic priest up until the Carolingian transformation of the Western liturgy said the Canon out loud – can possibly be true. The Frankish liturgical practices didn’t themselves come ex nihilo, they too were the result of an organic development of the liturgy. When the Franks attempted to codify the liturgy they, like our VII forefathers were also attempting to return to earlier sources. The fact that the silent Canon exists across multiple rites would surely have to imply that the Franks were only successful in creating a unified approach to the silence of the Canon and not to any of the externals of the liturgy. How plausible is that in a pre-print society?
        I happily concede the point that the silent recitation of the Canon must be post-Apostolic (on the grounds that nobody much is known to have read anything silently until Ambrose), but then so is the Alleluia at Mass, the Creed, the Agnus Dei EPs 2-4 etc.; and the modern Offertory prayers are a 20th century grafting onto the rite of the Berakhah prayers that themselves, in their current form, appear to have become part of the Seder in the post-Apostolic period…should these go too?
        I think we dismiss Pius XII too easily. I can only speak for the dioceses of England and Wales, but the ad clerum letters, pre-conciliar surveys and so on make it quite clear that, from an Anglocentric perspective, SC was largely perceived as putting flesh on Mediator Dei – with a number of English bishops thinking that even that went too far! The frantic efforts of significant numbers of English bishops to put the post-conciliar liturgical genie back into the bottle corroborates that interpretation.
        In any case, it’s a moot point since the Canon Romanus is unheard, if not silent, in the majority of parishes as…

      2. Fr Ruff,

        1. I think you’re right that the Herald got carried away in its blurb, attributing to Cardinal Sarah something he was not, in fact, saying.

        2. “But I believe that the Cardinal does “misunderstand or question the reformed liturgy’s prescriptions”” As the GIRM is presently written, there is a good case to make that you’re correct in suggesting that any such change seems to run against the grain of the missal – which really *does* emphasize the dialogical aspect of the Mass. Then again, there is the original allowance Fr Smolarski refers to (since deleted). So this was not a clear point at the initial promulgation of the missal.

    3. “The Cardinal did not suggest that anyone saying the NO Mass should recite the Canon silently. He suggested that, if we were considering ways in which the two expressions of the rite might enrich one another, one of the things he thinks should be discussed is the silent Canon.”

      That does seem to be all he was saying.

      Specifically, he says: “For example, the silent praying of the offertory prayers and of the Roman canon might be practices that could enrich the modern rite today.” So this is sounds like a possible reform of the Pauline missal he is mooting for future consideration.

  2. James Dunne:

    one need only think of the rise of the vernacular liturgy in the wake of the Council; there was no popular appetite for it, it was proposed by a vocal minority and quickly gained traction.
    …..
    The frantic efforts of significant numbers of English bishops to put the post-conciliar liturgical genie back into the bottle corroborates that interpretation.

    I would dispute both those stataments. There was indeed a notable popular appetite for the vernacular. People were champing at the bit, once the possibity was raised, and the phased intoduction of it proved immensely frustrating to many. If nothing else, the speed at which the transfer from all-Latin to all-vernacular took place (just four years) witnesses to the desire to achieve it.

    Some English bishops were certainly unhappy about the liturgical changes and even fulminated against them, but they were in a significant minority. By the late 1970s they had all either died or retired, leaving the remainder to continue the pastoral work of the reform.

    1. Paul, you say that the people were champing at the bit. From the diocesan archives I’ve seen, back copies of the Clergy Review and Tablet, I can find little evidence to suggest that you are right. It doesn’t appear to have been a hot topic in the run up to the council, but becomes one afterwards.
      Similarly, you say that some bishops fulminated against it – I’ve seen no evidence of fulmination, just patient pleading, month after month, that at least one mass in the larger parishes should be offered in Latin, that the Roman Canon not be neglected, that the simpler Latin chants be taught to the people. I’m not going to pretend to have had access to all of the diocesan archives, but I read the same things over and over – all written by the very bishops who voted in favour of SC.

      1. James, I was not primarily referring to what you might find in periodicals, but to what people were saying on the ground. Anyone who went to a Society of St Gregory Summer School or a Church Music Association course, or who subscribed to their journals, to give just one example, would have discovered a whole body of people who were talking about these things all the time. Anyone working with a Catholic publishing house during this period would also have been very aware of this. The fact that the Latin Mass Society was founded in 1965 as a rearguard action against the vernacular is further evidence of the climate at the time.

        The same with fulmination. What bishops said privately and what they wrote publicly are two different things. If you’d ever heard Tommy Holland or Geoffrey Burke or Gordon Wheeler going on about stuff (they weren’t the only ones, of course)…….

        The problem with all historical analysis is that it’s dependent on printed sources and doesn’t take account of the experience of people like myself who were actually around at the time.

  3. In this discussion, I think we can all agree on the need to make room for more silence in the sacred liturgy where it is foreseen in the current rubrics — Lord knows we need it in our fast paced modern society. Secondly, I think we can agree that the Eucharistic Prayer should be offered prayerfully. Too often, priests offer the Eucharistic Prayer in the same way as they are trying to have a personal conversation with someone across a crowded room; and they look at the people as if they were talking to them. I know the priest is in a secondary sense. But, the priest is primarily talking to God, with and on behalf of the people. The people are uniting themselves with his prayer — to give their “Amen.” We also learn from his prayer, and if the priest can’t quite down to lead the people prayerfully into a deep encounter with God in word and sacrament, then we are in more trouble then I thought. I do think, however, that we are past the silent cannon phase.

    1. “Too often, priests offer the Eucharistic Prayer in the same way as they are trying to have a personal conversation with someone across a crowded room; and they look at the people as if they were talking to them. ”

      This.

      The conversational style of presidential prayer that amplification invites is more of the issue.

      1. Jack

        Speaking at approximately the same speed and nearly same cadences and timbre of voice as when talking with people at a not-large business meeting.

        Another way to look at it: if you removed the amplification, one’s elocution would shift if one was aware. That’s the difference.

  4. The brief silences after the readings, though counseled by GIRM and other sources, do not occur in practice in parishes with which I am familiar, except when I read. Other readers are apparently counseled to get off the ambo immediately after saying “The Word of the Lord.” Could it be that we are faced with a monition that we laity can remain in proximity with the altar and the ordained only as long as is absolutely necessary? Note: once the lector leaves the ambo, the music minister is cued to begin the psalm or Alleluia. We abhor silence and always have; when the Canon was recited in silence, there were bells and Benedictus and occasionally more.

    1. A lot of truth in this, but I am familiar with many parishes where there is silence at the end of the readings (before “The Word of the Lord”, the “switch-off” phrase). Of course, some of them do this because I have taught them to…..

      The “seamless garment” syndrome of liturgy, especially beloved of Masters of Ceremonies who think that the desideratum is the least possible gap between one “item” and the next, has, alas, had a lasting effect on postconciliar liturgies. Silence is still foreign to many of us. We think someone has drifted off, or has forgotten what comes next. We have a long way to go before seeing silence as positive, rather than negative; as the presence of something rather than the absence of something. Silence needs to be created, and we still mostly don’t know how to do it. Easy evidence of this: any silence in a large celeberation will be ruined by the multiple squeals of hearing aids being turned up to maximum by folk who think, mistakenly, that they are missing something…..

  5. Yes there need to be periods of silence. In my experience there always are after the homily and after communion. A well planned liturgy usually has a pattern of intensity that follows a sine wave.
    Just thinking of the world we live in and the public discourse we hear from our political leaders. It is marked by an angry and surly inward looking attitude. Surely it must be a good thing when we look outside ourselves and raise our voices together in praise.

  6. Fr. Smolarski writes at the end of this piece, “In contrast, the Eucharistic prayer does not seem to be an appropriate place to introduce reflective silence, especially since these texts are so rich in content!”

    The word I’d like to emphasize here is “text.” It’s a text, and it doesn’t vanish from my sight when it is read silently. Regardless of the Form (or the language being used), I have the text sitting in my lap, in English, ready to go, ready for me to pray along with the celebrant, read along with the celebrant, and meditate on its content in moments of silence. Having the text at hand empowers people in the pews just as much as hearing the words from the sanctuary. It makes me less the passive observer of a show or hapless participant in whatever the “worship team,” as it were, has decided to put on and an active member of the royal priesthood. With a pew missal in my hand, I have a clearly identified, important role in the liturgy (and even, perhaps, encouraging notes in the rubrics to remind me of that role). It is also a protection against shenanigans if I can see, clearly, what is supposed to be going on. Why don’t I read and hear more about that aspect of participation?

    1. Shaughn,

      I think you’re digging your own grave here. The liturgy is not a text, not a text to be slavishly followed, not a text to be watched over to safeguard vailidity. It’s an action. As Aidan Kavanagh used to say, “Liturgy ain’t liturgy unless it’s done !” Words on a page are not the action, in the same way as notes on a page are not the music, which has no real life until it is played and sung.

      I would remind us that literacy among the general population was very limited for well over half the life of the Church (though I’m aware that some scholars attempt to challenge this view). Hand missals are a comparatively recent development. I suppose what I’m saying is, if it was good enough for those earlier Christians, it ought to be good enough for us. Reading along with the priest harks back to the recent preconciliar liturgy where people were observers rather than participants. We need to get away from it, not perpetuate it. We need to lift our eyes from the printed page and join visually with the liturgical action.

      1. Paul,

        There are a number of false choices in your reply. First, it’s the original author who wrote, “These texts are so rich.” They are a text; they are written down. It’s true that the sheet music to Stairway to Heaven won’t get me the song by itself, but neither will I get Stairway to Heaven without knowing what the notes are. There is no choice between “text” and “action,” but text and action go together. I serve in the military; we live with this balance daily. My duties are full of actions, but they are actions guided by Air Force Instructions, regulations, and the UCMJ. Similarly, the liturgy isn’t the text itself, but one needs the text itself to have the liturgy.

        Second, there is a false choice between having a text and being a passive participant on the one hand and having no text and being an active participant in the other. As I said before, the text enables my active participation. Part of that is because I simply process information better when I can both hear it and read it; I prefer subtitles in movies for similar reasons, and when I especially like a song, I want to read the lyrics, too. I am not a passive observer with a pew missal, but an active, engaged participant. I am, of course, a minor case. I would imagine people with hearing impairments and auditory processing issues also benefit from having the text. Also, there is a non-trivial issue of clergy who don’t speak English very well (especially in the military). With a pew Missal, it doesn’t matter whether the priest speaks clear English. I have the text at hand, and I am less likely to be annoyed that I don’t understand what is going on. Far from being passive, I am empowered.

        Third, it is bizarre to see written “if it was good enough for those earlier Christians,” even as one knocks on the pre-Conciliar rite, but this is a secondary issue. We /are/ a literate people, and at this point, that genie isn’t going back into the bottle. Again, literate and passive vs illiterate and active are false choices.

        Fourth,…

  7. Shaughn Casey:

    one needs the text itself to have the liturgy.

    It might be more correct to say “one needs a text….” As Joseph Gelineau was fond of reminding us, in the early Middle Ages presiders were judged by how well they could improvise on the basic structure of a Eucharistic Prayer. Everyone knew what the structure was. If the presider stuck rigidly to “the text”, he was considered lousy — a 180-degree difference in viewpoint from our rigid rubiricism today.

    1. Paul,

      These are the same Medieval people who celebrated in Latin and did all sorts of things I know perfectly well you don’t endorse. I am not wishing for a return to the Medieval Church, and neither are you. Come, now. It’s a charade.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *