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!