Saturday 15 March 2014

The Silence of the Whispered Roman Canon

The Latin Mass Society recently produced a video on the silence of the Roman Canon in the Traditional Roman Form of the Mass. The Canon is a moment of great solemnity since by that prayer, the Risen Lord descends to earth escorted by His angels and saints in order to plead on our altars His Sacrifice on the Cross for our salvation. The ineffability of that moment is better conveyed by the whispered voice than the flamboyant voice, the silence not being an empty silence but a silence filled with the glory, love and utter kenosis of God, the awareness of which can be lost or cheapened by the out-loud ‘community’ voice. On our part the whispered Canon it is a moment that is filled with anticipation, humility, awe, adoration and thanksgiving; it encourages a movement of the heart in which we unite our self-offering to that of the Lord, which is active participation is at its peak.

In contrast, the Novus Ordo has the Canon spoken aloud and celebrants are often so caught up with ‘making it meaningful for the people’ that even the words “take this, all of you...” are accompanied by the gesture of holding the gifts toward the people (facilitated by the innovation of facing them across the altar). When we see this kind of gesture we are all-but seeing the words of consecration addressed to the people, not prayed to God, and that makes the prayer akin to an address by a leader to his party conference. One wonders how far one can be inclined toward this ‘performing’ of the Canon before the prayer becomes a ‘gig’ and quite unable to confect the sacrifice. After all, these are not magical words; they are sacramental words; words of prayer, not of performance. Also, and whether one wants to admit it or not, reciting the Canon out loud gives the impression that the purpose of the Canon is edification of the people. It is not; it is the priestly prayer of Christ to His Father for the sanctification of His people. It can edify; but it can edify just as easily through reading it home in preparation or Mass as it can by hearing it spoken aloud in Church; perhaps more so in that we read it with our own emphasis.

Some justify the out-loud Canon by rightly noting that the whole Church is offering and praying in Christ, but the mode of offering by the congregation (clergy in choir as well as laity in the pews) is different from that of the celebrant; it consists in their personal self-offering in union with Christ. They do not need to hear the Canon in order to completely fulfil this office, which is the supreme and perfect means of actively participating in the Sacrifice. Indeed the silent Canon is the perfect place to pour out the wounds of the soul in our one-to-one relationship with the Lord. On contrary, a spoken Canon hampers personal prayer by the barrage of words coming from someone in the front.

As for the Mystery of Faith acclamation, this seems to me to be a terribly artificial moment. Not only does it interrupt the prayer of the Son to the Father for the sake of giving the people something to say, but there is no warrant for it in Sacrosnactum Concilium which asked for a simplification of the liturgy and removal of unnecessary duplications; not for innovations.

Ought we not to honour the Risen Lord in His Real Presence in our Churches, especially at that moment when He comes down onto the altar to plead His Sacrifice on the Cross for our salvation? As Scripture tells us “God is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Mal.2v20). Sadly, the out-loud Canon reflects (and perhaps promotes) the sacred space as nothing more than a community centre in which we meet, greet and affirm one another. How could it be otherwise when the most sacred moment is interrupted for the sake of an acclamation and when we then turn from the Lord truly and Substantially Present to His mystical presence in one another at the sign of peace? The import of the ‘silent’ Canon is much greater than one might imagine. Bring back the silent Canon! 


  1. Dear Father Gary,

    So very few say the Roman Canon that those who do are very reverent and respect the sacredness of the prayer. It brings the best out of them, it humbles them. They never look at the congregation (trying to engage them, etc) but focus solely on the holiness of the moment.

    1. Thank you, Father.

      The silent Canon is not all that appealing to me because I'm deprived of it on a regular basis. It is such a joy to HEAR it, not hearing it at all would be perishing (a spiritual or liturgical famine).

      God bless you Father!

      (And I'm glad that I could finally post comments after failing for months!)

    2. Thank you, Agnieszka,
      I converted to the Faith in my early twenties and knew nothing but the out-loud Canon. My first few visits to the TLM were therefore very difficult for me, but I soon grew to require the silence as a way of bringing my own needs and thanksgiving to the Lord. If all the words of the Mass are said out loud I feel 'dragged along' with them, with no space for me and the Lord but the few moments after Holy Communion.
      God Bless
      PS I haven't rejected any comments from you so I suspect the failure is in the mechanics of the thing.

    3. Thank you, Agnieszka,
      I was once told by a Bishop to use EP 2; he'd had complaints that people were missing their bus because I had been using the Roman Canon... it takes about 90 second longer.
      God bless you and yours.

  2. nice post, thank you.

  3. "How could it be otherwise when the most sacred moment is interrupted for the sake of an acclamation and when we then turn from the Lord truly and Substantially Present to His mystical presence in one another at the sign of peace?"

    Because people have little or no idea, or simply don't care about the Awesome Mystery of Salvific Love, but care very much about keeping up appearances.

    1. Thank you for the comment.
      Loss of Faith in the Real Presence and an obsession with spreading the feel-good factor among the people is very problematic -and worrying.
      God bless


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