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!