QUAERITUR: Divided Sanctus and Benedictus

From a reader:

I attended the local EF Mass …  It was as usual, the most beautiful thing this side of heaven.  I have one question however on a point I had not witnessed before.  During the chanting of the Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus, the schola did not finish up with the Benedictus qui Venit in Nomini Domini.  I thought it odd, but paid not further attention as the priest proceeded with the Canon.  During the consecration however, the schola chanted the Benedictus.  Is this proper or traditional? I have not heard this done before.


Yes, this is proper.  It is generally not done in the newer form, the Novus Ordo, but it has always been proper and traditional in the older form. 

You will find that in orchestral and polyphonic settings for Holy Mass through the centuries, the Sanctus and the Benedictus are divided.  The Benedictus would continue after the consecration and/or the "Elevation Sonata" that might be played.

These days it is said that in the newer form there should be no music during the recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer.  Of course the Eucharistic Prayer in the newer form is to be spoken aloud now. 

This is all going to be rethought… and it must be rethought.  As a matter of fact, His Holiness Pope Benedict in his writings before being elevated to the See of Peter, suggested that the silent Canon would be a good thing.

I agree.  I think we need both the silent Canon and the reclamation of our musical heritage which includes, of course, settings of Mass that have a divided Sanctus and Benedictus.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Father Z: This is all going to be rethought… and it must be rethought. … that the silent Canon would be a good thing.

    I’m wondering whether this comment, together with a dozen or so preceding ones (either here or in your Wanderer column) add up to saying that the best way to celebrate the OF — in accord with a faithful interpretation of Vatican II — is simply to celebrate it just like (or as closely as possible to the way) the EF is celebrated. Or at least with the same ars celebranda.

    Is this a fair summary of the direction your present thoughts point, and perhaps their final conclusion? If not, why not?

    But if it is, then why should there continue to be two forms of the Roman rite?

  2. If the Sanctus setting is polyphonic or orchestral
    then it is divided into the Sanctus and Benedictus
    in the EF because it is too long and would be sung
    over the words of consecration. Therefore, the
    Benedictus was sung after the second genuflection
    following the consecration of the Precious Blood. If
    the Sanctus is Gregorian then it should be sung
    without the break.

    From Chapter III, Paragraph 27, line D of Da Musica
    Sacra 1958: “If the Sanctus-Benedictus are sung in
    Gregorian chant they should be put together without

  3. With a silent canon in the OF we will be subjected to soulful guitar strumming. At best.

  4. Mitch says:

    It always strikes me when I see how much precision, details, and accuracy the UA was structured with…How they launched the NO without “finishing it” was just folly….And it seems like a rush job at that…The UA has so many details that organically grew through the centuries and lay people really do know the rubrics and prayers…Nonsense to those who say before Vat II no one understood or knew the Mass…It amazes me the knowledge people on this blog have. Kudos to you all and Father Z for keeping it alive. I learn something everyday. A silent Canon in Latin would be a beautiful adjustment to the NO Mass and such a necessary one I think. If decided it should be mandated and not just as a preferred option, like so many others in the NO. Hope it comes to fruition soon for the many who are hungry for liturgical changes more in linewith tradition, Vat II and who do not have a UA available yet to them.

  5. Jeff Pinyan says:

    The Benedictus has a particularly profound meaning when it is sung after the consecration. I think the Sanctus-Benedictus being split in two would give a new meaning to the “memorial acclamation” of the Ordinary Form: the Benedictus would be the response of the congregation to the priest’s “Mysterium fidei“.

    Hmm, it seems I’ve said that here before!

  6. Michael says:


    I share your fear on this, but I think that with the steady growth of the reform of the reform, this would disappear.

  7. Franzjosf says:

    I once assisted at a ‘concerted’ Novus Ordo Mass at the Schubert Church in Vienna, where the choir and orchestra sang Haydn’s Theresa Mass. The Sanctus was sung after the preface, while the Benedictus was sung after the Elevation of the Precious Blood. The Bishop simply waited for the lengthy Benedictus to end, and then continued with the Canon. It worked ok, but a silent Canon would be better.

  8. chironomo says:

    Tinkler and Michael…

    Yes… we would hope that by the time we are reciting the Canon silently in Latin, the guitars and drums would be long gone. I have pondered writing a longer article on how poor quality liturgical music is heavily dependent on a poor quality liturgy. I tried in my mind envisioning the Priest chanting the “per ipsum” in Latin, followed by the guitars and drums leading into the “Amen” from Mass of Glory… seems to me that even the most stalwart progressive liturgy fanatic would see the disconnect…

  9. Xpihs says:

    I once sang for a novus ordo Mass in Irving Texas with the Renaissance Polyphony Weekend with William Mahrt of Stanford while at the University of Dallas. The Mass was sung at St. Luke’s and was celebrated by a Cistercian Monk. It was Novus Ordo, the Canon was silent begining during the Sanctus while the Benedictus was sung after the memorial acclaimation which was in Latin. It was rather nice.

  10. Anonymous says:

    David of Toronto beat me to it.

    The difference is: with CHANT, both are sung at once, before the Consecration. With POLYPHONY (or not-Chant), they are separated.

  11. Maynardus says:

    Mr. Edwards raises some interesting questions and I look forward to hearing Father’s reply. Meanwhile I’ve been turning an idea over in my mind – we’ve seen the P.C.E.D. grant a number of indults for various post-62 innovations in the use of the Missal of Blessed John XXIII. But I’m waiting to hear of someone (a priest or even an ordinary, I dare not hope for an entire national episcopla conference!) requesting an indult from the CDW for the use of certain pre-1970 texts and rubrics in the Ordinary Form? In addition to the silent Canon mentioned above, the traditional Offertory has occasionally been mentioned as a potential option, I think that permitting both of these would go a long way toward “reorienting” the newer Mass in the right direction…

  12. Tom says:

    In London UK, quite a few churches, both EF and OF, have the Sanctus / Benedictus split, but usually only when they are singing Polyphonic music! I do know of one church where the Plainchant is split..

    Reading the original letter it suggests a schola, which would imply, at least to me that the music was Chant, it also implied that the Benedictus was sung during the consecration not after. This would be very odd.

    Another thing of interest, can be found in a book about Latin Hymns I have, It affirms that the Ave Verum corpus, was one of a number of hymns written for use after the Consecration, before they needed to split the Sanctus.

  13. Gavin says:

    How would one break the Sanctus-Benedictus in the OF Mass? I’m not aware that doing the Benedictus after the elevation is allowed by the rubrics, does anyone know where I can find the “red” (“do the red” is anti-spam) for that practice?

  14. carl says:

    Why is it that a silent canon is better? I haven’t heard that before.

  15. Amazing. I never knew that item of the EF. Most of the EF’s I have been to are low masses though.

    You are right, speaking as a musician, and one who is particularly attached to Byrd, Tallis, Victoria, and Gabrielli, we have lost alot of our musical heritage. Too many times music directors will favor a modern piece, because its easier to teach. Most the “modern pieces”, are overly simplistic, and take away from the mass though. I for one, long for the day I will hear something like Byrd’s Ave Verum, or Gabrielli’s Regina Ceoli, at a novus ordo mass, at the local parish level

  16. TJM says:

    I remember this practice well. When Gregorian Chant was used the Sanctus/Benedictus was sung together. If it was polyphony, it was separated. By the way,
    I believe at St. John Cantius, even in the OF, they are separated when polyphony is used. Tom

  17. Carl: Why is it that a silent canon is better?

    The Glory of the Silent Canon

    “We all need to be able to say, precisely and charitably, what it is that we think is so wonderful about the classical Roman rite. ….. ”

    “Shall we speak of the venerable stability and consistency of the classical Roman rite, unchanged in its most essential aspects for nearly a thousand years before the codifications of Pope St.Pius V in the sixteenth century? …..”

    “In the midst of the plethora of beauty and piety that the traditional liturgy encompasses, I would like to single out one aspect that I believe we must always speak of with special emphasis, because it is, stricte dictum, at the very heart of the matter. I refer to the glory of the silent canon.”

  18. Dove says:

    David in Toronto and Anonymous are correct. As the expert B. Andrew Mills explained in Psallite Sapienter, “If the music be chant, or some other relatively brief setting, the Benedictus should be sung immediately after the Sanctus; indeed, the twain are one liturgical unity. But if the words be set to an extended polyphonic or other musical setting (such as Mozart or Haydn), the Benedictus should be sung separately, after the Consecration”. (Para 65).
    However, in the EF Mass at our church, the schola, which sings Gregorian chant, always separates the two, even though there is plenty of time to sing it.

  19. Charles R. Williams says:

    In the Byzantine Divine Liturgy – when the consecration is prayed inaudibly – the \”sanctus\” and the \”benedictus\” are sung by the people and when concluded the priest immediately prays the words of institution \”Take, eat, this is my body\” etc. The effect is very powerful. To me the great advantage of the priest praying the consecration \”silently\” behind the iconostas is to put the focus on what our risen Lord is doing in the holy mystery, taking the focus off what the priest is doing.

    We know, more or less, what the priest is doing while we sing. Certainly, it is edifying to become familiar with the prayers. We consent to them when we sing \”amen.\” But it is not necessary to listen to them during the Divine Liturgy – especially if it distracts us from our work as laity and most especially if distracts us from the Bridegroom.

  20. Shane says:

    There are many things I prefer about the Extraordinary Form, and many things I prefer about the Ordinary Form. I believe that the goal of the Council was likely something in between, paring away what could have been better in the then-current Missal and replacing it with improvements. On the contrary, while I believe that this was done in many ways, some of the good things were also removed, and many inferior things came to be instead.

    For example, the prayers at the foot of the altar served to beautifully begin the Liturgy in a great many ways. On the other hand, I believe that the Ordinary lectionary is an improvement, and my understanding is that the Holy Father does as well.

    Given that, I would very much be happy were some of the superior older items be restored to the Ordinary Missal, while retaining those improvements.

    That being said, I sincerely hope that a silent canon is not restored. I recognize that I will be in the minority here in this opinion, but I strongly believe that the audible canon is far more beneficial to the faithful than the silent canon. Please not that I do not say the silent canon is harmful, for this would be heretical (cf. Trent Sess. 22 Can IX). Rather, I believe that the audible canon is more beneficial than the silent canon, for a variety of reasons.

    I do not wish to take the time in a combox to do these points justice, but briefly:

    First, there is great meaning in the fact that Christ’s Passion and sacrifice was public and before all the world. Aquinas considers His public death to have been most fitting for a variety of reasons, including that by it man knows how greatly God loves him and so is moved to return His love. Therefore, it is more fitting that the re-presentation of this sacrifice be done in such manner as is more fully apprehensible to the people.

    Second, rather than contributing to a sense of mystery, I believe that the silent canon can contribute to a sense of detachment – that is, a sense of a detachment of the people from the actions taking place on the altar. This is important for obvious reasons – the people should recognize their connection to what is going on at the altart. However, it is even more important for what may not be so obvious a reason, namely, that as taught by Pius XII (cf. Mediator Dei and Sacrosanctum Concilium (cf. p. 48), the people in some way, while not to be confused with the unique role of the priest, share in offering Christ to the Father and do it along with the priest. So again, mystery is very important – but I do not believe that the silent canon so much contributes to mystery as it does to a sense that what is going on at the altar is “secret,” or in some way is not something which they can, ought, or need to pay attention to, or is not something in which they are actually involved.

    Third, I have read that the silent canon in some way recalls the sense in which the Jewish high priest entered alone into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. However, in Christ the temple veil is torn, and the Holy of Holies made accessible to all. While this is a particular argument about a particular point, I believe the general concept is more widely appilcable to the question at hand.

    Finally, I want to call to mind the issue of abuse. In this day especially, hearing the canon is, in my opinion, very important. I want to know that the priest has in fact consecrated the Eucharist. In fact, even if the priest is well known to me and I do not fear abuse, the audible canon permits me to recognize even inadvertant error. I’d much rather not adore a piece of bread. Now of course it may be said that this sort of thing is not a good reason for or against a given practice. If this is the case, however, then the same argument ought not be ushered against the opportunities for abuse in the Ordinary Missal.

    In any case, I understand that there are arguments in favor of the silent Canon, but I really think that of all of the things that could be restored from the “Tridentine Missal,” many of them great and wonderful, this is one of the very few that I would be dissapointed about.

    God bless

  21. Shane says:

    To me the great advantage of the priest praying the consecration “silently” behind the iconostas is to put the focus on what our risen Lord is doing in the holy mystery, taking the focus off what the priest is doing.

    However, when the priest offers the consecration, he is not simply the priest, but is rather in persona Christi. To focus on him is not a distraction, but is rather to focus upon the Lord Himself. To create a dichotomy between him and the Lord at this time is to fail to appreciate the true mystery, and indeed, the reality of what is taking place in the Liturgy.

  22. Aaron Traas says:


    Though the priest ACTS in persona Christi, he is not Christ. Christ is present in the Eucharist, either in the tabernacle, or during and after the consecration, or both. The priest does his priestly duties with the authority of Christ, and acts in the person of Christ in the liturgical action, yet we clearly do not treat him as such. The priest still genuflects before the tabernacle, and before the sacred species he consecrates. The other assistants in the mass do not genuflect before the priest, but before the Eucharist.

    Finally, speaking aloud during the canon, and facing the people detracts from the priest’s ability to mentally act towards the desired goals, as it provides unnecessary distraction; the prayers are directed to God on behalf of the people.


  23. Woody Jones says:

    Perhaps others will have seen over at Rorate, the speculation that “something” will be happening this week in Roma,timed in connection with the Chair of Unity Octave: based on the Argentine site “Panorama Catolico”, it is said that HE Bishop Fellay discretely delivered (presumably to the Holy Father or his delegate) the results of the FSSX rosary crusade (I think I saw it was 1,300,000 rosaries saidn in a little over two months), and that now, possibly as early as tomorrow, “miércoles 21 de enero” the decree lifting/nullifying/repealing the excommunications will be signed or released.

  24. David says:

    Interesting note on the divided Sanctus and Benedictus: venit in the Benedictus can be present perfect in Latin. That is, in addition to the simple present meaning ‘comes’ it can also mean ‘who is come,’ i.e. ‘who has come and is now present.’ When the Benedictus is divided, he just has come in the Consecration, and now he is literally present!

  25. Thomas says:

    I fear we are starting down a rabbit-hole about the silent canon.
    However, Shane, I would note that even though I agree with you totally in principle, for me personally, it has never worked that way. Rather, despite all I do to follow the spoken canon, I fall over and over into passive listening, so even with it spoken, I make myself read in a hand-missal, allowing me to fully offer my prayers with the sacrifice. Now, by itself, this is really just a personal problem, but then I must think that other people can’t be all that different from me…

  26. Thomas says:

    back to topic–it seems to me that the Benedictus would make a perfect Memorial Acclamation that links Old and New Testaments to the Real Presence among us. If “Christ has died, etc” can be made up, we can certainly use the Benedictus.

  27. Richard says:

    I agree that the chanting of the benedictus after the consecration of the Sacred Blood can be more profound in the sense that the Lord is now sacramentally present on the altar. However, in the Novus Ordo the EP cannot be said inaudibly; the priest would have to wait for the schola to finish singing before resuming the EP. This is what he did on our parish for Christmas Midnight Mass when we did a Mass in G by Schubert. The priest and congregation sat and waited for choir to finish singing, and it looked kinda awkward. If the silent canon were permitted it would have been smoother.

    The silent canon has deep meaning. When Jesus agonized and prayed for all of us in the Garden of Gethsamani, He did so in private, his thoughts and prayers known only to Him and the Father. During the silent canon, the priest, acting in persona Christi, says the prayers inaudibly, just as our Lord’s prayers in the Garden were “inaudible” to his disciples. Properly understood, the silent canon can have great meaning, and I believe it should be restored in the Novus Ordo.

  28. Geoffrey says:

    De Musica Sacra says: “If the Sanctus-Benedictus are sung in Gregorian chant, they should be put together without interruption; otherwise, the Benedictus should be sung after the Consecration” (27d).

  29. Shane says:

    Though the priest ACTS in persona Christi, he is not Christ. Christ is present in the Eucharist, either in the tabernacle, or during and after the consecration, or both. The priest does his priestly duties with the authority of Christ, and acts in the person of Christ in the liturgical action, yet we clearly do not treat him as such. The priest still genuflects before the tabernacle, and before the sacred species he consecrates. The other assistants in the mass do not genuflect before the priest, but before the Eucharist.

    Certainly, the priest is not Christ. That is not the point I sought to make. Rather, the point is that the actions of the priest are the actions of Christ. The priest, acting in persona Christi, offers Christ to the Father as an olbation. The priest, acting in persona Christi, says “This is My body,” not, “This is Christ’s body.” By paying attention to the priest’s actions, we are observing Christ’s own actions, for it is truly Christ acting through the priest in the offering of the holy sacrifice of the Mass – it is not the priest offering the Eucharist on behalf of Christ, but rather Christ Himself offering it through the priest. To pay attention to the priest in no way is a distraction from Christ, for his actions are Christ’s actions.

    The reality is so striking that in the past, it was appropriate to genuflect to a bishop during the liturgy, as was mentioned just recently in one of Fr. Z’s posts on this blog.

    God bless

  30. Dave Pawlak says:

    The one time I was at St. John Cantius for the Latin OF, the choir split the Sanctus into two parts. It doesn’t seem to work as well in the OF, possibly because of the acclamation already used.

  31. Joe says:

    sometimes you can get the worst of both possible worlds. I was at an Ordination in the past year (OF). A friend of one of the ordinandi volunteered her quartet to sing. They sang the Sanctus and Benedictus from Haydn’s Missa Brevis (which was anything but brevis). After the Sanctus the organ played an intermezzo which lasted about 15 minutes, while the poor Bishop, who was versus populum, stood seriously at the Altar trying not to look at us. Then the quartet sang the Benedictus, and the Bishop continued with the Eucharistic Prayer.

  32. The good thing about the Canon aloud in the Novue Ordo is that the laity can tell if a liberal priests is invalidating the Mass. Doesn’t having a post consecration Benedictus also defeat the purpose of the silence?

  33. I am not the David in Toronto referred to above although my name is David and I do live in Toronto. In any case, as I remember it was mandatory to separate the Sanctus and Benedictus before 1958. In those days it was normal in most parishes to have at least one Sung Mass every day. If there was no feast of Double rank or higher this Mass was ususlly a Requiem and even the very short Sanctus of the Requiem Mass was always split. Of course in every case the priest read the entire Sanctus and Benedictus as a unit in a low voice.

    I have read that in some places it was common to sing a hymn like O Salutaris after the Consecration but presumably the Benedictus had to be sung first.

    By the way, I used to go to weekday Mass everyday when I was young andn only once in all those years, at an early Low Mass and to my great surprise I encountered the weekday use of green vestments.

    It was a very different world!

  34. Charivari Rob says:

    “These days it is said that in the newer form there should be no music during the recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer. Of course the Eucharistic Prayer in the newer form is to be spoken aloud now.”

    It is still permissable for the priest to sing the Eucharistic Prayer? I encountered that at an OF funeral a year or two ago. The priest sang in English, and could sing beautifully.

Comments are closed.