QUAERITUR: Priests and a silent Roman Canon

In another post I wrote about an option for a silent Canon/Eucharistic Prayer in the Ordinary Form.

This comes from a priest:

I have had an interesting experience with the new translation of the Roman Missal. Since it arrived, I decided that I will use the Roman Canon solely. However, because of it’s beauty, I am being drawn into it unlike the older translation. That may be because it is so new and I’m being a bit more intent on it. And, it is difficult not to add all of the signs of the cross that I have become accustomed to in the Extraordinary Form. On about three occasions I have begun to to recite the Roman Canon in silence as I would in the EF and then realize what I was doing and start again. I wonder if any other priests have had this experience?

Good question.

I sure do resonate with the tendency to insert many of the TLM gestures into the Novus Ordo (genuflections, signs of the Cross).  We become creatures of habit.  I really have to concentrate.  The same applies with the new translation, doesn’t it?

For many years I said Mass daily at St. Peter’s Basilica, often privately or with only one or a few people. To the consternation of the censorious sacristans I said the TLM most of the time, but I would also use the Novus Ordo entirely in Latin. I would say the Roman Canon silently, not only because it is best not to disturb other priests saying Mass, but because it seems the most natural thing in the world to do so.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. tjvigg3 says:

    A question. When you speak of saying the Canon “silently”, regardless of what form of the Mass, do you mean in a whisper or do you mean inwardly with no sound at all? I am under the impression that “silent” words must be spoken in at least a whisper for validity and conversely, that a Canon recited “inwardly” without even a whisper is to celebrate invalidly? Your clarification would be tremendoulsy appreciated.

  2. No, “silent” does not mean without any sound at all.

  3. frscott says:

    Do the rubrics really allow for the Eucharistic Prayer to be prayed inaudibly or in a low voice in the Ordinary Form? I’ve always understood it must be heard and understood, especially the consecration. (That’s not to say Latin is out the window. If the congregation understands the Latin, then it would be affordable.)

  4. Fr William R. Young says:

    I too have found the new English translation of the First Eucharistic Prayer very good. In fact, it is now so accurate, that the prayer now shows in English the scars of the adaptation of the old Roman Canon to fit the pattern of the “modern” eucharistic prayers. The list of saints can now be recited lightly, as an aside almost, as the celebrant makes his way to what then seems the correct place for him to impose hands over the offerings, the Hanc igitur (n.92). The rubric needs to prevent him doing this now, not just because it countermands the old practice, but because the English itself makes the celebrant feel that this is where the imposition ought to be. And again, at n. 88, the Quam oblationem, the imposition of hands now required here, seems out of place: one wants to make the signs of the cross.
    I suppose I feel this because I have often celebrated the old Mass; but I do wonder if celebrants unfamiliar with the old Mass might now begin to feel this: there are few priests who would now be able to feel these things in the Latin as easily as in their own native tongue.
    This also raises thoughts in my mind about how we can enrich the Ordinary Form of Mass. Yes, we do need the option of praying at least the First EP in at least a very low voice. But surely we ought also to have the option of using the old Canon and the Offertory Prayers which grew up as its counterpart. Perhaps the weakest part of the OF is the rush to the chair! To celebrate the penitential rite facing the altar with the people (with double confiteor? with the psalm?) would make for a much more gracious beginning to Mass.
    Now that the motu proprio Universae Ecclesiae, (by preserving in aspic, as it were, the forms of 1962), has removed any possibility of enabling the EF to adapt, there really is a need for some encouragement to be given to those of us who cannot realistically turn the clock back 50 years.
    Or alternatively, perhaps there will be a new editio typica of the EF missal.
    Clearly, any change must be authentic and organic and approved. But the absence of all change must mean the loss of an y real liturgical life.

  5. FrCharles says:

    Ha! I’ve also noticed that with the greater closeness to the Latin of the new translation, I find myself wanting to make the signs of the Cross as they are indicated in the older form.

  6. ChrisWhittle says:

    The most sacred part of the Mass should be recited silently, this part of the Mass went unquestioned until the Reformation, when the Book of Common Prayer and the Lutheran prayerbook instructed that the Canon be recited out loud. The Canon was recited by all Catholic priests silently until Vatican II. So since the Canon is the most important part of the Mass, the people at Mass are silent as the Body and Blood are consecrated by the priest. This is part of the reason why their are bells at Mass, to gain our attention.

    Now, in terms of the Canon said silently in a cathedral or basilica like St. Peter’s (with several side altars and chapels) as Fr. Z explains, the traditional Code of Rubrics state that there are no bells at a Low Mass said at a side altar when a High Mass takes place at the main altar. So the whole Mass at a side altar (which most of the time is a Low Mass) must be said silently and not superseed High Mass at the main altar. This practice began in the Middle Ages when every priest said a Low Mass for the Dead at chantry chapel every day.

  7. Again, from Cardinal Ratzinger in The Spirit of the Liturgy (page 215 of the 2000 Ignatius edition):

    “In, 1978, to the annoyance of many liturgists, I said that in no sense does the whole Canon have to be said out loud. After much consideration, I should like to repeat and underline the point here in the hope that, twenty years later, the thesis will be better understood. . . . It is no accident that in Jerusalem, from a very early time, parts of the Canon were prayed in silence and that in the West the silent Canon–overlaid in part with meditative singing–became the norm. To dismiss all this as the result of misunderstandings is just too easy.”

    Is Pope Benedict’s call for “mutual enrichment”–mainly, of the OF by the EF, obviously–a recognition that some of the liturgical norms hastily adopted in the confusion of the 1960s and 1970s are deleterious to best celebration of Holy Mass?

    As a simple layman not burdened with decisions at the altar, I don’t pretend to know how a priest can or should accommodate the fact that we worship God rather than norms and rubrics. Where does organic development stop and liturgical abuse start?

  8. wchoag says:

    On hearing and observing the new translation for the first time back on the First Sunday of Advent, my initial thoughts were three:

    1. The Anaphora, in this case the Roman Canon, BEGS to be prayed silently.

    2. The whole liturgy graviates towards the ad orientem posture.

    3. The priest could certainly use the help of altar cards since the text is more demanding than the previous ersatz translation had been.

    When I communicated these to my pastor after Mass, he completely concurred.

  9. Archicantor says:

    In his first Mass as a priest of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham, Mgr. Andrew Burnham, erstwhile Bishop of Richborough (and apparently the Ordinariate’s chief liturgist — see his book Heaven and Earth in Little Space) celebrated with a “silent canon” (covered by a Byrd Sanctus and Benedictus):


    (Father Z, we could do with a campaign of prayers on the part of your readers for the speedy ordination to the Catholic priesthood of the author of that now sadly discontinued blog “Liturgical Notes”. Fr. Hunwicke’s daily posts are greatly missed by all friends of good liturgy.)

  10. Father G says:


    In the Order of Mass as printed in the 2nd edition of the Roman Missal, a rubric found just below the Sanctus stated the following:

    “In all Masses the priest may say the eucharistic prayer in an audible voice.”

    Thus, it was permissible during the time of the previous Roman Missal to say the EP quietly.
    This rubric is deleted from the current 3rd edition.

  11. Legisperitus says:

    Is is permissible to observe that a weighty and substantial thing exerts more gravitational pull upon a flimsy and lightweight thing than vice versa?

  12. SAY the black; DO the red. It is NOT the priest’s Mass.

  13. jhayes says:

    Father G, not only is that rubric deleted, but the GIRM (30, 32) says that the “presidential prayers”, which include the Prayer over the Offerings and the Eucharistic Prayer, are to be said in a “loud and clear voice.”

  14. donantebello says:

    I’ve been ordained for 6 years and I can tell you the people long for a silent canon!!! It is tedious to have to say aloud the entire Canon, and it is a drag on the “participation,” of the people. What ever happened to sacred silence in the Liturgy? I have had people remark of how weary they are of hearing every word of the various Eucharistic Prayers. I weary of it as well. SUB SECRETO CANON PLEASE!!!

  15. SYNOD OF BISHOPS, “XI Ordinary General Assembly ‘The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the life and mission of the Church’: Lineamenta” (25 February 2004)

    [English] The Institution of the Eucharist

    37. […] At this highly charged mystical moment, the liturgy indicates that the celebrant is to bow his head and pronounce the words with a clear, moderate voice so as to promote contemplation, as does the Bishop on Holy Thursday, when he breathes over the Oil of Chrism. “By his actions and by his proclamation of the words, he (the celebrant) should impress upon the faithful the living presence of Christ.” [139] At this moment, indeed, the sacramental Sacrifice is accomplished. [140]

    [Latine] Eucharistiae institutio

    37. […] Hoc puncto liturgiae penitus mystico, qui celebrat monetur, ut se inclinet et verba voce clara, non tamen elata, ad contemplationi favendum, proferat, ut Episcopus facit Feria V Hebdomadis Sanctae, dum halitum efflat super chrisma. Qui celebrat “in modo se gerendi et verba divina proferendi praesentiam vivam Christi fidelibus insinuare” debet [139]. Nunc enim Sacrificium sacramentale fit. [140]

    [139] ‘Institutionem Generalem Missalis Romani’ (20.IV.2000), 93; etiam ‘Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae’, 1348.

    [140] Cf. ‘Institutionem Generalem Missalis Romani’ (20.IV.2000), 79 d.

  16. jhayes says:

    Donantebello, do you use EP3 on Sunday and EP2 on weekdays?

  17. donantebello says:


    I never use “EP3.” I only use The Roman Canon, and “EP2” for daily mass. If I could get away with sub secreto in the OF, I would only use TRC, as holy priests have done from the earliest days of Missal codification until 3 April 1969.

  18. leonugent2005 says:

    As it sits right now a silent canon would not be doing the red

  19. leonugent2005 says:

    Or saying the black for that hysterical matter

  20. leonugent2005 says:

    However, I do realize that I am just a layman so i would rely on my bishop to decide if I ever came across this case.

  21. Speravi says:

    I have been using the Roman Canon each day. I have not been tempted to say it silently, however I have been irritated and burdened by feeling that I am obliged to add emphasis to certain words for the sake of the people which I might not emphasize in solitary prayer…this is what makes praying it out loud and praying it silently so different (I often pray out loud as well as silently when I am alone).

    What I have found particularly helpful is trying to pray it with a spirit of recollection and with a CONSCIOUS EFFORT to imagine that the people aren’t listening, and that I am praying before the Face of God, like Moses in the Cloud on Sinai, with the people intimately part of the prayer and present to my mind, but down the hill and out of earshot (even this is probably in violation of the GIRM which, as I read it, seems to indicate that I am leading the people in prayer rather than praying on behalf of the people.)

    What I do find irritating are the little rubrics in the Novus Ordo which seem to accomplish nothing. For example: you are not supposed to rub your fingers together over the chalice…only over the paten (I assume because at dinner you wouldn’t do that). You are not supposed to break the Host over the Chalice, but only over the patten (I assume because at dinner, people don’t cut their food over their cup…but maybe it is because the GIRM PREFERS us to have a giant Host and break it into a hundred pieces)…all this accomplishes is getting crumbs all over the patten, which then makes it take longer to purify (I have managed to follow this by breaking the Host over the ciborium instead of the patten). I find it hard to not join my hands when I bow my head at the Holy Name sometimes. Also after the Fractio panis, the priest is supposed to only eat part of his Host…which results in people getting a broken host with crumbs (if you are not extra careful) in their communion on the hand (this one might not quite be law…it is ambiguous, but at least expressly urged).

    The pope himself appears to violate some of these rubrics. For example, at “The Lord be with you,” in the Preface dialogue, I have seen the him with his hands laid flat on the altar rather than extended (unless this is a kind of extension) as the rubrics state, and then he joins his hands at “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” which is supposed to be said with hands extended (I just join them during the people’s response). These are small things, but these gestures appear to be contra-legem, not praeter-legem…and yet our Holy Father does them. The Holy Father also uses the older gestures for incensation, which according to the current GIRM, also seem to be contra-legem.

  22. leonugent2005 says:

    On this feast of St John of the Cross I guess it’s good for me to realize that for a long time I have endured sometimes patiently sometimes impatiently priests offering mass how it “ought” to be offered” and God willing and by His grace I will endure, sometimes patiently sometimes impatiently priests offering mass how it “ought” to be offered into the future. As for me and my house, we will say the black and do the red.

  23. leonugent2005 says:

    Father Speravi when you say that you are making “a CONSCIOUS EFFORT to imagine that the people aren’t listening, and that I am praying before the Face of God, like Moses in the Cloud on Sinai, with the people intimately part of the prayer and present to my mind, but down the hill and out of earshot” this pretty much sums up the pervasive view of the priesthood most of the followers of this blog have. But Moses wan’t acting as a priest. Abraham did go off by himself but I suspect it would have been difficult for him to kill his son with a bunch of people standing around watching.

  24. Speravi says:

    You have a point.

  25. leonugent2005 says:

    jhayes your remark……GIRM (30, 32) says that the “presidential prayers”, which include the Prayer over the Offerings and the Eucharistic Prayer, are to be said in a “loud and clear voice.” is well said.
    Where can I order my do the red and say the black merchandise?

  26. leonugent2005 says:

    In fact…GIRM 32….The nature of the presidential parts requires that they be spoken in a loud and clear voice and that everyone listen to them attentively. The pastor of the my parish had to install a microphone on the altar because our associate refused to pay attention to this. Why is this stuff so difficult??

  27. jhayes says:

    And 33 explains that he is saying those prayers in he name of he community, which is why they must be able to hear them clearly.

    33. For the Priest, as the one who presides, expresses prayers in the name of the Church and of the assembled community; but at times he prays only in his own name, asking that he may exercise his ministry with greater attention and devotion. Prayers of this kind, which occur before the reading of the Gospel, at the Preparation of the Gifts, and also before and after the Communion of the Priest, are said quietly.

  28. Speravi says:

    While certainly respecting the directives of the GIRM and obeying them as legitimate, I do not think that it actually follows that a prayer said on behalf of a community needs to be heard by the community. The priest prays his breviary in the rectory, in some sense, in the name of the community. In Mass with only a server, the priest is still praying in the name of, on behalf of the community. The NATURE of prayer in the name of a community, IMO, does not DEMAND that it be heard. The GIRM is making an interpretation of the nature and then making a prudential decision based on that nature, but not truly demanded by it.

    If we were to interpret this principle is as being absolutely true, rather than as a legally binding prudential principle, then we would have to say that both the silent Canon in the EF and many prayers said in the Oriental Rites are actually in direct opposition to the very NATURE of the Liturgy. Lucky us we were so smart as to finally figure this out after hundreds and hundreds of years of doing them totally wrong!!!

    And also following on my previous comment, Moses may have not been offering sacrifice, but he was certainly acting as a mediator, a pontifex between God and the people, which is what Christ is and therefore which is what the office of the Catholic priest is. Instead of speaking of the cloud and mountain, we could also speak of the OT priests entering the Holy Place or the Holy of Holies, with the people outside.

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