QUAERITUR: Wouldn’t audible prayers in the Extraordinary Form be better?

From a reader:

I was born during Vatican II and until recently, had no exposure whatsoever to Mass in the Extraordinary Form. At the invitation of a friend, I have been visiting a local parish that offers the EF and I am baffled by the fact that many (if not most) of the priest’s prayers are inaudible to the congregation. Why is this? Wouldn’t saying or chanting the prayers aloud make it much easier for the congregation to follow the liturgy and comprehend the glorious mystery and majesty of what is being said and celebrated in the liturgy? Please enlighten me.

Comprehend the mystery?  Really?  We can have a glimpse, an encounter with mystery, which may wind up being both frightening and alluring.  Comprehend?

It seems to me that for decades, our liturgical worship has been turned into a didactic moment, or a self-enclosed group grope, or a period of distraction or entertainment.  All manner of noise and explanations and singing every word and constant amplified chatter from the sanctuary (if there is a sanctuary) has conditioned people to think that they have to see and hear everything and be doing something all the time.  Our sense of “active participation” has been twisted.

Here are a few quick reasons – few and quick because Father’s tired – to get you started in your own thinking about the great advantages of having some of the priest’s prayers inaudible.

Firstly, however, remember that some of the priest’s prayers in the post-Conciliar, Novus Ordo are silent.

That said, very often during Mass Father is not talking to you!  The prayers are addressed to God.

Moreover, the denial of certain senses is helpful in establishing an environment and moment in which you can encounter mystery.  Mass cannot, must not, be easy.  You have to strive even in the gaps of your perceptions for what is really going on.   In the Eastern Rites this is accomplished by denial of the view of a great deal of what is going on.  There is a screen with doors, which at a certain point are closed, thus shutting of your view of things in a more complete way.  You can hear everything, but not see.  What’s more, in the early Church in Rome, curtains were hung about the altar to obscure the view.

Denial of the senses is important.  Constant noise won’t let you do that.

In addition, the silent prayers aid…well… silence.   We need silence in our rites.  Silence itself can be difficult for many people today.  To that I say “good”!  Mass should not be easy.  After all we are trying to join the earthly and the heavenly, the mortal and the eternal, the human and the divine.  How is that easy?  No.  We should avoid the trap of trying to dumb our rites down.

Finally, it is part of our tradition to pray in this manner.  This is how Catholics do things. Celebration of Mass did not begin in 1970, after all.

So, at the end of a long day, those are a few quick reasons for why in the Extraordinary Form many of the priest’s prayers are not audible to you.  They are, however, audible to God and the Holy Angels.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Thanks for the explanation. As an EF beginner, I was wondering about this.

  2. Matt R says:

    Our liturgy director in our diocese wrote a column on periods of silence in the NO. She mentioned the brief silences after the ‘Oremus,’ at the collect, which bring us together as the celebrant prays at the head of the church. She mentioned little silences after each prayer in the General Intercessions, as well as the silences during the ablutions, which is a period of private prayer distinguished from the hymn-singing period that coincides with the communal reception of Holy Communion. Not once was the EF mentioned, even as she pointed out how scarce silence is today (and this is a diocese with 2 EF Masses on Sunday, and daily celebrations as well, both continuing from the 1984 indult).

  3. Hank Igitur says:

    It is easy to follow the quiet parts of the Mass in your missal. After a while you can tell by postures, gestures, signs of the cross etc. where the priest and server(s) are up to in the prayers. It does not take long.

  4. Dennis Martin says:

    Although some of those who love the EF see the silence primarily as an aid to silence and contemplation, I think it helpful to approach this practically and historically. Until the advent of artificial amplification of sound in a meeting place, whether one could hear the prayers of the priest even if he was speaking in full voice, depended a lot on how close to him you were sitting or standing and on the other acoustic conditions of the venue.

    Take away the sound systems in most OF settings and some would be able to hear but most would not, in most settings.

    The thing we need to let go of is the idea that the only way to follow what the priest is doing is by hearing his words.

    The EF has visual markers everywhere. Yes, one has to learn the Mass thoroughly and learn to notice the visual markers, but once one does that one can follow without hearing. (We learn the visualsigns by using Latin-English hand missals but back in the day when people were mostly illiterate, those WHO REALLY WANTED TO got extra instruction from priests or other knowledgeable people to learn step by step what was going on up there in the sanctuary–Sigrid Undset sprinkles such scenes throughout her novels,where the protagonists learn from a monk of their acquaintance.)

    The steps from the prayers at the foot of the altar to the altar, the movement from the epistle side for the introit to the center for the Gloria, the priest actually looking upwards as he says “et elevatis oculis in coelum” just before the Hoc est enim . . . and so on throughout the EF Mass.

    You can’t hear him but you know what he is saying because you see what he is doing and you know that he won’t be ad-libbing or messing around with the words, so you know for sure what he is saying.

    If one wants to, one can follow along perfectly, after putting in a good bit of effort to learn things.

    One can also “follow” along less specifically in contemplation of the mystery, in praying the Rosary, in reading lay people’s prayers–as it was done for centuries by pious lay people.

    The idea that one has to hear audibly exactly what is said in order to follow along word-by-word, indeed, even the idea that it’s best to follow word-by-word, are recent innovations. For some they may be very good innovations but for centuries, because it simply was not possible to hear everything, Mother Church in her infinite wisdom, worked carefully on the visual cues to make it possible to follow in detail if one wanted to or to pray one’s Rosary if one wanted to or to pray the prayers recommended to lay people at certain points in the Mass.

    Practical acoustic issues are not the only or even the main reasons for the silent canon or the other inaudibilities. Fr. Z’s reply touches on the more central reasons–ineffability of the Mystery and so forth. But it helps to keep in sight the reality of thousands of years of Catholic worship when audibility was not possible physically and, even had it been possible, would not by itself have brought comprehension of the words heard.

    In the absence of hand missals (the first efforts at this came in the late 1300s or 1400s–as literacy increased–still minority but growing), physical audition by itself would not have brought comprehension to non-Latin-literate people. The widespread use of hand missals by the devout minority in order to follow word-by-word (by using the visual cues), is a phenomenon of the 19th and 20thc Liturgical Movement. And it dovetails with the point at which literacy reached 80 or 90% in Western Europe. Before that, hearing every word wouldn’t have helped people. But having a knowledgeable person explain what happens step-by-step with the visual cues, WOULD HAVE HELPED even the illiterate–which is Undset’s point.

  5. Dennis Martin says:

    I always explain to students, before I send them to observe a Latin Mass (I let them choose between Latin OF or the EF), that the Mass is an ancient form of worship in which the people gather, led by the pontifex at their head, all facing God, to offer sacrifice.

    The horizontal, social gathering in which the People of God mutually support and aid and chat and sing and shake hands accomplishes some good things, for sure, but it is in every case a modern form of worship. One of only two things all Protestant Reformers agreed on was that the Mass was not a propitiatory sacrifice. In that they were turning their backs on an ancient way of worship, common to nearly all religions and forging a new path. They probably had no idea that’s what they were doing–they were convinced propitiatory sacrifice was unbiblical (I think the reason they did so was a change in understanding of time–they lived only in time and had, for whatever reasons, lost sight of real, actualized timelessness of Christ’s sacrifice–for them it could only be “back there in time.”)

    Unless a newcomer to the Old Mass realizes that he is participating in an ancient form of worship in which one leaves mere-timedness and enters into timelessness, leaves earth and enters heaven (or heaven comes down), he will misunderstand the EF. It’s so silent. I can’t follow everything. I can’t process each word in my brain. People are so unfriendly, there’s so little social dimension (not realizing that entering into timeless union with the saints in heaven is Community of the Highest Level), and so forth–most of the first-time unsettling aspects can be mitigated if one enters with the mindset: I am going to participate in something that is From and For the Ages, an ancient form of sacrificial worship that is, in many ways alien to modern people
    necessary for modern people. The loss of awareness of timelessness in our families, our culture, our food, our sexuality, our politics, our art–really the loss of the transcendant, of which timelessness is one facet, this loss has impoverished us uncalculably.

    Hence the old Mass as the newest and oldest Thing possible, all at once, the antidote to our imprisonment in the immanent.

  6. Dennis Martin says:

    But, I hasten to add, the OF can be celebrated ad orientem, in Latin (or even in the vernacular) with an ars celebrandi that returns a lot of the timelessness that has been thrown out of most OF Masses. They don’t have to be celebrated so totally horizontally as most of them are.

    Because the OF too is The Propitiatory Sacrifice. It too IS an ancient form of worship (and please don’t jump on this statement with claims about how the OF lacks continuity and organic continuity and so forth. I agree. But because of WHAT THE MASS IS, EVEN IN THE Ordinary Form, it remains a propitiatory Sacrifice and thus timeless. Vernacularization and foolish ars celebrandi have stripped away almost all of the markers and reminders of what it is but it is still what it is. Priests would be wise to restore the markers of timelessness and the transcendent–ad orientem in the OF is a good start, not because they make the Mass what It is but because we poor weak humans need the help such markers and “trappings” provide.)

  7. Legisperitus says:

    In fact, if I am correct, the use of “rood-screens” was commonplace in the West also, up until the Council of Trent. This explains why many old rood-screens survive in Anglican churches, the C of E having definitively gone its own way before Trent was completed.

  8. Jeanette says:

    Though no one said that the practice of low vocal volume prayer is to be condemned, the Council of Trent in it’s 21st session did have something touching this in the canons following the doctrinal portion on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass:

    Canon IX. If any one saith, that the rite of the Roman Church, according to which a part of the Canon and the words of consecration are pronounced in a low tone, is to be condemned; or, that the Mass ought to be celebrated in the vulgar tongue only; or, that water ought not to be mixed with the wine that is to be offered in the chalice, for that it is contrary to the institution of Christ; let him be anathema.

  9. Maltese says:

    Just think of the Rood Screen, and silent prayer and meditation before the Sacrifice. Worked for over a thousand years…

  10. TLM says:

    During Mass we assist by prayer, there are prayers to be said during each part of the Mass that are different than those being said by the priest. Of course, it’s best to know the prayers of the Mass itself before you do this. You can find these other prayers in a wonderful book called, Blessed Be God.

  11. optimist says:

    Dennis Martin, excellent points! I would add that, as a schola director, we have chanted in many places that have no accompaniment, and the fact that we are used to it makes it easy. No electrical power? No problem!

    As an aside – we sang with a 40 Days for Life group outsides Planned Parenthood once, and in the parking lot we sang many hymns and antiphons. Even though there was a health club next door to the PP (with a very loud techno beat going), they called the police on us because we were disturbing them!!!

  12. APX says:

    The silence used to bother me too when I first started attending the EF. I attended two OF Masses, which were both reverently done as far as reverence goes for the OF where I was at. Even the Roman Canon was used. As much as I love the Roman Canon, I couldn’t stand the “noise”. It was like nails on a chalkboard to me. All I wanted was silence (and more kneeling) in order to meditate on the mystery and the sacrifice, but regardless of how hard I try, I just can’t do that at the OF. There’s just too much noise and stuff going on. It’s like sensory overload.

  13. Angie Mcs says:

    Dennis Martin “people are so unfriendly, there’s so little social dimension” etc. So it must seem to those who attend a TLM unprepared to deal with silence. My husband and I attend the TLM at our church every week, and on most days it is quite silent, so silent I am struck by its rarity. Yet the same people who seem so unfriendly and unsociable will greet you in the hall or sit down with you in the cafe- and there are organizations if younwant a more social connection. But Thatbis not the point. We attend the TLM, or EF, to savor the silence, for our own reasons. Many here have made good points about using the missal or following the cues of the priest, if you want to know ” what’s going on.” We are there to worship Our Lord, period. And to worship Him in this format because it gives us each an intimacy with Him, separately from our neighbor in the pew. We are all together with Father, yet still each struggling to be with Christ as best we can, perhaps each time in a new way, a new discovery. It is difficult, I cannot wander in my thoughts, I am learning to discipline my mind to sat on track, to savor every moment. It is very personal. The most difficult thing is when people who do not attend the TLM come in to get ” the experience”. They talk throughout mass because they can’t stand being quiet and still. They comment on the beauty of the church or the music, or how it’s different…God knows. They are restless, they need to be neighborly, look around. It’s as if they don’t feel they are there unless they are DOING something. They can’t seem to understand the need to strive for that moment of mystery, if you’re lucky, that connection, which is the closest thing to perfection we can find. And much of this depends on silence, especially at critical times in the mass. In my church we can hear the priest speak in low tones, but it is fluid and graceful and flows easily over the mind. When he speaks up and turns to us, he is speaking for God, and it is very moving, the moments we need to listen. The mass ebbs and flows in this way, growing to a crescendo and climax, followed by a return to quiet in the reading of the Last Gospel and leaving one with the desire to stay and find your own closure, rather than jumping up to start socializing and exchange thenlatest news.

  14. APX says:

    Dennis Martin,

    If anything my EF community is too social for me! Someone shaking my hand out of a compelled feeling due to proximity doesn’t actually create a social gathering anymore than the Wal-Mart greeter really makes people feel greeted and like a valued customer at Wal-Mart.

  15. Glennonite says:

    I have only experienced 5 Latin Masses in my life (all on the recent Retreat at Sea with Church Militant.TV). The first was was very difficult, the rest became progressively better as I became used to what the Latin Mass is. I want to experience the Latin Mass more but there has to be a way for the uninitiated to experience it in its fullest possible way.

    As a cradle Catholic, I’ve received ZERO anything on this my entire 5 decade life; and that’s not fair. There has to be a proper way to educate Catholics about how to _________(?) the Latin Mass. I don’t even know the correct word to use in the above blank. Am I attending, or participating, or praying, or adoring, or worshiping, or accenting to, or….?(!)

    This is unacceptable. This article and the comments by Dennis Martin are helpful, but I cannot accept that occasional snippets of information here and there, or simply attending the Latin Mass and figuring it out by one’s self are the only methods that one can learn something that is my Baptismal right to know (!).

    Fr. Z sir, what say you?

  16. Praying the Traditional Roman Mass is very cerebral, it requires much interior participation….and those that come from the OF, there will be a relatively steep learning curve (Assuming typical OF parish celebrations of Mass)….Since I’ve been praying the Byzantine Liturgy much lately, I’ve noticed that there’s constant motion, that each has their own part, and this constant motion flows beautifully, and I think this is what Vatican II was trying to achieve for the Roman Rite, a return to the true sense of Liturgy….that said, even the Byzantine Liturgy has parts that can’t be heard by the congregation, and I think it’s a good thing that these prayers are inaudible. Without the focus on the Mystery that’s being made present, much of this gets lost. I think that for the Roman Rite, we should be praying the parts that belong to us, and not the parts that belong to the priest.

  17. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    I understand and appreciate the silent canon in the EF, but I do wish there were more visual or audible cues to keep up. For instance saying the first few words out loud (a la “Nobis quoque peccatoribus”) more often. There are times where I am trying to follow along, and then all of a sudden find out that I am way behind, or way ahead, of the priest.

  18. Juho says:

    I would like to point out that Byzantine Liturgy does not make the participants only visually deprived. Most of the priest’s prayers are inaudible there, too. He is doing his job behind the iconostasis while the choir is singing on the other side, and this chanting is what the people hear.

  19. Supertradmum says:

    We in the West, until recent times, were keen on the the rational in Liturgy, as over the Mystery, which was kept much more in commentaries, and, indeed, in the Byzantine liturgy. The Mystery is more obvious, and I am stating the obvious, in the TLM than in the NO.

  20. jflare says:

    Benedict XVI mentioned the problem of laity and priest staying “synched” in The Spirit of the Liturgy. He recommended that the priest offer the first line of each major prayer audibly, the better for the gathered faithful (I dread using the word “congregation”) to know what to pray next.
    Though the silence had been difficult for me to handle, I thought he–Benedict–made an outstanding point: He emphasized the idea that a priest needed to be offering silent prayers precisely so that he, the priest, could be actually PRAY during that portion of the Mass. Though I’d heard that the Mass was our highest form of worship, I had NEVER thought of the Mass as being a personal prayer! That was a rather startling idea, I must say!

    TLM, Fr Z, I’ve heard about how people used to pray Rosaries during Mass, especially during the “more silent” parts, like the canon. I thought I’d understood this to be something of an abuse.
    I’ve never heard anything about prayers that the faithful in attendance at a Mass COULD be or SHOULD be offering, especially that differ from what the priest would be praying right then. Could you explain that proposal a little more? [You bring up a good point about devotions during Mass. Let’s deal with that under another entry someday.]

  21. John Nolan says:

    What commentators have noticed about the Byzantine Rite applies equally to the Roman Rite in its sung form, where the “silences” in the Low Mass are often overlaid by singing. This is particularly noticeable during the Offertory and the Canon. It is fashionable for liturgists to regard the Low Mass as an aberration, but it has a quiet beauty of its own. The best way to appreciate it is to serve it.

    Glennonite, traditionally one “heard Mass”. Now that really gets the liturgists tut-tutting.

  22. jaykay says:

    Glennonite: “I cannot accept that occasional snippets of information here and there, or simply attending the Latin Mass and figuring it out by one’s self are the only methods that one can learn something that is my Baptismal right to know (!). ”

    A definite cri de coeur there, and one with which many of us can concur. You may know, of course, that the actual practicalities of the situation are that in very many areas of the world the TLM, and the MP Summorum Pontificum, may as well not exist. But at the end of the day it is up to us ourselves who do know and love it to form groups and press for its celebration. And it’s so important that this not be on the basis of a “passing fad” but that it be done in a committed, ongoing way (and yes, this will involve financial support, probably on top of that to which you’re already committed) because those who oppose it will be all too ready to pick on lack of attendance and/or support to consign it back into the obscurity which they firmly believe is its proper place.

    As to the whole “unfriendly TLM” thing, a blind friend of mine who once had his hand practically wrenched off him (from behind) by an enthusiastic “sign of peace” merchant at an NO Mass (being blind he had no idea what was coming) caustically and loudly commented: “Yeah, great. What a pity so many people aren’t so ready to take my arm when I’m standing there trying to get across the road”.

  23. JonPatrick says:

    This has been a very interesting discussion, some very well written posts above. I have been attending primarily the EF Mass since 2009 and feel I am only just beginning to understand what is really going on in the Mass and particularly what my part is in it. I originally preferred the Missa Cantata but more recently our family has been going to an earlier Low Mass which I find really helps me focus on what is happening at the altar. In a sung Mass there is always that dichotomy of following what the choir is doing then being out of step with what is happening at the altar e.g. during and after the Sanctus where you miss much of the Te Igitur prayer, etc. As a very distractible person I find I have to follow the Mass closely, if I just stop to “soak it in” my mind wanders and I lose track.

    A thought I’ve always had – the traditional Latin Mass has been central to so many of the great saints of the past. When I am at Mass I think how this is essentially the same Mass that St. Francis of Assisi or St. Theresa of Avila prayed. Perhaps one day there will be great saints nourished by the OF. But I can’t help thinking if this (EF) Mass produced so many great saints perhaps that tells us something about how we should be worshiping if we want to make the great saints of the future.

  24. Gaz says:

    I think that where we are now is the result of a broad liturgical movement that spanned the 20th century, followed by a great rupture, followed by a rediscovery.

    My little thesis is that the Liturgical movement sought to develop the notion of active participation through the rediscovery of the elements of the Mass that were proper to those who were not Sacred Ministers. Namely, these elements are the sacred chants proper and common (Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Gradual, Tract, Alleluia, Sequence, Creed, Offertory, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Communio). At Low Mass, it led to the increase in the notion of the dialog Mass. In essence, the Liturgical movement sought to draw from a monastic sense of community and graft it onto Parish and Cathedral life. In some places, this was bound to work, in some not.

    Vatican II came at a time when the Liturgical movement was active and vocal. Although the Sacred Council did not specifically advocate changes to change the Mass into a great mass of verbiage, it so happened. There are many discussions about the rupture but I don’t really want to dwell on it.

    So what has happened in the rediscovery? I don’t think the Catholics in my country (Australia) seek to simply turn the clock back to the 50s or 60s. They seek to tap into an older and richer tradition of the Mass, particularly in its monastic expression. This usually fits EF communities due to their relatively small size.

    Why say all this? Firstly, there’s the realisation that Low Mass is a cut-down version of High Mass. High Mass in this day and age demands a great time and talent commitment of the laity. After many years, I’m just getting to the stage where I can hear the chant of the Mass and sometimes recognise and appreciate the text is without a Missal. It takes a long time to get that intimate with those riches (or at least it has for me).

    Silence in the EF is an invitation to explore and contemplate not only the infinite forest of the Sacred Scriptures and the truth of the Church’s teachings, but also to use the opportunity to conform oneself to Christ in the living of one’s life.

  25. jaykay says:

    JonPatrick: “As a very distractible person I find I have to follow the Mass closely, if I just stop to “soak it in” my mind wanders and I lose track. ”

    Yes, this can happen in the TLM where the priest continues while the choir sings, rather than in the NO where everything stops (looks so artificial to me, and as a choir member I always get the sense that they’re just waiting – impatiently – for us to finish!). For me personally, as a singer who listens intently to the music and can all too easily be “led away”, it helps when I’m at a solemn TLM that in order not to be distracted I slowly (and mentally) recite the prayer being sung to myself while concentrating on the altar, and not on the missal if I have one. It just works for me, anyway.

  26. Unwilling says:

    I was an adult convert and knew only the 1962 Mass for several years before the vernacular NO replaced everything; but being male I was permitted to serve at the altar and make the responses; the “dialogue” aspect of the English was not a shock — the concomitant irreverence and heresy was.

    The unutterable holiness of the Real Presence.

    The Church began with the people “assisting” at divine rites: Luke 1: 8ff Zaccharias… ante Deum secundum consuetudinem sacerdotii …ingressus in templum Domini et omnis multitudo erat populi orans foris hora incensi “Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.” But it is true that God instituted the Sacrament as in a “meal”, keeping in mind that the Body and Blood are of the Sacred Victim and that the priests of the old dispensation ate the flesh of the offertory victims.

    And yet misunderstandings appeared almost immediately when the People lost sight of the sacred in the image of merely social “community”. St Paul laments, 1 Cor 11:20 “When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”

    What is the right attitude? St Paul goes on, 27-29 “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”

    The Church discovered through the often-painful development of doctrine over many centuries, now millennia, how to balance ideas and practices into the Catholic synthesis. Fr Z means nothing dismissive or arbitrary in saying “it is part of our tradition to pray in this manner. This is how Catholics do things.”

  27. Dennis Martin says:


    There are, of course, many, many resources available. I would recommend the cartoon-style book used in Catholic schools before Vatican II to teach the Mass to elementary school children: Know Your Mass, available from the Coalition for Ecclesia Dei (google for it, look under “other books”).

    You probably already know the Latin-English Booklet Missal from the Coalition. But studying it carefully actually can teach one an awful lot. But perhaps by now you’ve already acquired, in bits and pieces, the sort of knowledge of the Mass that you were not given as part of your Catholic upbringing.

    Finally, Ronald Knox, The Mass in Slow Motion was a set of talks he gave to middle school girls in the 1940s. It’s a good “next stage” after the elementary school book mentioned above.

    None of these books are a proper substitute for the education you were owed. But these are my suggestions for self-tutoring. Or do it the way Sigrid Undset describes–ask someone knowledgeable to tutor you.

    To everyone else, yes, I know dozens of very good books are available. I did not attempt to mention all of them here. I mentioned the two I did because they were designed for elementary and middle school levels and one of them is readily accessible via the Coalition. Knox’s book is (was) in a lot of Catholic libraries; I don’t recall if Roman Catholic Books ever reprinted it.

  28. Titus says:

    “Wouldn’t saying or chanting the prayers aloud make it much easier for the congregation to follow the liturgy and comprehend the glorious mystery . . . ?”

    The short answer, of course, is “yes, but so what?” The inquirer is right, of course, that comprehension of the action, in a scientific sense, would be increased by audible prayers. But since mere increase in comprehension of this sort is not the aim of the Mass, or even the principle pedagogical goal of our participation (see Father’s response), that admission does not itself provide much direction.

  29. APX says:


    I don’t mean to sound smart, but have you tried reading a book on the TLM?

  30. Lepidus says:

    Glennonite – After reading Know Your Mass as recommended by Dennis Martin, above, I would also recommend Prayers and Ceremonies of the Holy Mass by Dom Prosper Guéranger. It’s also available from Eccesia Dei, but I there are online versions available as well (sometimes just called Ceremonies of the Holy Mass).

    With respect to silence – At least in the EF, I can see what the priest is praying and the actions he is performing. In the OF, you have no clue of what’s going on during the enforced periods of silence. Did the priest fall asleep? Is the reader counting to 10 or 30? (Yes, that was what they were instructed to do in the late 80’s). Is there enough time for me to get in a Hail Mary, a whole Te Deum, or just two word? Of course, the usual answer is just to sit there and wait for somebody to start moving.

  31. Andrew says:

    “If subconscious experience is ignored in worship, an affective and devotional vacuum is created and the liturgy can become not only too verbal but also too cerebral. Yet the Roman Rite is again distinctive in the balance it strikes between a spareness and a richness of emotion: it feeds the heart and the mind, the body and the soul.”
    (John Paul II, Ad Limina Address to Bishops of the United States)

  32. Therese says:

    “…for that it is contrary to the institution of Christ; let him be anathema.”


    G.K. Chesterton: “An imbecile habit has risen in modern controversy of saying that such and such a creed can be held in one age but cannot be held in another. Some dogma was credible in the twelfth century, but is not credible in the twentieth. You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays.”

    (Or that the Church before Vatican II cannot be believed.)

  33. Del says:

    Ah, Silence!!!!

    In my home parish, it is impossible to find a moment of silence. The piano is banging away before Mass starts. And the piano continues after the superfluous Communion song is done, until Father sits down. After barely a five-second pause, the priest stands for the final prayer and blessing.

    The good news is this: As more of us attempt to kneel and pray after Mass, the crowd is becoming more respectful about leaving the nave quietly. The people get it, even though the elites in charge of our liturgy do not.

    I love to travel 30 minutes to a parish where Father celebrates the OF ad orientem, there are no Offeratory or Communion hymns (the choir chants the sacred and beautiful psalm for the day from the Missal), and there are generous moments of silence.

  34. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Glennonite,

    There is a venerable old black and white public domain video of the Latin Mass narrated venerable Bishop Sheen, then a Monsignor, from 1940, that may be watched or downloaded from here:


    The Chicken

  35. Jim says:

    And he said to him: Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord: and behold the Lord passeth, and a great and strong wind before the Lord over throwing the mountains, and breaking the rocks in pieces: the Lord is not in the wind, and after the wind an earthquake: the Lord is not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire: the Lord is not in the fire, and after the fire a whistling of a gentle air. And when Elias heard it, he covered his face with his mantle, and coming forth stood in the entering in of the cave, and behold a voice unto him, saying: What dost thou here, Elias? And he answered: With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant: they have destroyed thy altars, they have slain thy prophets with the sword, and I alone am left, and they seek my life to take it away.

    – 1 Kings 19:11-14

    I just think we (atleast I) “moderns” are just dead scared of silence – it makes us feel uneasy, because we are so much immersed in noise.

    It felt maddening at my first Extraordinary Form Latin rite mass. The second mass was more “assistable”. Then it got better and better and now I am at home (it took about a year for me) and it “feels” like heaven. I must admit that I wanted to quit several times (because the experience is different), but I trusted the Church and stuck on. I am glad I did.

    It helped me very much in knowing that there were other “moderns” who had overcome the aversion to silence, for example the Carthusian monks of the Grande Chartreuse (do not miss the interview with the blind monk):


    It is reasonable to conclude that if the Carthusian monks can give up this same modern world to live a life of silent contemplation every hour of every day with God, as a baptized Catholic I can afford a few minutes at mass as well.

  36. Anonymous Seminarian says:

    Adrian Fortescue writes in “The Mass” (p.312 in my copy): “Before the Canon began to be whispered, the secret was the only prayer not heard throughout the church.” and again on p.325-6: “All the Canon (except its ekphonesis at the end) is said silently. This is already in Ordo Rom II; it has been so ever since. It is difficult to say when that custom began or what was its original reason. Undoubtedly during the first three centuries the people heard the consecration-prayer. The fact that the old Roman offertory-prayers are called Secrets because they are not heard shows that there was a time when this was the special note of them alone. The medieval and most modern commentators on the Mass find a mystic reason for this. It is done from reverence, to shield the sacred text from the vulgar, because it is a priestly prayer only. On the other hand, it is not easy to see why a silent prayer should be more reverent than one heard; the vulgar are already supposed to be excluded, the faithful who will receive Communion are surely not unworthy to hear the consecration, although they do not join in the priestly prayer….Benedict XIV considers it quite early and connects the silent recitation with the disciplina arcani. This is certainly a wrong idea. The arcanum hid the mysteries from the uninitiated; but at the Liturgy of the Fiathful, for that very reason, only the initiated were present. Once more, a man who could receive Communion could hear any prayer.”

    I cannot but concur with Fortescue’s studied judgment on this matter. And I urge the same caution in ‘our camp’ that I do to unwitting moderns: we must be careful not to judge as illicit or irreverent or unfitting that which many generations of good Catholics, priests, bishops, popes, and saints have held as licit, reverent, and fitting. Thus I think a silent canon cannot be condemned; but neither can an audible one.

  37. acardnal says:

    As I was reading Father Z’s post, the first thought that occurred to me was my experience of the Divine Liturgy (Holy Mass) as offered in the Eastern Rite . If you appreciate mystery, go there as Fr. Z mentioned: Incense galore. The Iconostasis. Ornate vestments and sacred vessels. The altar and Consecration obscured from the laity’s view. These are there to help us, God’s creatures, to appreciate the Paschal Mystery even though we can never fully understand it. Remember the Holy of Holies in the great Temple in Jerusalem was veiled and only entered one time each year by the high priest. Mystery.

  38. In addition to some of the classics mentioned in comments above, there’s an instructive little 40-page booklet with attractive color photos entitled “For the Visitor at Mass”. It goes through and explains in simple language and pictures the successive parts of the Mass, with an emphasis on being able to follow the action at the altar. It’s available at angeluspress.org

    Also the following single sheet showing the correspondence between parts of the Mass in the OF and the EF.


    It shows how, if you’re already familiar with the OF, you know more than you may think about the EF. (Of course, the former is the real problem with many Catholics today.)

  39. Glennonite says:

    Wow! Thanks to all who’ve responded with their resources. I am encouraged. :)

  40. Mariana2 says:

    Dennis Martin

    “The EF has visual markers everywhere….the priest actually looking upwards as he says “et elevatis oculis in coelum” just before the Hoc est enim…”

    Thank you so much! I’ve been to all three TLMs offered where I live and despite my Missal lost my way half way through each time, but this really will help next time….hoping there will be a next time.

  41. nemo says:

    Please view the video on the livemass you tube channel where Fr. James Fryar, FSSP gives a reflection on the silence of the canon. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jM6YcK8X8Yw
    I hope that will give the writer perspective on his question regarding silence in the EF Mass.

  42. JamestheOlder says:

    Father Z:

    How about reconciling your remarks with the Office of Readings for today (Monday), the excerpt from St. Cyprian.

    Thank you. Peace be with you for all your good work. [Sorry, I use the Roman Breviary.]

  43. Basher says:

    Fr. Z,

    You mentioned the curtains drawn around the altar in the Ancient Roman Church. I have been interested to know more about this since I first saw altar curtains depicted in the carvings on the doors of San Sabina. Sometime later, I noticed the “curtain rods” on a few Baldacchinos in Rome, I think at Santa Maria in Trastevere and a few others, but no one was able to confirm or deny their function. Would you consider expanding on this in a post? Or recommend a place to read more?


  44. A deeper discussion:

    Silence and Inaudibility in the Extraordinary Form

    In a category of its own is the Canon of the Mass. . . . . This part of the Mass naturally reminds us of the High Priest passing into the Holy of Holies in the Temple, the mediation of Moses, hidden by the cloud on Mount Sinai, and the silence of Calvary, broken only by the Last Words. The sense of the priest passing out of the ordinary world, into another realm in which to meet God, is strongly underlined in an iconographic way. . . . . . As noted above on the priestly prayers, silence indicates that the prayer is addressed to the Father, and not to the congregation, but this time this is not because of the personal nature of the petition, but because of its uniquely sacred nature. The importance of the prayers of the Canon lie in what they bring about on the altar: they are, above all, performative, not informative or didactic.

  45. memoryman says:

    At my Jesuit school in North London in the late 1950s we had Latin dialogue Masses which were very popular and in my view far more preferable to the “silent”form which could often lead to distractions as one could easily lose track of where one was.Perhaps they might be reintroduced as a compromise.

  46. marytoo says:

    Glennonite: I started attending the EF cold turkey about 5 years ago. Boy, was I lost! But looking back I realize that I have enjoyed my slow learning process as each new level of understanding of the EF was revealed to me. Yes, it is sad and frustrating that many of us had poor Catholic formation as children. But I have found in this learning process a hidden consolation: in learning about the true depth and beauty of the old Mass as an adult you will savor your journey and your growth in the love of Christ as a child couldn’t. The path you are on is really so beautiful. So my advice is to be patient, relax and enjoy this time of discovery. Go as often as you can. After 5 years I am still learning bits and pieces; I think we progress not in a few months or years but over a lifetime.

    “Know Your Mass” is fantastic, I learned much from it (don’t be put off by the cartoon aspect of it – it’s really very deep). And “Calvary and the Mass” by Archbishop Fulton Sheen is short and very helpful in understanding the mystery and meaning of the Mass.

  47. amsjj1002 says:

    At first I was sort of lost at where Father was at in the Mass, but now I can tell by seeing the way his arm moves over the altar, when he bows and so forth. To me it was a bit like learning a fascinating new sign language, as it were!

  48. acardnal says:

    Glennonite, two other good books to learn about the Latin Mass:

    The Latin Mass Explained” by Msgr. George J. Moorman; TAN Books

    The Heart of the Mass“, multiple sources; Sarto House publisher

  49. veritasmeister says:

    Very well said, Fr. Z. The problem is how do we reconcile your admirable outline of principles here with what Second Vatican said:

    “In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else…”

    “The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation.”

    “It is to be stressed that whenever rites, according to their specific nature, make provision for communal celebration involving the presence and active participation of the faithful, this way of celebrating them is to be preferred, so far as possible, to a celebration that is individual and quasi-private. This applies with especial force to the celebration of Mass and the administration of the sacraments, even though every Mass has of itself a public and social nature.”

    [Easy. You misunderstand what “active participation” is. Also, the rites are quite understandable even when they are in Latin. Don’t equate understanding a spoken language with understanding what is going on. After you have been to Mass a number of times in Latin, you don’t any more explanations about it than you would for anything else. Furthermore, people don’t understand THE MASS better just because it is in their native tongue.]

  50. acardnal says:

    You and other who may not bebook worms or have the time to read, there is a three part instructional video series available on YouTube done by the FSSP. I think it is aimed at priests who are interested in learning how to celebrate the TLM/EF Mass but others may find it useful too. I did.


  51. Imrahil says:

    I do say that one thing: The Words of Consecration should, in normal Masses of normal sizes, be audible.

    They’re the form of the sacrament. Even though it is not necessary for validity, liceity or any such thing, it makes sense if the recipient of the sacrament hears the form of the sacrament.

    By coincidence, many traditional priests actually do so.

    No need to shout, of course. No need, on the other hand, if the Canon is said aloud (in the OF), in the manner of a secret-teller or an advertising master-of-ceremonies to lower the voice precisely for these words (which I also have already seen).

    The good thing about the silence in the Canons is that there’s actual Scripture about the silence when God comes: most well known is, I guess, that part about the murmur when Elijah dwelt at Horeb. It simply is the fitting thing.

    The silence of the Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory (where these are not sung) are not necessary. But then is there a silence for them, or is it only a Silent Mass? I don’t know.

    About the Canon, you can sometimes hear it. I believe there is a rubric that says Canon is to be said aloud if in concelebration. Which is a rare thing (bishops’ consecrations are one example though).

  52. Dennis Martin says:


    When I teach college students about the Mass, I have them read the passage in Sacrosanctum Concilium that you cite. Then I have them read Musicam Sacram, issued a short time later, as part of the implementation of SC. Already by that time, aided by the misleading translation actuosa participatio as “active participation,” people were already misinterpreting SC. Musicam Sacram defined participatio actuosa. Do you know what MS says? Active participation is FIRST AND FOREMOST


    So, one can be doing actuosa participatio while praying the rosary at Mass. One can be doing actuosa participatio by following along in the missal via visual cues. One can do actuosa participatio by praying other prayers. One can be doing actuosa participatio by silent contemplation.

    One can be doing ap by saying the responses in the OF or a dialogue EF Mass. One can do ap by singing all the Marty Haugen songs in the OF.

    But one can also sing all the Marty Haugen songs, dance up and down the aisle, say each and every response out loud, smile at one’s neighbor, give put $300,000 cash in the offering basket

    and NOT do a scintilla of ap. If one says something or says nothing, if one smiles or does not smile, if one serves as lector or does not, one does ap if and only what is going on in one’s heart matches is honest prayer to the Lord.

    The opposite of ap is not silence or not-saying-responses.

    The opposite of ap is daydreaming, gawking, thinking about what’s for breakfast, remembering that errand one forgot to do Saturday afternoon. The opposite of ap is attending Mass just because I have to and thinking “I-sure-wish-this-will-soon-be-over”

    whether that merely goes on in one’s head, silently or whether one is mouthing the responses a mile-a-minute.

    That’s what actuosa participatio is and is not.

  53. “The silence of the Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory (where these are not sung) are not necessary.”

    At most low Masses I’ve attended or viewed [e.g., the daily FSSP Mass webcast at livemass.net] in recent years the Gradual, Alleluia , Offertory have been quite audible. Only in a truly private Mass–like one of several low Masses being celebrated simultaneously at side altars–does it seem acceptable ars celebranda for these prayers to be inaudible and for it to really be a “silent Mass”. Otherwise, the “silent” in silent Mass should describe the people, not the priest. [Although an almost-never-in-my-lifetime-complainer-about-the-Mass, however egregious the abuse (even in the case of possibly invalid Masses witnessed), I must admit to having discussed this issue in some detail with the priest after the last other-than-truly-private silent Mass I experienced. I do regard a silent Mass for a Sunday congregation as a serious violation of people’s legitimate expectations of prayerful participation, even if not obviously illicit.]

    Indeed, it may seem ironic that much more is audible at a well-celebrated low Mass than at a sung Mass. Whereas a number of prayers said by the priest are “covered” by the choir in a sung Mass, at a typical low Mass (in my experience), all of the propers (both orations and antiphons) and readings are audible and (at least in the case of a proficient celebrant) fully intelligible to the person following in his hand missal.

  54. Unwilling says:

    JamesTheOlder asks how to understand this text of St Cyprian on praying the Pater Noster that Fr Z did not see today. “Above all, the Teacher of peace and Master of unity did not want prayer to be made singly and privately, so that whoever prayed would pray for himself alone. We do not say My Father….” Fr Z cautions against verbal misunderstanding. Recall that just before he instituted this Prayer (Matt 6:6) Jesus said “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” As a member of the Mystical Body you should pray in secret for the salvation of many. Written words, Scriptural and Patristic, need to be reconciled and interpreted by the teaching and practice of the Church.

  55. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Henry Edwards,

    I’ve been to a Silent Mass where precisely these parts of Mass were heard: 1. Lecture (by a reader, not the priest, vernacular; the priest, I assume, did it silently in Latin in the meantime) 2. Gospel (vernacular), 3. the Second Confiteor, 4. the Congregation’s Domine non sum dignus.

    Everything else was whispered, even the “Misereatur vestri omnipotens Deus” etc. after the Second Confiteor and the “Ecce Agnus Dei” before the Domine non sum Dignus. Which, at least in these latter instances, was not quite logical.

    Nevertheless, as much silence is certainly also impressive. Vivat varietas.

  56. I prefer to follow along with my missal, “hearing” the words the priest speaks – inaudibly or not – with my eyes. The prayers are so beautiful, nothing I could pray on my own could be of equal beauty and value. In so doing, I feel very much fulfilled as a participant. When I first got started I prepared an interlinear translation booklet of the portions of the liturgy that I was allowed to say aloud; no need to do so for the portions that only the celebrant recites as I need only read the vernacular translation for those.

    I would recommend to first-timers to attend a NO Mass earlier in the morning or the vigil the evening before to fulfill their Sunday obligation so that they could peacefully participate in a TLM without feeling distracted by thoughts that they don’t know what’s going on or are falling behind and consequently feeling that they’ve missed Mass. They don’t even have to receive communion; just go and become familiar and learn. They will feel much rewarded in short order.

  57. Kathleen10 says:

    Lots of wisdom here. Thank you all. I have written down the recommended resources and will investigate them. Thank you for passing along what you know to those of us who just do not know.

  58. Glennonite says:


    An insightful perspective from you; thanks for the heads-up. The journey is the thing, ay?

  59. JonPatrick says:

    This is slightly off-topic, but the mention of Adrian Fortescue’s book and other resources prompted this question – is there a good book that can be recommended on the history of the Mass, one that respects the tradition, not from a modernist point of view? Is the Fortescue book recommended or should I look for something else?

  60. marytoo says:



    You have caused me to reflect on my 5 years in the EF. Here are a few of the many moments when a sort of light bulb went on in my understanding of the Mass (your own experience will probably be different):

    The idea that we are there to *witness an act of worship* (hence the priest facing the tabernacle through most of the Mass), that the Mass doesn’t need us, we need the Mass. Hope that makes sense.

    The sight of the priest deeply bowing to the altar and saying his Confiteor (Called the Public Confession in my missal) still moves me to this day; such an act of humility and courage and so good for the congregation to see before they follow with their own. I always thought of the priest simply as a sort of “leader”, not as one performing the single supreme act of worship in human experience. The Confiteor clarified the priest’s role for me and I can’t imagine Mass without this now.

    The sung Kyrie also moves me to this day, described in my missal as “the long cry of our wounded nature, like the cry of the sick and the crippled along the path of Jesus, trying to draw His attention to their misery and obtain His pity.”

    It was new to me that the consecration took place when the priest bows low and says the words of the consecration, not during the elevation. All my life I thought the elevation was the moment of the consecration. This was a very important distinction for me – don’t know about others – but it was an “Oh, now I get it!” moment for me.

    Hope you find these reflections interesting. If you purchase “Know Your Mass” you will see simple illustrations showing the parts of the Mass as a staircase climbing to the Consecration. These seemingly simple drawings are packed with good, solid explanations of the parts of the Mass and were very helpful to me (so I could learn and in turn teach my children and hence break the cycle of poor education in the Faith!). Lots of good instruction in the Angelus Press daily missal as well.

  61. Glennonite says:


    re: the words of consecration, I have always naturally bowed my head at these (3 times) and usually miss seeing the elevation…it seems appropriate. I do however, love to fix my gaze at the “Behold the Lamb of God…” later.

    I’ve ordered, “Know Your Mass” and look forward to finding a TLM to attend. In NM, that might require some driving. :) Fortunately at least, my parish has a 24/7 Adoration Chapel which features an ad orientum altar; I’m grateful for what I can get. Now, if I can only convince my priest to use the Communion rail…

  62. Imrahil says:

    I always bow at the times the priest in the EF makes the bows. That leaves enough for adoring Our Lord with actually seeing Him (if it does not, elevation really is to short)…

    except, of course, when I am at a place without a kneeler, because then there’s sure some people remaining standing so that I can’t see.

  63. Anonymous Seminarian says:


    Fortescue’s book is fantastic for its thoroughness, brevity, and conservative analysis–by this last I mean that, on questions upon which there are many and varied opinions, he presents them and usually sides with the probable or most common sense solution, but never in a dogmatic manner. A good example is the passage is cited above. (And I’m a little surprised that so few here seem to have paid much attention to it…) It was first printed in 1912, and he’s as far from being a modernist as you can get.

  64. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I see it is also Adrian Fortescue who wrote the little “Secret” article (Nihil Obstat: February 1, 1912) for the old Catholic Encyclopedia. There, he says, “The silent recital of the Canon (which is sometimes called “Secreta”, as by Durandus, “Rat. div. off.”, IV, xxxv), did not begin earlier than the sixth or seventh century, Cardinal Bona thinks not till the tenth (Rer. liturg., II, 13, §1). Moreover all our present offertory prayers are late additions, not made in Rome till the fourteenth century […]. Till then the offertory act was made in silence, the corresponding prayer that followed it was our Secret.” He also notes, “But in these other Western rites [Gallican, Ambrosian, and Mozarabic] this prayer [corresponding to the Secret] is said aloud.” (Is that equally true of the contemporary Ambrosian and Mozarabic Rites?)

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