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.