At NLM, Peter Kwasniewski dedicated a post to: “The Parish Low Mass Is Not a “Silent” Mass: The Rubrics on Clara Voce”. Note well that he specified “parish Mass”, in contrast to a “monastic Mass”.
In a monastic setting, or else a clerical house where in the chapel there are multiple altars for priests to say individual Masses, or for another example, in St. Peter’s Basilica (where I said morning Mass for many years daily) where priests are at altars sort of near each other, you keep your voice down, so that you don’t disturb other priests or people with them.
In a parish it might also be – though this is pretty rare now – TLMs talking place at side altars of the church while a scheduled Mass for the parish is being celebrated at the main altar. This is the case in Rome at, for example, Ss. Trinità dei Pelegrini, where I say Mass when I am in Urbe. If other men are at side altars, I keep my voice down. If Mass is at the main altar and I am at a side altar, I keep my voice down.
If, however, I am saying a scheduled parish Mass, I follow the rubrics laid out in the Missal for the level of voice to be used at different times.
This is more pronounced in Masses that are sung, but it is still a contrasting and meaningful feature of the Low Mass, not sung.
The point is this: even in the Low Mass, the priest is directed to use all his speaking voices, at different levels for different prayers.
Sometimes he speaks so quietly that only he can hear, or the “secret” voice, the submissa vox. Let me stress this: he must say the words, pronounced them, not just sort of look at the page and think them. Yes, there is some sub-vocalization involved even in doing that, but it is clear that the words are intended to be spoken, lips and breath moving, etc., but not so loud that they reasonably can be heard by others nearby.
Sometimes he speaks with the vox conveniens, that is, “appropriate”, “useful”, which is just loud enough for the servers to hear when they are to make responses, but not so loud as the fill the entire space, as it were. For example, at the beginning of Holy Mass when I say the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, if the sanctuary has more servers or clerics in choro, I say them a little louder than if there are only one or two servers kneeling next to me at the steps. Loud enough for them, but not so loud as to be heard in the back pews (depending on the size of the place).
Then there is the vox clara, or intelligibilis. This level of voice is used for prayers that are to be heard by everyone (depending, of course, on the size of the church). This means distinct and audible, but not shouted or hollered. The priest should always speak with gravitas, in a tone nor more or less suited to the circumstances (e.g., the number of people present, how close they are, the size of the space, outside noise, dead or lively acoustics, Dem thugs hunting for you, etc.). More on this point, below, where I shall rant.
At the reading of Peter’s aforementioned article some people jumped up and down with their hair on fire suggesting that he was advocating what they – falsely – perceived as a Bugninian camel nose under the tent of all that’s good, true and beautiful. They thought he was advocating the “dialogue Mass”, which they think was the beginning of the end.
In fact, in a subsequent piece, responding, Peter showed that the rubrics of a 1920 Missal described the different levels of voice in the rubrics precisely for the Low Mass. This wasn’t made up by Bugnini and company to destroy the Roman Rite as we know it.
Back in the day our forebears weren’t stupid. They understood what ars celebrandi, of which Benedict XVI wrote in Sacramentum caritatis, meant in the dynamic exchange (admirabile commercium?) which develops between the ordained priest at the altar, mediator, father, brother, and the baptized in the pews who share in their way in Christ’s priesthood.
Yes, our forebears got this long before it became all the rage later on. That’s why they enshrined their understanding in the rubrics: precisely so that people could, as they chose and willed, actually and even outwardly to participate in moments such as obvious dialogues during Mass, local customs, etc., being observed. They polished the rubrics and handed them down as gifts.
One of the disastrous things that was perpetrated in the name of the Council was, in the newer, post-Conciliar books to remove the moral dimension of rubrics. Rubrics are, in a sense, a matter of moral theology.
It was ever understood, and rightly, that willful violation of rubrics was at least venial sin and often, depending on the defect, mortal sin. That was right in the front part of the Missale Romanum! If, among some who had “Jansenist” proclivities, that lead to the occasional overly scrupulous celebrant, the removal of that moral dimension of rubrics from the Missal itself opened the floodgate of illicit creativity and abuses.
This matter of rubrics and their moral implications is serious business.
Back in the day, moral theologians agreed that it would be grave sin to recite the whole of the Canon, or just the words of consecration, aloud, that is in the clara or conveniens vox, rather than secrete, with the submissa vox. The Council of Trent went so far as to say that if a priest didn’t use the submissa vox, then anathema sit and that act was “damnandum”. On the other hand, were the priest not to pronounce the words at all, physically, with breath and movement of the lips, etc., that too would be a grave sin, for he would be risking sacramental nullity, an invalid, ineffective consecration due to lack of proper form. Knowledge of rubrics and obedience to them relieves the priest from worries. Think of this analogy. Think of those who allow children to approach their First Confession without proper preparation, with a form to follow, what to do and say. The kids are genuinely frightened and rightly so! They know this is important, for children are inherently liturgical and sensitive. Those parents and teachers are to be blamed and roundly for being so cruel to those children through neglect. So too, the celebrant of Holy Mass must be taught how to say Mass, so he is at ease and can act as a normal man, but one doing something of grave, of supernatural significance, with gravitas, but not abnormally.
Priestly, not prissily.
So, in short, the priest should follow the rubrics for the Low Mass and obey the rubrics for the level of voice to be used.
If Father is at the main altar celebrating a regularly scheduled public Mass and if – seated reasonably close and not in the 60th pew in the back corner – you can’t hear anything … that’s a serious problem. NB: SERIOUS PROBLEM.
I don’t have to argue that. It’s manifestly clear from the rubrics. SAY – in the appropriate voice – the Black and Do the Red.
However, I must bring up what I really wanted to stress in this post.
And this is directly to seminarians, and to my brother priests and to bishops.
Fathers, use your normal voice when saying Mass. Don’t use a “priest voice”, different from your normal voice.
As Fortescue O’Connell (1962) says,
“The celebrant, while eschewing affection or any suggestion of formal declamation, [think of Hamlet’s admonition to the players] should so read the prayers and other parts of the Mass formulary, with such attention to punctuation, accentuation, pauses and voice inflections, as to make clear that he understands what he is saying and desires to render it as intelligible as possible to others, and that he recites the text with the reverence due to words so sacred… and in a tone which gives a lead to and encourages the people to talk out.”
By 1962, what Popes of the 20th century desired, more vocal participation founded in interior drive to respond, is being advanced. Fine. But the main point here, Fathers, is to use a natural, and not affected, voice.
What I find appalling, and surely this is what Fortescue O’Connell is describing and inveighing against, is the “priest voice”, which is often pitched higher – not to be better heard but rather for… damn, I dunno why! I think it is a subtle affectation. And sometimes it’s not so subtle. It out-Herods Herod.
This “priest voice” is often higher, sing-song, cloying, such that you feel like someone is dripping Karo Syrup on you. You hear this all the time, to one degree or another. This is the vocal equivalent of slouching around, shoulders hunched as if the weight of your amazing piety is too much to be bourne, or flitting and nearly pirouetting about with slips and slides leading with the head, or, just as bad, robotic angularity like an mannequin dancer or mime. Blech. Get over yourself!
BTW… pitching your voice higher is an old technique of the orator before the time of microphones and artificial amplification. The higher voice carries farther. That’s a different matter. That’s not what I am talking about. You can still speak with your normal voice at a slightly higher pitch to be heard, just as you can force your voice downward a bit so as not to be heard, like “golf announcer voice”. Moreover, I warmly agree with McLuhan about the damn microphone doing untold damage to sacred worship and, therefore, to people’s identity and faith.
Stand up straight. Move normally and with comfort without being rigid. Use your normal voice. Read with comprehension and for comprehension. Don’t know Latin? Then STUDY Latin! And at least review the prayers for their meaning, not just pronunciation before Mass begins.
In the Roman Rite, when the priest sits down, he sits sideways to the congregation. It isn’t about him. When the priest enters, turns to the people, exits, he is to keep his eyes lowered. The lowering of the eyes is described in the same terms as the low, or “secret” voice of Mass (demissis… submissa). Remember that there are distinctions to be made about gestures. There are three levels of bows, three levels of voice, three levels of eye position (cast down, or lowered, looking at the texts, and raised heavenward ad Deum). The old adage is “qui bene distinguit bene docet… he who makes distinctions well, teaches well“. Teach with your ars celebrandi. Every word and gesture teaches. Think about how 7 of 10 Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence and Transubstantiation. The way we priests say Mass has a lot to do with that.
If the occasion – Holy Mass – is special, then let the text shine by getting yourself out of the way. People in the pews will thank you.
Fathers, please, get rid of the “priest voice”.