31 March 2011

What's Mass for?

I was reading some time ago an article in an American Orthodox periodical about whether the Eucharistic Prayer should be audible or silent. It is sometimes illuminating to see how our Western scene looks from the other side of the Eastern wall. Frankly ... I hate to interfere in the religion of others, but I feel strongly about this ... in my view, Byzantine Christians should stick to their traditions.

In the West, the EP has been audible in the C of E since 1559 and in most of the rest of the West since the 1970s. The Orthodox writer drew attention to listener fatigue; among RCs, he said, the audibility of the EP has led to an almost universal preference for the shortest EP (and it is indeed very short). In the C of E, he thought, the EP is commonly regarded by the laity as an irrelevant clerically-intruded piece of boredom which merely delays the all-important act of Communion.

I think he's absolutely right. And, looking at our Catholic Anglican tradition, I suspect that one reason for it is this: in our context it has seemed of crucial importance to avoid sacrilege by making our people understand that the Eucharistic elements truly are the Lord's Body and Blood. Especially since the restoration of mass communion, we have constantly (and probably rightly) postponed everything else to this agenda. But the centrality of Sacrifice, in the last resort, is more important than the worship or reception of the Sacramental Christ. I hesitate to blunder carelessly and over-simplistically around in so great a mystery; it is certainly true that both ....and is more important than either ... or. But, to be simple and crude, the Eucharist is firstly a sacrifice; only when we have said this do we go on to say that it is (we can't get away from the terminology of our Jewish roots here) a communion sacrifice. In the last resort, the Lord's Body and Blood are present substantialiter et realiter upon our altars primarily to be the propitiatory sacrifice which (since the first Holy Week) replaces the the Temple cult; secondarily, to be received so that Christ's Body and Blood can (Dr Pusey's banned sermon citing a great crop of Eastern Fathers is good on this:) be commingled with ours; thirdly, to be adored. Look at it diachronically: most Christians in most Chrisian centuries have attended Mass without communicating. S Pius X's great campaign for Frequent Communion does not need to be denigrated but it is not simpliciter the whole Christian tradition.

Back to the EP. If it is to be audible, its text should make very clear its sacrificial nature, and clergy-talk ('Today we are offering this Holy Sacrice especially for', for example) and sermons should frequently emphasise this. Or it can be done done silently; catechesis will have no trouble explaining that it is silent because it effects the great act of consecration and sacrifice; silent becuse it effects this without essentially needing lay participation or even understanding; silent because the priest is in the holiest possible commerce with God rather than saying something for the interest, diversion, or even edification of the people.

If it can't be said inaudibly, the next best thing is that it should be said very quietly. Yes, I know the OF rubrics specify an audible voice. But they do not say that the priest should bellow nor that there should be electronic amplification. If it is important that the people should hear the prayer, well, any schoolmaster knows that the best way of securing dead silence in a classroom is by speaking very quietly.


Fr. Gregory Wassen said...

Fr. Hunwicke,

A wonderful post! Thank you.

"... silent because it effects this without essentially needing lay participation or even understanding ..."

Though the above seems odd. In liturgical theology as we can find it in Fr. A. Schmemann and his mentor Fr. Nicholas Afanasieff "lay-participation" is essential for all the baptized and chrismated are ordained in the "royal priesthood" and in their own manner (assent expressed in a 3-fold Amen in the Chrys. Liturgy) concelebrate the Liturgy with those ordained to the "special priesthood."

Fr. Afanasieff goes so far as to insist that one is "ordained" a Christian! Many Orthodox who hear the Liturgy in English hear the EP out loud and consider it vital.

Fr. Dcn. Gregory Wassen

. said...

As a pew-sitter of too recent vintage to remember the silent canon, I have to admit I rather like it. The length doesn't much bother me - I will readily admit to liking Eucharistic Prayer III and the Roman Canon.

I may be a little unusual in this.

Steve Cavanaugh said...

Indeed all Christians are priests, a "royal priesthood", although I would locate that "ordination" in chrismation/confirmation and not baptism. (Do not priests and kings need to be anointed?)

Nevertheless, recalling the temple operation, only one priest would offer a sacrifice; the priesthood of those not actually offering was affirmed in that they could eat of the sacrifice. As our Lord recalled when replying to those who accused his disciples of law-breaking:

"How he [David] entered into the house of God, and did eat the loaves of proposition, which it was not lawful for him to eat, nor for them that were with him, but for the priests only?" Matt 12:4

Joshua said...

The Eucharist - as Dix emphasised - is essentially an Action: Do This, not "Listen to this didactic exercse".

Hence, no need to hear, but rather to recognize the Great Act.

Lyndwood, the mediæval English canonist, gave the true rule as to why the Canon is silent: Ne impediatur populus orare, Lest the people be impeded from praying.

When at EF Mass, I will sometimes follow the Canon in Latin in my missal, but more often these days lay the book aside and attend to the mystery, whether turning over the words of the Canon or not. Certainly, when acting as M.C., one simply wonders in amazement...

Священник села said...

I would like to offer a gentle corrective to the assertion concerning the Amens at the Orthodox Divine Liturgy (in Chrysostom - after and make this bread, after and make this cup, and then 3x at making the change by Thy Holy Spirit; in Basil an another Amen is inserted after that Liturgy's particular gestures and prayers over the bread and wine at shed for the life of the world). The rubrics very clearly indicate that this is said by the deacon or deacons, as part of a dialogue with the celebrant. Not the people. And in most places it is said by the deacons and not by the people. Where it is said by the people it is a powerful moment, true, and I do not suppose that it is inconsistent with good theology... except when it used to demonstrate a theory of participation in which that is only truly participatory in which everyone gets to do everything, hear everything, see everything. This is a very diminished sense of participation.
A richer sense would understand that prayerful anticipation, expectation, attentiveness are important forms of participation. We participate as we stand and pray and turn our mind and heart toward God. In other words there is a wide range of ways in which we participate, all in the span of a single eucharistic service, ranging from actual Communion to attentive listening, making our appointed responses, the use of our bodies to express profound engagement as we stand, kneel, make prostrations as appropriate. Things are ordered not only to the reality of the mystery of the eucharistic sacrifice, but the intimacy of communion. One doesn't get to that intimacy right away.

Pastor in Monte said...

I notice that the rubrics require that we say the words of Consecration in a particular way:

'In formulis quae sequuntur, verba Domini proferantur distincte et aperte, prouti natura eorundem verborum requirit:'

Does that not imply that the rest of the Canon should be said at least less distincte and aperte?

GOR said...

Well as a minority of priests (from an unscientific personal survey…) faithfully follow the rubrics in the Novus Ordo, you’d be hard pressed to determine what should be said silently, sotto voce or aloud. But from my memory of the old days, many priests during the Eucharistic prayer – and elsewhere – would say the first word or two of the prayer audibly and the rest sotto voce: TE IGITUR… MEMENTO… COMMUNICANTES… etc.

This may not have been strictly according to the book and would hardly pass the bar of Fortescue/O’Connell’s “secretly, distinctly, and attentively” rubric – but it may have been for the benefit of the server - as a reminder of things to be done: bells to be rung, chasuble to be attended to, and so on.

Back then, slight rubrical variations were not seen as resulting from priestly personality or clerical creativity – merely ad hoc practical applications and nothing more.