24 December 2019
Entering the Cloud
It is an idea deeply embedded in most ... I think I may mean all ... traditional rites, that the Eucharistic Prayer is far from being a folksy prayer which the celebrant hopes will be short enough to stop the people getting bored. This Prayer is a profound mystery in which the celebrant is, as it were, halfway out of this world, alone and face to face with the God whom Moses met when he climbed the mountain and entered the cloud at Sinai. Early Ordines tell us that at the beginning of Te igitur surgit Pontifex solus et intrat in canonem ... surgit solus Pontifex et tacite intrat in Canonem*: I am sure that I am not the only priest who, as he raises his hands at Te igitur, senses vividly that he is, like the High Priest on the Day of Atonements, entering the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice for all the people before the Holy God who dwells in unapproachable light. The Byzantine priest enters the Royal Doors in order to sacrifice; some of the older Roman churches still possess the hooks to hold the curtains round the ciborium which concealed the celebrant from view.
I believe it can be shown that the developed form of the Canon Romanus, with its careful distinctions between nos servi tui/servitus nostra, and plebs tua sancta/cuncta familia tua, dates from the time when distance and (very probably) curtains separated the celebrant and his sylleitourgoi from the People. The inaudible recitation of (most of) the Canon is a central feature of sound liturgical praxis; if it cannot be immediately universally restored, I suppose the next best thing is its recitation in a voice which at least does not officiously strive for audibility. Why on earth, in OF Latin Masses in quite sensible churches, is the celebrant when at the altar electronically amplified? What if he simply said the Eucharistic Prayer in a clara et elata voce and left in the capable hands of the Almighty the management of those laws of Physics which determine how much of it the people in the various parts of the nave will be able to hear?
This restoration of a sense of the Holiness and otherness of the One Oblation of the Lord Once Offered is going to be the greatest task, the most laborious up-hill struggle, for all those Western clergy who desire to re-enter the historic, ecumenical liturgical consensus of the Latin West and the Byzantine Churches and the Semitic Christian East. Its destruction in the West more than a generation ago was one of the greatest successes of the Evil One. Its recovery is the calling of faithful clergy in this third millennium.
*Jungmann comments: "The Canon is a sanctuary into which the priest enters alone".