20 December 2010

Vox Secreta - Revisiting the Silent Canon

The changes of Vatican II included replacing the centuries old practice of saying the Canon Missae or Prex Eucharistica silently or in a quiet whisper (vox secreta). The arguments favoring this change to an audible declaimed canon (i.e., not vox mediocris but vox clara) were several relying on historical data as well as pastoral, personal or (in some cases) protestant inclinations.

This debate, largely dismissively disregarded in protestant communions, has continued amongst Western Rite Orthodox priests due, no doubt, to their greater or lesser regard for later 20th century liturgical scholarship. (It would not surprise if this debate resumes in Roman Catholic circles, particularly between those who strongly prefer and those who vehemently oppose the anachronistically and ironically named "Extraordinary Form.")

In considering the various premises of this debate, both historically and pastorally, chiefly so I could continue to defend the traditional rubric, I recently came across the following from Louis Boyer's Eucharist (1968):

We must admit that this question [what Bouyer terms "the silence of the canon" or "the silence of the mysteries"] is the most obscure mystery of perhaps the whole of the history of the liturgy. Yet we hardly get this impression when we read most of the studies on the subject that have been piled up since the seventeenth century. Whatever position the authors take--whether they believe the practice to be original and essential, or condemn it as late and unfortunate--one would think, in reading them, that the matter is clear and can be plainly settled by a few irreproachable texts. But when we go to the sources without any preconceived ideas, it is hard to share this optimism. Yet we do not deny that we can reach certain firm conclusions from examining them. But...they are neither so easily accessible, nor of a nature as to dispel all the obscurities of one of the most complex problems of the history of the liturgy. (366f)

1 comment:

Dale said...

This debate is not simply regulated to the west; it has/is hotly debated amongst the Byzantines as well. Not too long ago the only part of the canon of the Mass that was sung aloud were the words of institution, the actual "moment" of consecration, the invocation, were always said silently. There has been a movement to say the whole of the canon in the Byzantine tradition aloud, but this is hotly contested by more conservative groups.