|ROME, 2 JUNE 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: In the Latin rubrics for the Roman missal, we are instructed to
recite certain prayers "secreto." In the English translation the word
used is "silently." Instead, the Italian translation has "sotto voce,"
which I use when I recite those prayers, which
for some reason
I feel is more faithful. The Italians know how to translate Latin. In
other words, one does not say the prayers silently but under one's
breath, as it were. You must be heard a little bit, though not
loudly. It's a small matter, but St. Teresa of Avila said she would give
up her life for the smallest rubric.
A: Our reader is correct in stating that "silently" is an imperfect
translation for the Latin "Secretum." But he will be happy to know that
the recently approved new translation of the Order of Mass changes this
expression to the more accurate "quietly." Therefore when the new missal
is eventually published within a couple of years, priests will no longer
have this dilemma.
In the ordinary form of the Roman rite this quiet recitation is mostly
reserved to the priest's personal prayers.
Among these are his prayers before and after reading the Gospel; sundry
prayers before taking Communion; or during the purification of the
Another are the so-called priestly apologies which are not prayers in
which the celebrant excuses himself for being a priest but in which he
recognizes his intrinsic indignity and implores divine aid in order to
worthily celebrate the august mysteries. These were once abundant in the
liturgy but are now few. Examples are the two prayers associated with
the washing of hands: "In spiritu humilitatis" and "Lava me Domine."
Non-personal prayers that are said (quietly) include the blessing of the
deacon before reading the Gospel. In some cases the prayers for the
presentation of gifts ("Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation") are
said quietly. This is done if there is music or song during the
offertory, but the celebrant may also choose to say these prayers
quietly if he believes that a period of relative calm is of more
pastoral benefit at this moment.
It should be said that while the Mass has moments of silent prayer, it
has no prayers in silence. That is, all official prayers printed in the
missal are meant to be vocalized and are never said just mentally. Most
of them are to be sung or recited in a clear audible voice.
Those, such as the examples above, which are said "quietly," should be
at least audible to the speaker himself and may even be slightly louder
provided that there is a clear distinction in tone between the personal
prayers and the presidential ones. If this is done, then it matters
little if the "quiet" prayer becomes accidentally audible due to
* * *
Follow-up: Prayers Recited Quietly [6-16-2009]
In the wake of our June 2 comments on the priest's quiet prayers, a U.S.
"Here in Boston I've often wondered why the Missal instruction to pray
certain prayers 'inaudibly' is not only ignored, but the prayers
themselves are changed, presumably to include the congregation. I refer
specifically to two instances:
"The prayer during the washing of the hands is often audible and one
hears: 'Lord, wash away our iniquities, cleanse us of our sins.' I'm
assuming the celebrant is not using the 'royal we' here, and while I
appreciate the sentiment, it's disconcerting, because precisely at this
time I'm praying (silently) to the Lord to purify the priest!
"Prior to their reception of Communion, I often hear priests pray,
loudly: "May the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring us ALL
(that's not my emphasis ... that's the priests') to everlasting life."
(To which the congregation invariably responds, understandably I
suppose, with a hearty "Amen!") Again, I appreciate the sentiment, but
it is while the priest communicates that I try to (silently) pray for
his eternal glory. This sort of interrupts my prayer for him.
"I already know that these (and, alas, too many other) instances aren't
in the missal. What I'm wondering is simply why do priests do
Why indeed? I can think of many reasons, but in the end they will be
merely speculative. I can only put it down to inadequate liturgical
formation and a consequent lack of understanding of the inner dynamics
of the celebration. Such acts betray a deficient grasp of how these
personal prayers address the priest's specific need for purification in
virtue of his unique role within the celebration.
The fact that the priest says these prayers quietly can also be a
teaching moment in which he, through his devout attitude, teaches the
faithful how to prepare for Communion. Saying this prayer aloud turns it
into another vocal prayer, thus depriving it of its proper liturgical
This goes to show that fidelity to the missal, and not our personal
ideas regarding community involvement, is actually the most integrally
pastoral attitude we can have.