Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Silent Anaphora

I am curious what readers think about the spoken, silent anaphora. I cannot speak for the non-Byzantine oriental rites, but within the Latin and Greek traditions it has become acceptable for the celebrant to pray the anaphora in entirety or part in spoken silence under the sung parts of the congregation. In the Roman rite the Canon was sung by the celebrant in the same tone as the preface, signalling a continuation from the preface (maybe the origin of the Te igitur at the beginning which caused fits for the impious critics of the Canon). At some point in the 9th or 10th century the celebrant began to speak rather than sing the Canon and furthermore commenced it at the start of the Sanctus rather than after. A similar practice arose in Constantinople, perhaps inspired by the Latin habit, in the early second millennium. The celebrant says the pray after the preface dialogue while the people sing the response "It is proper and just" until they are finished, at which point he picks up the pray singing. When I first witnessed this the first words I heard were "six winged, many eyes soaring on their pinyons...." The congregation sings the Holy, Holy, Holy and the celebrant starts the anaphora, again switching from spoken to sung tone when the hymn has ended, usually at "Take, eat, this is my body" etc. The culminating moment of epiclesis cannot be heard over the singing of the "We praise You, we bless You, we give thanks to You, and we pray to You, O Our God." The priest will resume the aloud part at "especially for our most holy, pure...."

Under the influence of restorationist scholarship, many Byzantine Catholic eparchies in the United States have directed priests to sing the entirety of the anaphora, although mercifully the Melkites allow some of the anaphora of St. Basil the Great to be spoken. We all know what happened to the Roman rite in the 1960s. Within the Byzantine context, this writer has never been bothered by either the spoken parts or the practice of singing the anaphora entirely aloud, aside from the length of the anaphora of St Basil (difficult to maintain attention). I know the anaphora of St John Chrysostom and so have never felt excluded on the occasions when I have seen celebrants retain the practice of continuing the prayer in recitation while the congregation sings its responses. In the Roman rite, as with many others, I dislike the practice of an aloud, spoken Canon, although I have heard the Canon sung in the Pauline rite with success. The silent Canon climbs a long peak in a quiet mountain range. The Roman rite, far from the ritual eccentricity of the Byzantine tradition, is highly meditative and textually focused. The silence of the Canon contrasts with the flow of singing and focuses concentration on Christ's work before us. The Greek practice, either of singing in entirety or of switching between the two, creates a pace to the second half of the Divine Liturgy. The Roman rite's silence upholds that tradition's ruminative qualities. In any of these I have never felt excluded because I know the content of the prayers, I know the priest's place, and I know my place as a layman; I am certainly capable of praying with the celebrant in principle, even if not in word. The spoken, aloud practice in the Pauline rite, however, I find quite disengaging. One wonders if celebrants use Eucharistic Prayer II because they know their drowning tongues will only carry attention for so long? 

Always EP2!

The various ways of doing the anaphora in tradition demonstrate the Church's long wisdom as a spiritual psychologist. I wish she would return to her own prescription. What think ye?


  1. This is a quite interesting and worth rethinking question. Some months ago I did exactly that exercise: to (try to) sing the Canon in Preface tone; what seemed to me is 1) that the Canon is actually a to-be-sung hymn, and 2) that it becomes even more beautiful and "mighty" when sung. But, on the other hand, since many centuries the widespread Latin practice has been spoking it silently, and that is not a bad practice per se, since it also helps us to reflect and feel the untouchable mysterium, even building a sort of "auditive iconostasis", as a priest friend of mine once called it.

    In addition, I would not compare a sung Canon with an aloud spoken one as it is done since 1967; the latter, introduced to increase the literal "intelligibility" of the rite, seems to me a mere poor substitute of the ancient praxis, and when combined with a uersus populum orientation only improves the priest's verbosity (or something worse).

    And there is the subjecto of chants during the Anaphora. I dislike very much the chanting of the Sanctus while the priest prays the Canon - and it is even worse when the Sanctus is sung before the elevations, and the Benedictus after them. My (personal, subjective) reasons are: 1) that, since the only moment of silence is the “institution narrative”, it strengthens among the laity the feeling of that very moment being the only important part of the Canon, the other (perhaps even more ancient) prayers being just minor and worthless additions; 2) that it is concomitant with the consuetudo among priests of praying it as fast as they can – exactly the same forma mentis laying behind the widespread use of EP2, be the Anaphora not so long and “boring”; 3) that while the singing of Sanctus is still arguable, it is not so about the Baroque “hymns” or instrumental (organ) pieces often played after the Consecration; and 4) what I wrote supra on the sung Canon.

    Does someone here believe there could be some kind of restoration of a sung Canon, while without damaging the handed down Latin practice of a silent one? I mean, e.g., the Canon being sung when Deacon and Subdeacon wear dalmatic and tunicle, and being spoken silently when they wear folded chasubles, as well as in ferial Masses. This is not a proposal, it is just a reflection.

    K. e.

    1. PS: And, well, there is also the related question of whether the sanctuary should be veiled again (or not).

    2. I used to go to 'Brompton' - not Holy Trinity - in the mid 1980s. The anaphora was always sung at the 11:00 Mass. It was rather haunting and when I see the chant it brings back memories. The chant in the Solesmes Ordo Missae in Cantu is not quite the same as the simple preface tone.