Prayers Recited Quietly

And More on Postures at Mass

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ROME, JUNE 2, 2009 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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. — G.D., Chicago

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 sacred vessels.

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 sensitive microphones.

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Follow-up: Why the Various Postures at Mass

Relative to our May 19 comments on postures, several readers had inquired regarding the correct posture during the consecration.

As already mentioned, the correct posture is kneeling. According to universal norms, this means from the epiclesis (when the priest outstretches both hands over the chalice) to the memorial acclamation. This is the minimum requirement.

In some countries the faithful kneel during the whole Eucharistic Prayer or a substantial part of it in virtue of particular law or legitimate custom.

Standing during the consecration is permitted only for exceptional circumstances, such as when there is no space to kneel.

Sitting is never foreseen during the consecration except for the physically impaired.

As we mentioned, the present significance of kneeling reinforces the sense of respect and adoration contained in standing.

With this in mind a Canadian reader asked about his bishop’s insistence that churches should remove kneelers and new churches must be built without them. The argument given is that in his diocese: «We stand with Christ in his resurrection during the consecration.»

Loath as I am to disagree with a successor of the apostles, I must honestly state that in this respect the bishop is simply wrong in his theological interpretation of the meaning of kneeling and in his interpretation of liturgical law.

I would suggest that the reader in question send a copy of the bishop’s written directives (and not just hearsay) to the Congregation for Divine Worship and inquire if this is the mind of the Church. If possible, it is preferable that the inquiry should come from a cleric, especially one who knows something of canon law and who can phrase the query appropriately.

Such a query should be brief, to the point, and respectful of all persons involved, especially toward the bishop. This is the best way of receiving a prompt and satisfactory outcome to the consultation.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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