Dear Father Angelo,
Allow me to ask you a further question;
What is the reason why, during the Traditional Latin Mass, the Eucharistic Prayer is recited by the Priest in a low voice so that the faithful cannot hear what he says? And why is the Prologue to the Gospel of St. John no longer read at the end of the contemporary Roman-Rite Mass?
The Priest’s reply
In order to understand the reason why the Priest used to celebrate in a low voice during the Traditional Latin Mass, different things must be explained according to the type of Mass that was being celebrated.
1- As a matter of fact, when sung Mass was celebrated, some of its parts such as the Dominus vobiscum, the Per omnia saecula saeculorum at the end of the prayers the Epistle , the Gospel, the Preface , the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Creed, the Sanctus, the Pater Noster, the Agnus Dei and so on, were to be sung, consequently, in a clear tone of voice.
2. This is to say that Mass, other than the sung Mass, was celebrated according to a particular structure in which the Priest was required to pray in different tones: secret, medium and clear. Secret tone was used by the Priest in order not to be heard by any of the participants. Most of the Canon, corresponding to the Eucharistic Prayer, was recited in secret tone.
Medium tone was used by the Priest in order to be heard by altar servers and other people who used to stand close to him. Thus, for example the only two words Orate fratres (as the rest of the prayer was recited in the secret tone), the Sanctus, the Nobis quoque Peccatoribus and other prayers. .
Clear tone was used by the Priest in order to be heard by all the participants , at least the surrounding ones. The Office for the Dead that was recited before the Masses for the dead, which was sometimes required by the faithful, as well as the Divine Office in choir were recited in this tone, for example. Other parts of the Mass requiring the use of this particular tone by the Priest were: the Kyrie, the Gloria, the various Dominus vobiscum, the Oremus, the final blessing and the Prologue to the Gospel of St. John that was read at the end of the Mass.
3. What is the reason why so many parts of the weekday Masses could only be recited both in the secret tone of voice and in the medium one?
There are some circumstances that need to be taken into consideration in this regard, as for instance: Priests did not use to concelebrate Mass back then, consequently it just so happened that Mass was celebrated simultaneously on various altars by several Priests. If they had said the whole Mass in a loud tone of voice, they would have disturbed each other.
Moreover , Mass was celebrated in Latin and since people could not speak Latin language , It was celebrated both in the secret tone of voice and in the medium one in order to encourage meditation of the faithful and their personal participation in the various parts of the Liturgy.
4. These are also the reasons given by the Council of Trent: “And whereas such is the nature of man, that, without external helps, he cannot easily be raised to the meditation of divine things; therefore has Holy Mother Church instituted certain rites, to wit that certain things be pronounced in the Mass in a low, and others in a louder, tone. She has likewise employed ceremonies, such as mystic benedictions, lights, incense, vestments, and many other things of this kind, derived from an apostolical discipline and tradition, whereby both the majesty of so great a sacrifice might be recommended, and the minds of the faithful be excited, by those visible signs of religion and piety, to the contemplation of those most sublime things which are hidden in this sacrifice”.
5. The Prologue to St. John’s Gospel is no longer read at the end of the Mass as, by the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council, the Church stressed the importance for the faithful attending Mass to be nourished at the two tables of the Lord’s, namely the table of the Word and the table of the Sacrifice.
Consequently, the Gospel has its place at the table of the Word.
We may wonder why the Prologue to John’s Gospel was read at the end of the Mass.
Here is what we read in an old liturgy handbook: “The Prologue of the Gospel of St. John was held in such great veneration by the early Christians that they used to wear it written around their necks in order to strengthen and protect them against the attacks of the devil; they also used to recite it on behalf of the sick and in their presence as a healing prayer. This was the reason why, after the year one thousand, they began to recite it even after Mass while entering the sacristy and then later they got used to read it while being at the Altar also”. St. Pius V established its use at the end of the Mass.
6. Lastly, I would like to remind you that still nowadays some prayers are required to be said in the secret tone of voice in order not to be heard by participants.. These prayers are said by the Priest for himself in order to be adequately prepared, by God’s grace, for the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries of Jesus Christ.
Other prayers that are also required to be said inaudibly by the Priest during Mass are those recited just before and after reading the Gospel, as well as the offering prayers (“with humble spirit and contrite heart…”) or those said while the celebrant washes his hands at the altar before handling the consecrated Eucharist and finally those recited just before distributing Holy Communion.
Unfortunately, some priests wrongly say all these prayers aloud , both because they are required to be recited by the Celebrant for himself in order to accomplish his task and not to disturb the assembly by stealing even those few moments of silence that can be used to encourage their personal meditation.
I wish you well, I entrust you to the Lord and bless you.