Silent prayers at Mass

Question: It seems to me that, at Mass, priority should be given for the congregation to hear the priest and be involved with him in the preparation of the gifts and the prayers he says as he mixes the water and wine, etc. But it appears that more emphasis is given to singing at these times.

William Dignan, Hanover, Pennsylvania

Answer: Liturgical norms of the Church seek to balance a number of things, such as the experience of Mass as a personal encounter with Christ and yet as a communal act of worship, or, actions that pertain to the priest and what pertains to other liturgical ministers and the faithful who are gathered.

It is clear that you prefer less singing and being directly engaged with the actions on the altar.

However, in the prayers of the preparation of the gifts, the norms implicitly presume and favor that some sort of singing is going on. The celebrant is instructed to say these prayers inaudibly, if singing is going on, and that otherwise he “may” (not must) say them aloud.

Other prayers at that time are always to be said inaudibly by the priest, such as when he mixes the water and wine, and bows to say the prayer that begins “With a spirit of humility ...” The prayer that the Lord wash away his iniquity as he washes his hands is also to be said inaudibly even if there is no music.  

All of this is the way of demonstrating that during the preparation of the gifts, the direct engagement of the faithful in the action is not the only or primary point. Congregational singing or taking up a collection, etc., are not distractions.

As for hearing and seeing everything the priest is doing, this has value but is not the only value. Prior to 1970, the priest who was turned toward the altar whispered almost the entire Eucharistic prayer. Though today this is seldom the case in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite (Mass), the principle still applies that the priest at the altar has gone up before God and is speaking to him and acting on behalf of the faithful in the person of Christ.

Friday dispensation

Question: At a Friday funeral during Lent, the visiting priest told the faithful that, since food had been prepared that contained meat for the luncheon, we could be dispensed from our obligation and eat it. But the pastor came to the reception and publicly reprimanded the visiting priest for doing this. We all wondered if we had done something wrong by eating it.

Sandy Vignali, via email

Answer: From a juridical point of view, it does not pertain to a visiting priest to dispense congregants from observing specific aspects of the precepts of the Church. When dispensations can be granted (such as in a case like this), that is usually the prerogative of the bishop or pastor. Hence, the visiting priest was wrong to do this.

However, one is left to wonder as to why the pastor chose to publicly indicate his irritation, especially at a particularly awkward moment when the very meal is being enjoyed. One might wish he had discussed his concerns discreetly with the priest who transgressed the proper jurisdictional norms.

As for the assembled people of God, they did nothing wrong; they acted in good faith presuming they had the dispensation needed.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.