Monday, October 14, 2013

An Anglican View on the Silent Canon: Charles Harris on "Liturgical Silence"

A book which was in my father's library and I suspect in the library of many priests once upon a time was Clarke, W. K. Lowther, and Charles Harris.  Liturgy and Worship.  SPCK, 1964

[T]he effect of silence (or of subdued or whispered speech) is to lull the outward senses into a receptive condition; to induce tranquillity, repose, and inward peace; to relax the tension of the nervous system; and gradually to induce a state of restful waiting upon God, which opens the ‘subconscious’ or ‘unconscious’ mind to the influence of grace and religious suggestion. (775) 

At an early but undetermined date, it gradually became customary, both in the East and in the West, to recite certain of the most solemn Eucharistic prayers, particularly the greater part of the Canon, in a very low or inaudible voice. Such recitation was termed ‘mystic’ (mystikos), an epithet which sufficiently indicated its significance. … It evinced just such an overpowering sense, not merely of humility, but even of ‘abjection’ and ‘nothingness,’ as befits a creature admitted to the immediate presence of its Creator.  (775) 

There are obvious disadvantages, both of a devotional and of an intellectual kind, in the silent recitation of the Canon or Anaphora. On the other hand, it can hardly be denied that the ‘mystic’ prayer of the celebrant has been a prime factor in creating that thrilling atmosphere of rapt adoration which has been the distinctive feature of Catholic worship throughout the ages; and which the more intellectual, instructive, and ‘edifying’ worship of modern Protestants seems unable to evoke.  (776)

An atmosphere of mystical awe pervades the whole of this Liturgy. The worshippers are said to be ‘full of fear and dread’ while they offer ‘this fearful and unbloody sacrifice,’ which is further described as a ‘fearful and awe-inspiring (phriktÄ“s) ministration.’ After consecration, the elements are spoken of as ‘hallowed, precious, celestial, ineffable, stainless, glorious, terrible (phoberon), dreadful (phrikton), divine (theon).’  (777) 

A sense of ‘numinous’ awe pervades this Liturgy, which speaks of the Mysteries as not only ‘divine, holy, spotless, immortal, heavenly, and quickening’; but also as ‘tremendous’ or ‘fearful’ (phrikton, literally ‘to be shuddered at’).  (778) 

all the ecclesiastical body now observes silence, and all set themselves to pray earnestly in their hearts. The Priests are still, and the deacons stand in silence . . . the whole people is quiet and still, subdued and calm . . . The Mysteries are set in order, the censers are smoking, the lamps are shining, and the deacons are hovering and brandishing [fans] in likeness of watchers [i.e., angels]. Deep silence and peaceful calm settles on that place: it is filled and overflows with brightness and splendour, beauty and power.  (779) 

An audible voice need not be a loud voice. It is possible to obtain the full ‘mystical’ effect of silence by reciting the Canon in a very low and subdued voice, fully audible to every careful listener in the church, and yet expressive and suggestive of the deepest religious awe. It is not desirable, for the sake of one or two partially deaf persons, to raise the voice, and thus impede the devotion of the general congregation, which is fostered and augmented by the use of a subdued tone of voice.  (782)

No comments: