One of the most awkward social moments is when you see someone moving their lips while looking at you, but you can’t hear what they’re saying, so you ask them, “What??” At this point, the person turns a little more, and you notice they’re wearing one of those wireless Bluetooth earpieces for their phone! I used to think the same thing about the priest when he was whispering some of the prayers at Mass. I felt like I wasn’t listening hard enough, or that I was missing something! So I figure now would be a time to talk about the SECRET PRAYERS OF THE MASS!!!
That caught your attention, didn’t it? You might ask why I would call them that. Are they rude comments about the congregation that the priest is venting to God? No. Are they the priest whispering sweet nothings into God’s ear? No. Are they ancient secrets about the child of Jesus and Mary Magdalene? Settle down, Dan Brown. No. They are called “secret” because of the way they are described in Latin: “sub secreto”, basically translated as “said in a low voice.”
There are many occasions in the Mass where we hear (or don’t hear, in this case) these prayers, and the reason they are said quietly depends on the circumstance. Some are quiet for historical reasons, stemming from days when the Mass was typically prayed in that low voice, with the parts out loud being the exception.
Others are the prayer of the priest on behalf of the Church. This has to do with the Church’s understanding of the purpose of priests. A priest has the humbling task to offer the sacrifice of Christ on behalf of all as an intercessor, both for those present and those not. For this reason, there are some prayers that the priest prays personally to Christ, recognizing his unworthiness and weakness, and seeking the Lord’s divine help to do what he’s been asked to do.
One other reason that these prayers are silent is for a sense of mystery. I’m not talking about cloak-and-dagger stuff here, but something that inspires wonder and awe for Christ, something that makes us acknowledge we don’t know everything about God.
As mentioned earlier, some of these prayers are for the priest alone, and really only make sense when spoken by someone in his position, but others are wonderful opportunities for personal devotion and prayer for all of us. They remind us of the importance of interior prayer, so that we’re not just “going to Mass” or “saying Mass” (in my case), but that we’re “praying the Mass.”
So break out your magnifying glass and your Sherlock Holmes hat! It’s time to look at the “Secret Prayers of the Mass!”