The following was taken from The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by Fr. Nicholas Gihr:
The Silent Recitation of the Canon.
The manner in which the Canon is to be recited, that is, silently, deserves special notice and explanation. It is a strict ordinance of the Church that the Canon be said silently (secreto), namely, in a voice so subdued that the celebrant may hear himself, but not be heard by those around him. 2 Historical testimonies and reasons drawn from the nature of the thing justify the most general
assumption, that it has been a custom from the earliest times 3 to pronounce the words of
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a) The silent recitation of the Canon betokens the Consecration and Sacrificial Act to be an exclusively priestly function. The prayers of the Canon being liturgical, are, therefore, to be recited not merely mentally, but also vocally (vocaliter), that is, the words must be pronounced with the mouth. But this recitation of the Canon must be made softly, that is, be so constituted as to be inaud- ible to those who are around, and yet audible to the priest himself. This last circumstance is to be noticed, since it makes a difference in the recitation of the Canon and the Divine Office, for in the recitation of the latter it is not necessary that he who prays should hear himself. The silent recitation is in contrast to the loud. Now while the loud tone of voice invites those present to join with the priest, and reminds them that the prayers are said in common, the silent recitation appropriately indicates that there is question of a mystery, which it is for the consecrated priest alone to accomplish, and not the people. Such is the case with respect to the Eucharistic Sacrifice. To consecrate the material elements, to offer the Body and Blood of Christ, is a priestly privilege: the congregation present can contribute nothing to the accomplishment of the Sacrificial Act. This is symbolically indicated by the silent recitation of the Canon. The priest does not here, as in the other portions of the Mass, commune with the people; he has entered into the Holy of Holies, there to commune with God alone and to pray and sacrifice for the whole Church. "Moses was alone on the top of the mountain; he conversed with God and God answered him." Thus does the priest stand alone at the altar, when, as the representative and minister of Christ, the eternal Highpriest, he accomplishes and offers up the Holy Sacrifice for the entire Church.
b) The silent recitation of the Canon text harmonizes very beautifully with the accomplishment and the essence of the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The material elements are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, without the senses perceiving it, or the created mind being able to comprehend it; the real presence and sacrificial life of the Saviour under the sacramental species is concealed beyond all discernment. In every Host there are miracles, as numerous as stars in the firmament, yet not the slightest trace of the wonders appears externally. With all this the ecclesiastical rite harmonizes perfectly. The holy silence is quite suited to indicate and to recall the concealment and depth, the incomprehensibility and ineffableness of the wonderful mysteries that are enacted on the altar.
c) Silent prayer is related to religious silence, and, therefore, expresses the humility, reverence, admiration and awe wherewith the Church administers and adores the Mystery of the Altar. "The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him!" The sight of the priest at the altar, communing amid profound stillness with God alone, is, therefore, also an excellent means afforded to arouse and promote in those who are present the proper dispositions, with which they should admire, adore and offer along with the priest so grand and sublime a Sacrifice. Quam terribilis est Jiaec Inoral thus does the deacon cry out to the people in the Syrian liturgy "How terrible is this hour!" While the tremendous Sacrifice is being accomplished on the altar, all present should be immersed in silent contemplation and in devout meditation of the Divine Mysteries. Now, precisely this mute silence that reigns at the altar during the most sacred moments of the Sacrifice and directs attention to the mysteriousness of the sacrificial act, forms the loudest summons to enter silently into ourselves, to be recollected in mind and to stir our hearts to devotion. The silent recitation of the Canon disposes the faithful to interior adoration and reverent concelebration of the heavenly mysteries wherewith God so graciously favors and blesses us poor mortals.
d) In addition to the principal reasons quoted, it must be remarked that the foreign language and the silent recitation serve to withdraw the sacred words of the Canon from the ordinary intercourse, and to protect them against every desecration.
e) Finally, a mystical reason may be alleged. The priest at the altar is the representative and image of the praying and sacrificing Saviour. Now, as on the Mount of Olives and on the Cross, Jesus prayed not only in loud tones, but also in a low voice and in the silence of His heart to His Father, so also it is proper that the priest should even herein resemble His Divine Model, when representing and renewing the Sacrifice of the Cross. The altar becomes not merely the Cross, but also the crib; for at the moment of Consecration the marvels of Bethlehem as well as those of Golgotha are renewed. Whilst deep silence pervaded all things and the night was in the midst of its course, the Almighty Word of God descended from His royal throne in heaven to the crib of Bethlehem; in like manner, does the King of Glory at the consecration come down upon the altar, amid the most profound silence.
Below are some interesting footnotes
3 In the Greek and Oriental Liturgies the words of Consecration are said in a loud and high tone of voice, whereupon the people each time by Amen (= so be it) express their faith in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacra- ment. Cardinal Bona was of opinion, that formerly in the Western Church also all heard the sanctissima et efficacissima verba, quibus Christi corpus conficitur (Rer. liturg. 1. 2, c. 13, 1), and he presumes, that it is only since the tenth century that the silent recitation of the words of the Institution has been prescribed. But the arguments he adduces are unreliable. The very ancient Ordo Roman. II (which probably dates from the seventh or eighth century), explained by Amalarius in his Ecloga, has the following rubric : Quae (sc. Praefationem et Trisagium) dum expleverint, surgit solus Pontifex et tacite intrat in Canonem. According to Mabillon it is prescribed in the oldest Roman Ordines, ut Pontifice Canonem recitante summutn in choro teneatur silentium, et ministri perstent inclinati et silentes per totum Canonem. Canonem non incipiebat sacerdos nisi absolute Trisagii cantu, ut scil. clerus et populus, sacerdote Canonem submissa voce reci- tante, in admiratione tanti mysterii quasi stupens sileret (In Ord. Rom. com- ment, c. 21).
3 The rubrics distinguish a twofold, or threefold tone of voice vox secreta and vox clara, alta, intelligibilis ; in the middle between the two (the sileut and loud pronunciation) is the vox paululum elevata, vox parum elata, vox aliquantu- lum elevata (voice half aloud;. The expression vox submissa (= falling, lowered, low) often designates moderately loud, often also silent pronunciation. In the Middle Age the Canon was often called Secretum vel Secreta Missae, because it was recited secreto or secrete (= in silence). The word secretus (selected, set apart, separated) signifies at the same time, that the priest recites the sacrificial prayer in silence and secrecy, because in it he, in a special manner, takes the part of mediator raised above the people and separated from sinners (segregates a peccatoribus).