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The Secret (Lat. Secreta, sc. oratio secreta) is the prayer said in a low voice by the celebrant at the end of the Offertory in the Roman Liturgy. It is the original and for a long time was the only offertory prayer. It is said in a low voice merely because at the same time the choir sings the Offertory, and it has inherited the special name of Secret as being the only prayer said in that way at the beginning. The silent recital of the Canon (which is sometimes called "Secreta", as by Durandus, "Rat. div. off.", IV, xxxv), did not begin earlier than the sixth or seventh century, Cardinal Bona thinks not till the tenth (Rer. liturg., II, 13, §1). Moreover all our present offertory prayers are late additions, not made in Rome till the fourteenth century (see OFFERTORY). Till then the offertory act was made in silence, the corresponding prayer that followed it was our Secret. Already in "Apostolic Const.", VIII, XII, 4, the celebrant receiving the bread and wine, prays "silently" (Brightman "Eastern Liturgies", p. 14), doubtless for the same reason, because a psalm was being sung. Since it is said silently the Secret is not introduced by the invitation to the people: "Oremus". It is part of the Proper of the Mass, changing for each feast or occasion, and is built up in the same way as the Collect (q. v.). The Secret too alludes to the saint or occasion of the day. But it keeps its special character inasmuch as it nearly always (always in the case of the old ones) asks God to receive these present gifts, to sanctify them, etc. All this is found exactly as now in the earliest Secrets we know, those of the Leonine Sacramentary. Already there the Collect, Secret, Postcommunion, and "Oratio ad populum" form a connected and homogeneous group of prayers. So the multiplication of Collects in one Mass (see COLLECT) entailed a corresponding multiplication of Secrets. For every Collect the corresponding Secret is said.
The name "Secreta" is used in the "Gelasian Sacramentary"; in the Gregorian book these prayers have the title "Super oblata". Both names occur frequently in the early Middle Ages. In "Ordo Rom. II" they are: "Oratio super oblationes secreta" (P.L., LXXVIII, 973). In the Gallican Rite there was also a variable offertory prayer introduced by an invitation to the people (Duchesne, "Origines du culte", Paris, 1898, pp. 197-8). It has no special name. At Milan the prayer called "Oratio super sindonem" (Sindon for the veil that covers the oblata) is said while the Offertory is being made and another "Oratio super oblata" follows after the Creed, just before the Preface. In the Mozarabic Rite after an invitation to the people, to which they answer: "Præsta æterne omnipotens Deus", the celebrant says a prayer that corresponds to our Secret and continues at once to the memory of the saints and intercession prayer. It has no special name (P.L., LXXXV, 540-1). But in these other Western rites this prayer is said aloud. All the Eastern rites have prayers, now said silently, after the Great Entrance, when the gifts are brought to the altar and offered to God, but they are invariable all the year round and no one of them can be exactly compared to our Secret. Only in general can one say that the Eastern rites have prayers, corresponding more or less to our offertory idea, repeated when the bread and wine are brought to the altar.
At either high or low Mass the celebrant, having answered "Amen" to the prayer "Suscipiat Dominus sacrificium", says in a low voice the Secret or Secrets in the same order as he said the Collects, finding each at its place in the proper Mass. He ends the first and last only with the form "Per Dominum nostrum" (as the Collects). The last clause of the last Secret: "Per omnia sæcula sæculorum" is said or sung aloud, forming the "ekphonesis" before the Preface.
DURANDUS, Rationale divinorum officiorum, IV, xxxii: GIHR, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (tr. St. Louis, 1908), 547-9.