What is clear is that the Catholic world is divided into three parts on this issue: (a) those who like a lot of silence at Mass (b) those who don't and (c) those who don't care much one way or the other. So much is obvious, and it also crosses the OF/EF divide. For instance, in the OF context there is actually quite a lot said about silence. Thus, from the (current) General Instruction on the Roman Missal:
32. The nature of the “presidential” texts demands that they be spoken in a loud and clear voice and that everyone listen with attention. Thus, while the priest is speaking these texts, there should be no other prayers or singing, and the organ or other musical instruments should be silent.
45. Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times. Its purpose, however, depends on the time it occurs in each part of the celebration. Thus within the Act of Penitence and again after the invitation to pray, all recollect themselves; but at the conclusion of a reading or the homily, all meditate briefly on what they have heard; then after Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts.
Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.
51. Then the priest invites those present to take part in the Act of Penitence, which, after a brief pause for silence, the entire community carries out through a formula of general confession.
54. Next the priest invites the people to pray. All, together with the priest, observe a brief silence so that they may be conscious of the fact that they are in God’s presence and may formulate their petitions mentally.
56. The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation, and so any sort of haste that hinders recollection must clearly be avoided. During the Liturgy of the Word, it is also appropriate to include brief periods of silence, accommodated to the gathered assembly, in which, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared. It may be appropriate to observe such periods of silence, for example, before the Liturgy of the Word itself begins, after the first and second reading, and lastly at the conclusion of the homily.
 After the homily a brief period of silence is appropriately observed.
[71 Bidding Prayers] The intentions are announced from the ambo or from another suitable place, by the deacon or by a cantor, a lector, or one of the lay faithful.
The people, however, stand and give expression to their prayer either by an invocation said together after each intention or by praying in silence.
[78 Canon] The Eucharistic Prayer demands that all listen to it with reverence and in silence.
84. The priest prepares himself by a prayer, said quietly, that he may fruitfully receive Christ’s Body and Blood. The faithful do the same, praying silently.
[147 Canon again] The people, for their part, should associate themselves with the priest in faith and in silence.
164. [Postcommunion] Afterwards, the priest may return to the chair. A sacred silence may now be observed for some period of time, or a Psalm or another canticle of praise or a hymn may be sung (cf. no. 88).
271. After the purification of the chalice, the priest should observe some moments of silence, after which he says the prayer after Communion.
Now what is clear is that silence in the OF is being used in a completely different way than it is in the EF. In the OF, with the exception of the offertory, the action of the Mass is interrupted to permit people to be silent together. Everything stops to let people pray in their own way, if I can put it like that.
This has one or two problems:
• What does one do during these periods of silence? Make up prayers? Try and be contemplative for a moment? Think about things?
• And for how long? Any time I've started praying during these periods, I've only just got going when the priest calls us back to the sacred action again. A long and sufficient period for one person is not enough, or too much for another. Those of you who have stayed in a monastery where the Pater Noster is said silently except for the last couplet will know how hard it is to time two people's silent prayers together.
• Some people actively do not want to keep silence before and after Mass. This has been an issue in several parishes where I have served. Choirs, sacristans, servers, welcomers, all bustle before Mass, and this naturally raises the volume and encourages children to run around, deaf people to chat loudly &c &c. Appeals do not work, in my experience, except for a week or two.
Then, there is the issue of the offertory prayers:
• When I was first ordained and serving my first curacy in Crawley, one day, within a fortnight of my arrival, I had just celebrated Mass according to my intended custom, saying the offertory prayers quietly, when a woman stormed into the sacristy and shook her finger at me accusing me of being personally responsible for the lapsation of all the young people. 'You're driving them out!' she stormed. This was quite a shock for a young and uncertain priest, and though I never believed her, I never have had the confidence since to start saying them quietly again, except when there is music. The same lady subsequently became quite a supporter of mine, once she saw that basically we were on the same side.
• Fr Hunwicke deals sensibly with the actual OF rubrics argument here.
• Some people genuinely want to hear the offertory prayers. I have often experienced offertory hymns cut short so that the priest can say the prayers out loud. And if there is incense, then there is an uncomfortable silence when precisely music is desirable.
Now to the Extraordinary Form.
The silence is something different at an EF Mass. There isn't a sense of all being quiet together for a set measure of time, priest and people, but rather the priest getting on with something and the people doing something related, but different. This has led to accusations that the EF actively excludes the people. Is this fair?
Maybe one might take the imperfect analogy of a football match. Are the crowd actually involved in what is going on? Absolutely they are! In a real sense they are what the match is all about. The players don't just do it to amuse themselves, though they might enjoy a kick-about from time to time. The crowd are absolutely of the essence, though their participation is of a different kind to that of the players. The crowd never touch the ball, but are absolutely engrossed in the skilful play of the two teams. And, from a practical point of view, the two teams appear to entirely ignore the crowd and, again, from the perspective of the game and the league tables, it would not make a great deal of difference if the crowd were there or not. And still the game is all about the crowd.
At the extraordinary form, does the use of substantial slabs of silence actually exclude the congregation from participation?
I think that the answer has to be both yes and no. As at the football match, the crowd have to be kept on the terraces behind the barriers precisely to let the game proceed properly, there have to be barriers of one sort or another because of the nature of what happens at Mass. Some of the barriers are to do with dress, others to do with the layout of the church. These apply to football games, too [vestments/football strip (shirts, shorts, boots &c) & sanctuary/nave (pitch/terraces)]. In the context of the EF, you might add to this the use of a liturgical language, orientation and, yes, silence. When the priest is busy on something important, like when a footballer is taking a penalty, he needs silence to underline the importance of the action and also to aid concentration.
Sometimes the accusation is made that silence actually robs an activity of its meaning. 'I couldn't hear what was going on, so, as far as I was concerned, it was meaningless'. I remember a woman attending an EF Mass many years ago; the first she had been to in 25 years. She wanted to be polite, so she said afterwards, when asked how she found it 'Well, I'm sure it was very nice for the priest'. This rather underlines the cerebrelization (sorry!) of the Mass that has taken place. Is there really no way that communication can occur other than through speech? I should be very disappointed if that were true.
I think that, maybe, there is something here that deals with the differences between the sexes. It is a frequent complaint of women about their menfolk that 'he never speaks to me'. It's true. Men often don't speak much, especially about important things, and about feelings, and they often find that when something difficult is concerned, silence is preferable. This can drive some women mad, and, according to that extraordinarily insightful programme on marriage done a couple of years ago by Bob Geldof, the most frequently cited reason for a woman to seek a divorce. Women talk about their feeling much more readily than men do. Men do not frequently discuss the nature of their friendships with each other; at the pub, they will talk about cars, football, girls, whatever, but rarely about something really important. It doesn't imply even for a moment that men don't think that things are important, simply that some things pass beyond words, and it doesn't feel right to let it all hang out, as it were. Mens' friendships are often very enduring and can be very close, but the important stuff all passes unspoken of; there is even a feeling that it can spoil the relationship if it is ever mentioned. Cars are a safer topic. And men can also be intimidated by women's driving need to know everything, to have it all out in the open. It simply isn't the way men work. This is often expressed as men's inarticulacy, as opposed to women's ability to express clearly.
Almost all the objections to silence at Mass while there is action going on (whether at the EF or the OF) come from women. Somehow, men seem to 'get it' more readily. It is well within the male comfort space, but not for all women.
Consider two lovers. Generally it is the woman who needs to be told often that she is loved. She finds it reassuring and edifying of the relationship. If, however, she is attentive, she will learn to 'read' the man and even if he never realizes just how important this communication is for her, she will come to understand and appreciate him from a thousand other little things. A man is often baffled by why a woman wants to be told that she is loved. 'Why on earth would I have married her, then, if I didn't?' But when she gets it, she really gets it. This, too, has been my experience with women and the EF. Once they get the point of the silence, the articulate inarticulacy, they generally take to it more than men do. It's just a bit harder getting there.
Is this, perhaps, what Cardinal Heenan meant when he commented that the New Mass would not appeal to men as much as it would to women?
Out Loud at the EF?
There are several possible approaches to this. I remember a priest at the Oratory who thought that the whole Mass should be as quiet as possible. When the Mass was moved from the Little Oratory to the High Altar, and the direction issued that the microphone was to be turned on for the prayers at the foot of the altar, he felt so strongly about this that he would no longer celebrate a public Mass in the EF. In a church as large as the London Oratory, the wsss wsss wsss dialogue between priest and server was inaudible even at the altar rails, let alone down the church.
And then I remember a priest at a London church, now dead, who said everything either right aloud or in a stage whisper that was almost louder.
Is there a mid-point? Virtus, after all, stat in media. That's a pun. You'll get it in a minute.
In my own church, I keep the neck microphone (media, geddit?) turned on throughout Mass, and then proceed with the Mass either aloud or in the lower voice as directed by the rubrics. This means that the quiet bits are on the edge of audibility, so can be heard by those who really want to follow carefully, or can be tuned out by those who don't. Some don't approve of this, but I cite as my authority none less than Blessed John XXIII who, at his coronation did just this; the microphone was on the altar, but it was kept switched on throughout the canon, and you can clearly hear it if you try. This, presumably, must have been also the practice of Pope Pius XII.
I am far from thinking that this is all to be said on this issue. I may have more, and I may want to retract some of what I have written. I'd be interested in your views.