Friday, March 07, 2008

The Microphone and Liturgy

Compare and contrtast these tow videos, one is a group of Irish charismatics, the other is Cardinal Pell celebrating Pontifical Mass at the Throne, they come from two very diferent traditions, yet both are Catholic. Indeed many would assume the charismatics to be more part of present Catholicism than the Pontifical Mass.

I spent quite some time with someone who had "Wee Free roots" in Rome, I took him to St Peter's early in the morning, just after it had opened, when it is a place of worship rather than a tourist attraction. He had visited before but was obviously impressed by the sheer majesty of the interior. I think what impressed him too was the number of Masses being quietly said at the sidealtars, what always impresses me is for the most part they are prayerful.

I can't help but reflect that the most important development that has shaped our understanding of the liturgy over the past 75 years is the microphone. The "Wee Free" tradition, like all Protestant worship, places the sermon: teaching and hearing at its centre. Catholic worship places actio at its heart.

In response to an earlier post there were a series of comments on what is "Traditional Catholic Spirituality", I think a lot has to do with the use of the mike, with who is being communicated with, which words are most important, those spoken to God or those spoken to the community. What would have happened if the technology had existed to amplify sound before Trent? I mean by using something other than the pulpit sounding board, or individual or choral singing. Would Latin as the liturgical language have survived so long?


Anonymous said...

Interesting general point about microphones, Father.

But those two clips?

The 'audience' in Ireland appear to be mostly ladies and mostly of-a-certain-age. No young people at all that I could see, so no rebirth there then, more a rather sad waving goodbye.


Joe said...

I agree with you that the use of the microphone does have a major impact on the celebration of the Liturgy. A thought that has been running through my mind over the last few weeks, in the context of discussion of the "eastern orientation" of prayer, has been the following.

Does the availability of a microphone that can be used during a "facing east" celebration of the Eucharistic Prayer remove one of the needs that could be identified for a "facing the people" celebration?If the people can hear clearly the Eucharistic Prayer from behind the priest, is their ability to participate "facing east" much the same as for "facing the people" celebrations?

The direction of the prayer then makes clear who the prayer is addressed to - namely, the Father - and its audibility enables the participation of the faithful.

Anonymous said...

Joe, The presence or not of a microphone has little or no bearing on the direction faced by the priest. In the older form of the Mass those parts sung aloud by the priest, while facing east and usually without a microphone, are perfectly audible. I think the silently said prayers are so done for other reasons. In the history of the liturgy the church moved from having an audible canon to having a silent one. Also of course in the older form there are many occasions when more than one thing is happening, eg., the priest says the prayers at the foot of the altar aloud, but not chanted, while the choir sings the introit.

Anonymous said...

Now, to be fair. The second one is a sing song and not a mass nor is it pretending to be.

The use of mirophones - In a small church not necessary. In a large church why not. Of course with the older form it would not be a big issue. However the newer form would require constant voice projection which could be straining and damaging. I think microphones are a great technology. The only problem with them is that when you place one in your hand there is a tendency to become a "performer". I think it is a form of brainwashing we are stuck with. Probably from TV. I don't know what it is but there is this subconscious "I'm a star" idea that seems attached to it. It's a little bit like cars. I have some long standing friends that are solid enough people. Get into a car with them(as drivers) and suddenly a fowl mouthed swearing stranger emerges. It is quite startling. So, artificial voice amp - good. Brainwash I'm a star association - bad.

I look forward to the day when we can wifi up the priest without him being aware.


Physiocrat said...

There is nothing wrong with microphones and amplifiers in churches. The trouble comes when the amplifiers are connected to a speaker system. As long as they are just wired in to an induction loop system so that people who use hearing aids can hear everything, they are not a problem.

For the rest, what is meant to be heard should be spoken loudly and clearly so that those who are fortunate enough to be able to hear without the use of a hearing aid can do so.

Sound systems are not allowed to be used in orthodox synagogues. It is a good example to follow, as is the use of an ancient language for the liturgy. The use of chant is a considerable help in promoting audibility without the use of electronic assistance.

Tom said...

I agree. Deep in my heart I long for the days when microphone was not considered almost as important as the sacred vessels during the celebration of our Liturgy.

Now, here is a video that really proves that the microphone is taking over! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Father. I don't think there were any surprise pronouncements made during your absence this time!
What a contrast in these two videos. The magnificent music accompanying the first film was such a contrast to the second which I quickly shut off. Although I am a 'lady of a certain age' I never took kindly to guitars at Mass and certainly could never bring myself to waving my arms around in the manner shown.

Regarding the use of a microphone by priests, this reminded me of an occasion when Cardinal Lustiger entered Notre-Dame with what looked like a pipe in his mouth! I blinked twice and as he approached saw that it was a microphone fixed in front of his mouth. He had serious voice problems at the time and this helped him project his voice which once had been so strong. I am so glad that I heard him speak on several occasions always without notes as he was such a great orator.

I have always understood that the Canon of the Mass was silent due to the priests in Britain having to celebrate Mass in secret during and after the reformation. It would appear that this is not so? Whilst we must be grateful no longer to live in times of persecution, the absence of this link with past history is sorely missed.

Physiocrat said...

I have just got the sound working on my computer and listened to the old folks' sing-song. I cannot think of an English word to fit. Schrecklich. Hemskt. I don't think there is a single English word that stretches to that degree of dreadfulness.

Isn't it amazing how dated the latest thing soon becomes.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Churches were built before the microphone was invented.

They were built as houses of God, to accommodate the Mass, and also to accommodate the people of God, who gathered there to worship God.

I can't see how the microphone enhances the building's original function.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

An afterthought.

I've just re-watched the video of the Charismatic Conference (with the sound turned off).

The way they wave their arms in the air while they are singing puts me in mind of the old song "Under the spreading chestnut tree".

Anonymous said...

Following Dr Wright's comment I have just watched the 2nd video with the sound off too. I notice they are all women present - perhaps a women's institute group? Can you imagine groups of male bank managers, plumbers, postmen etc joining in? no I can't either!

I never even knew there existed Catholic charismatics - I thought it was something that grew from a west indian form of protestant worship. we learn something knew each day!

And yes 'Under the spreading chestnut tree does come to mind!'

gemoftheocean said...

As for Charismatics...I suppose they have their "place." As long as it is "far away from me" I am content. [Apologies to Fiddler on the Roof]

As for Microphones? Why not? As long as one uses it correctly and doesn't "perform."

It's a TOOL. Maybe they didn't have sunglasses 2000 years back, but you can't convince me that the Blessed Mother wouldn't have liked a pair had they been available.

A long time ago I saw "The life of Brian." NOT a movie I'd recommend, at all. HOWEVER, there was one scene I thought very funny.

During the "Sermon on the Mount" there were a few fellows way in the back straining to hear.

"Blessed are the SHEEP?!
Why would SHEEP be Blessed?!"

Just because there wasn't "X" back in whatever halycon days the person is mooning over is no reason for present day people to suffer.

"Jesus didn't have tylenol" isn't a good reason for the priest not to have some if the priest has a headache.

(And Dear Dr. Wright....I'm sure there were no modern flush toilets NEAR any of the great cathedrals of Europe, but I bet dollars to doughnuts that you'd be mighty ticked off if there weren't any near by if you needed one during Mass, and I'd bet any money you are grateful there are pews to sit down on. why is it the British sometimes seem to absolutely hate any creature comforts? )

Physiocrat said...

One good reason for not using microphones is that they ruin the sound, especially music and singing, because the mikes pick up the signal and redistribute it all over the building through the speakers. At the extreme, this manifests as feedback howl as the mikes pick up the re-broadcast sound and it is fed back through the system again and again, but before it gets to that stage the subtleties of the sound have been destroyed due to the mixed sound paths and delays due to the speed at which sound travels. These include things like phase differences which enable listeners to tell where the sound is coming from.

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