Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wordlessness and the Microphone

I might be a little dyslexic or just plain stupid but I can read a chapter or two of scripture time and time again and still not understand it. It happens with the Office of Readings, a passage carefully selected by some liturgist for my edification, and get to the end and wonder: what was the point of that?
It is words, words, words. We can be lost in sea of them.

Tonight we had Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament followed by Benediction, it is Old Rite, opens with O Salutaris, ends with Adoremus, it is the same every week, in part because I am too lazy to choose hymns every week and to avoid a scripture reading which would necessary if we used the New Rite properly. I have aversion to doing the Church's rites improperly.

What I like about Exposition is that it is wordless, "God looks at us and we look at God". It is that simple.

Benediction is reasonable simple too, God is there, we kneel before him, burn incense before him, pray to him, receive his blessing. He is the centre, we are supplicants. If you want a statement of Catholic faith. either we are idolatrous bread-worshippers or else that which appears bread is God himself. It is simple. It is iconic. It teaches in a very clear tableau form.

The same with traditional Mass, priest ascends to the altar to offer bread and wine before the people, again a simple tableau. Time and again he turns to the people to remind them the Lord is with them.
It is simple!

At a deeper level, the priest offers the Eternal Son the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, down the ages he mutters, "Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, Qui Tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, Per omnia saecula saeculorum" or something similar.

Words and actions together reinforce the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith: the Incarnation and the Trinity. Other doctrines are certainly there but it is these two that are focussed on with lazer like precision. It is the simplicity of it  find captivating.

In many ways the rites that developed under the influence of the Liturgical Movement in the 1920s and 30s and reached their fruition in the Bugnini reforms of the1960s and 70s though having the elegance of line of the Art Deco and functionalism of 1950s Utilitarianism seem to have a scatter gun approach.

I am sure that the biggest influence on liturgy in the 20th century was the microphone, bringing with it the assumption that once words can be heard, they can be understood. It should be remembered that Liturgical revision took place in the "radio age", one suspects by men who thought hearing or listening was the answer to all the Church's difficulties. The problem is that when everything can be heard, all is heard but then everything tends to becomes noise, there is no focus no discrimination.
The understanding that words are not all is perhaps a good reason for the more complex verbal structures of the new translation of the Roman Missal and why so many younger priests are exploring rites where words are not the be all and end all.


Father Colin Patey said...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post.
Seems to me that Seminaries stopped teaching "Sacred Eloquence" with the arrival of the microphone. I am sure many readers can remember the time when preachers could fill a large church and be easily heard, without the aid microphones.
But I agree that we need more silence and fewer words, words, words!

GuidoM said...

The only way to do Benediction is in the EF. I have seen so many messed up versions of benediction in the new rite ranging from the divine praises prior to the blessing some random homily in the middle of exposition that has nothing to do with the Eucharist at all. Some priest waddling around in polyester minus cope or stole or humeral veil blessing how he pleases.

Benediction in the EF is timeless and beautiful. The chants are the same - people know where they are. The wonderful prayers for England and the Pope are heard recited by priest and faithful how have known these prayers all their life. The times of silence are clearly mapped out and they are indeed silences - one does not fear the iminent blabbing of some 70s nonsense about peace and love!!! The beuatiful prayer before the blessing does not get transformed into some sentimental speech.The blessed Sacrament is reverenced by the use of incense and held in the humeral veil as an act of love and blessing. Then comes the Laudes Divinae simply doing as the word suggests.

The same is ture with Benediction with Pope Benedict. Silence. SILENCE. He alomg with the people adore the Lord in silence and wonder and it speaks to them.

SO please please please priests out there watch and learn from the EF with Fr Blake and BXVI!!!

Victor said...

If I was pope for one day, I would issue a motu proprio prohibiting the use of microphones in churches for all purposes except the sermon.
Thankfully, I will never be pope...

Clare said...

I think you have to make the distinction between the sung word and the spoken word. Sung texts can give a sense of the meaning without even having to hear the words.

Sadly, these days there is no such thing as silence, especially in the centre of our city. The words are replaced by distractions, the shrill screeches of seagulls, the incessant hum of the lights and the dull breath of the air in the organ.

For me, the best silence is that of sung prayer. It doesn't require meaning, just action and it covers all the extraneous noise. Silence requires thought, and that's the difficult bit..

Oh, and if you crave silence. Come and sit in the organ loft. We can't hear a thing up there, even with microphones!

Amfortas said...

I didn't even know there was an Old Rite and a New Rite for Exposition and Benediction. I've never seen a text for the latter. And I thought, strictly speaking, that Exposition and Benediction sits outside public liturgy. Clearly I need to go back to school.

M. Rafael said...

"Non multa sed multum!"

John Nolan said...

The post-V2 reform of the Mass encouraged celebration versus populum (presumably so that the congregation could see what was going on) and at the same time did away with most of the ritual gestures which previously would only have been seen by the server. Enthusiasts for the Novus Ordo often refer disparagingly to the "twenty-five-minute Mass" of the Old Rite. In fact, the only way to make a weekday said Mass in the NO stretch to 25 minutes is to pad it out with homilies, explanations and extra prayers. Words, words, words. Thoroughly protestant and yawn-making.

FrBT said...

I have said before about the noises in my church and the discussions that I hear during the Exposition of The Blessed Sacrament.

I remind the flock about silent prayer, and there is a notice on the church inner door.

It reads:
You are now entering this Holy House of God.
Please switch off or silence your mobile phones.
Please do not talk in the church.
Thank you for your offering of prayer in silence.

In most cases it does work, but I still encounter people who have forgotten who is really present in the Blessed Sacrament.

Latin is so beautiful when it is sung in prayer.
Long may it continue.


Amfortas said...

To describe the NO as protestant is heresy.

Ttony said...

"the assumption that once words can be heard, they can be understood"

You are so right, Father.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Quite right, but it can be celebrated in such a way that is so out of touch with Tradition that it appear Protestant, hence the Pope's (and CDW) call for it to be celebrated according, at the very least, according to the books,

Francis said...

Father, I agree with you about the influence of the microphone.

And I think that our liturgical problems really began when we thought that in a "Radio One" world, all the Catholic Church had was a "Radio Three" liturgy.

Supertradmum said...

Thank you for this beautiful post and fantastic photo. One cannot be holy without silence. One cannot hear God. There is the famous quotation from Mother Theresa when someone asked her how she prayed--

"We need to find God, and God cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature--trees and flowers and grass--grow in silence. See the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence. The more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life."

The noise of the modern age is, frankly, Satanic.

As to understanding Scripture, Father, can you not just pray for infused knowledge instead of struggling?

John Nolan said...

@ Amfortas

If you read my comment carefully, it is clear that I do not describe the NO as protestant. I attend it more often than I attend the EF. What is quintessentially protestant is the overemphasis on the (spoken) word and the downplaying of sacrifice and ritual action. I do think, however, that the NO can be over-didactic; I never saw the point of the priest telling us at the start of Mass what we are going to hear in the readings (which are in the vernacular anyway) and then telling us again in the (main) homily what we have already heard, plus a final reminder before the blessing.

Amfortas said...

A helpful clarification Mr. Nolan. And thank you Father for your comments. Yes, of course, any liturgy can be celebrated unworthily.

Stationary Stations said...

About 30 years ago I attended the Stations of the Cross and the priest never left the altar - but the servers did. He read the appropriate prayers for each station as the servers processed around the church in the usual way - stopping at each station in turn - until they returned to the sanctuary. It was all quite bizarre. Afterwards I asked the priest why he did not leave the sanctuary. He said he did not have a very strong voice and did not want to put a strain on his throat by having to speak loudly as he went around the church (it was before everyone had radio mikes). He was able to hear his voice carry round the church through the sanctuary fixed microphone. It was a poor excuse and symptomatic of the change in approach by a number of priests in those times when they started to do what suited them rather than what was required in the rubrics, or expected by the congregation.

Sixupman said...

Fr. BT:

Moving to a new parish, I was heartened to find such a notice in the church porch. Alas, it was taken down on the orders of the parish mafia!

FrBT said...


Where there's a will ... there's a way!!

Don't give up. make another notice, laminate it and sign it with 'not to be removed' - emphasised in the homily also - all in accordance with the PP - of course.

Where you do not succeed - The Holy Spitit will.

Have a good Sunday and don't go near any boats or whales.