ASK FATHER: Can’t Father say things louder at Mass? We can’t hear.

From a reader…


I know that certain parts are not, the secret etc. I am new to TLM. I live in ___ and do not have access to regular TLM, other than thru the computer ( My diocesan priest does it once a month if able. My sons and husband do not connect to it because they have no idea where they are at in the mass because we cannot hear anything the priest says during the mass. I asked the priest if he would be able to speak louder or wear a microphone. He said that the rubrics say to speak so only the server can hear him. Is this true? If so, how do people follow along in big churches?

This is a great email.  It raises all sorts of issues. Let’s drill in.

First, just as I repeat until I am blue in the face to clerics: If you don’t know the TLM, you don’t really know the Roman Rite for which you have been ordained.  Lay people don’t have the same obligations as priests in this regard: to know the Roman Rite as they might. However, when we love something, and we should love our sacred liturgical worship, we should want to know more about it.  We are our rites.  They shape us.

This is an example of someone who doesn’t really know the Roman Rite, on the one hand, and who has – through no fault, mind you! – been conditioned to that thing that so typifies the Novus Ordo: the lowering of the Rite.

The older form and newer form are similar in some respects, but quite different in others.  Those differences are important.  However, I guarantee that once you begin to learn the older, traditional form more and more, then more and more you will understand about the newer rite!  Similarly, when priests learn the traditional form, it affects how they say Mass in the newer form.

And yet, people who are not yet familiar with the older form can become disoriented.

“I can’t hear what’s going on.”  “I can’t see.”  “I don’t know where they are.”

These are common remarks.  Sometimes they are complaints.

The Novus Ordo tends to shove everything at you and leave nothing unexposed.  The TLM tends to withhold some things so that you have to seek and wait within the gaps for the mystery that is taking place.  That’s really hard for many people today.  We are accustomed to having everything exposed.

Think about watching a baseball game where now you can see slo-motion of the stitches on the rotating ball.  Nothing is left to the imagination.

Once you are more accustomed to the older, traditional form, you will recognize the various gestures and signals that tell you where you are in the Mass.  However, Mass is not a didactic follow-the-bouncing-ball sing-along, either.  There are times when just being still, resting in the moment, are what we should and can do.  If you don’t know what Father is doing precisely at moment X, that’s okay.  You know what he is doing overall.  You are on Calvary.  You are in the Upper Room.  You are at the Tomb.

People think that they have to hear everything or see everything.  Instead, the genius of all the rites of all Churches are that they deprive the senses, to help you to encounter mystery.

On another line of thought, I sometimes with tongue in cheek say that the older Mass is like grown up food and the newer Mass is like baby food.  There’s nothing wrong with baby  food or with adult food.

Babies need to be feed.  “Open wiiiiiiide!  Here comes the airplaaaaaaane!  mmmnumnn mnuuum!”  You spoon feed stuff that doesn’t have to be chewed to junior.

Eventually, they awkwardly start holding their own spoon, with which they pound cheerios into oblivion.  Little frowns appear as they switch hands or look at how they hold it.

After that, harder food arrives with new teeth, but it has to be cut up.

You get my drift.   Having everything audible all the time, everything visible all the time, is like spoon feeding the blended carrots with choo-choo sounds.  That’s perfect for junior.  But junior grows.  Junior grows because of the baby-appropriate food.  Adults can eat that food too, but they won’t thrive on it.  They eventually need more complicated and satisfying food.  They don’t have to have things cut up for them.  It is a little demeaning to do that, as a matter of fact.

Even people who are deaf or blind can participate at Mass in a profound way.  We have to get beyond the mania of spoon-feeding and get into the heart of the Mass.

In any event, after a while, after more exposure, you will pick up on all the small signals whereby people for centuries have known what’s going on and how to follow.   Yep… they did this for centuries.  They weren’t that much smarter than we are.

Finally, microphones.   Oh dear.  They really are lethal to liturgy, aren’t they.   Artificial implication constantly ramming your ears so that you can’t have a natural experience of the liturgical moment.  No, no.  Thank God that you don’t have to have a microphone blaring everything at you.   Be grateful for the silence.  Be happy that the Church is confident in you.

Microphones are useful maybe for the sermon, but let the rest of Mass be natural.

And, yes, the rubrics do control the level of voice of the priest during the older form of Mass and – to a very curtailed extent – the newer.   Father must obey these rubrics.  Somethings you are not to hear.

But also remember that sometimes Father is not talking to you!

Lastly, “unveiling” things is a profound liturgical sign.  But you can’t unveil something that hasn’t in the first place been veiled.

Let there be veilings and unveilings in their due time.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. majuscule says:

    Orate Fratres!

    Nobis quoque peccatoribus!

    Not to mention Dominis vobiscum!

    Perhaps I was fortunate to attend so many low Masses in small churches in the beginning. I could hear most of what the priest was saying!

  2. JeffC64 says:

    That’s why I love my hand missal when I’m at the EF Mass. I know just enough Latin to be able to follow along easily and participate actively, and mostly silently (only singing with the schola if I know the chant, and/or responding the few times the people respond).

  3. Ave Crux says:

    Perhaps the writer does not have a missal in which to follow or is not aware that there are certain phrases in the Mass which the rubrics indicate the priest is asked to say audibly.

    These “milestones” in the Mass make it very easy to follow the priest in one’s missal and know exactly where he is at each moment.

    This affords the intervening silence for deep prayer as one prays while also experiencing that one is following along with the Mass in all its significance at each moment, especially as one approaches, with mounting intensity of prayer and attention, the moment of the Consecration.

    Knowing where the priest is in the Mass also encourages one to join oneself more formally and fervently with the oblation and to clearly formulate one”s intentions for the Consecration.

    I regularly rely on these audible phrases to keep pace with the priest so I can pray the Mass exactly as he is praying it at each moment, and with greater spiritual participation and attention.

    The prayers of the mass are inestimable in their beauty and significance and it is a great consolation to be able to pray them along with the priest, even… and especially…when it’s in silence.

    Just a FEW examples of this are…
    “Dominus Vobiscum”
    “Orate Fratres….”
    “Hanc igitur….
    The Gloria
    The Creed
    The Sanctus
    Etc, etc, etc

    Perhaps Father Z could bring greater clarity to this aspect of the Mass beyond the little I offer here.

  4. Ave Crux says:

    P.S. and this, of course, is aside from the many visual cues which also indicate exactly at which point the priest is during the Mass.

  5. Augustine67 says:

    Beautiful post.

    Are there any resources or organizations to assist diocesan clergy (Or seminarians for that matter) in learning the EF?

  6. Josephus Corvus says:

    I agree with you 100% Father. The one thing I will add, though, is that a slightly higher volume does help keep attention where it should be for those of us who get distracted (unfortunately). For reasons I won’t go into, I normally attend an OF Mass on Sunday. Periodically though, I am able to attend a daily Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Under normal circumstances, there are 20-50 people and all is good. I did attend a EF Mass that was fuller (Ash Wednesday) and had more difficulty with sniffling and coughing and kids, etc. superimposed on the supposed quiet. But may that’s just me.

  7. Bthompson says:

    One of my seminary professors (a Jesuit, of all things), once told us he had a theory that the microphone was among the greatest catalysts to the practical abandonment of celebrating liturgies Ad Orientem. Demand to see everything naturally followed on the heels of being enabled to hear everything.

  8. Kathleen10 says:

    Great explanation Father Z, and can I add one thing? Any newbies to the TLM should consider going on Ebay and purchasing a used Missal from pre-1962-ish times, and they can learn to follow along that way. Mine is a 1957 Saint Joseph Daily Missal and it makes all the difference. The Mass will start at the “Ordinary” part (the part of the Mass that is the same every week) and you flip back and forth between there and the “Propers” (the part of the Mass that changes every week). Get a traditional calendar and it will tell you if it is a Feast Day, etc.
    Pretty soon, you will know where Father is even though you don’t hear him. Other things will tell you, such as if he is moving to a certain location around the altar, etc. He will say things at times loud enough for you to know where you should be. For awhile, just take it all in. There are no pressures to “do” anything. Take in Calvary.

  9. youngcatholicgirl says:

    When I assisted at my first TLM at the age of 12, I was so confused. I was very different from what I was expecting. I cried. I’ve now learned, as Father mentioned, some of the “signals” that tell me where the priest is in the Mass (the “Orare, fratres” is one of the most helpful, I think). I follow along in my 1962 missal, and am trying to stop reading EVERYTHING during the canon and stop “keeping up” with the priest. Again, as Father said, you don’t have to know exactly where the priest is at a given moment. Just be there and pray.

  10. tho says:

    Father, your explanations are always right on target. I have read that after Vatican II an astronomical amount of Sisters left, and of course they were the main teachers of the beauty of the Mass. Now, to some people, it appears like we are trying to teach algebra. But really, faith is enhanced by the beautiful mystery’s of the TLM. Nothing that comes too quickly is ever really appreciated.
    I have a great deal of respect for the dead, but I think poor Pope Paul VI must have had mental problems to trade the Novus Ordo for the TLM. He is probably in Heaven hitting himself in the head, saying “what was I thinking”.

  11. Eric says:

    I am sending this to my young teen children. Once we started going, they have been saying, I can’t hear, I don’t understand. Perfect for them.

  12. marianne says:

    Father, thank you for your reply! It took me a while to realize that I didn’t need to follow every word and gesture at Mass. That I was there to be a witness to the Mystery of the Eucharist. Once I learned to sit back and just “be present”, I learned to truly appreciate what Mass really is! Now, when a priest uses a microphone at Mass, I find it so jarring. Silence is beautiful…

    Dear Reader: After attending the TLM regularly, you will start to pick up on the cues. Bells, the priest’s body position, certain phrases said louder than others, all these tell you what is happening and what is to come next. Sit back, close your eyes and listen; listen to the silence. You will hear God. Watch the priest, how he is exact and reverent with every move, every word. It’ll bring you to an understanding of the Mass, of Christ’s sacrifice for us, you never have experienced before.

  13. TonyO says:

    So, just curious: are you blue in the face yet? I wanna seeeee that ! :-)

    If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means

    Great depiction. The amount of concentration it takes to think about and learn to hold a spoon, and then to learn to reach out with the other hand to the right place and take it while not dropping it from the hand you are not thinking about. Little tykes are a wonder to behold.

    And, I suppose, the point is that we need to grow up. But by stages, learning to do the simple stuff, then after we get that under our belts, going on to the intermediate stuff… I remember going to the TLM and being lost. And plugging away at it and learning. And, especially, learning to let the silent spaces fill me with their own purpose. Indeed, I learned FAR more about how to engage in “active participation” at the Novus Ordo by learning the proper (lay) mode of participation in the TLM.

  14. teachermom24 says:

    “The TLM tends to withhold some things so that you have to seek and wait within the gaps for the mystery that is taking place. That’s really hard for many people today. We are accustomed to having everything exposed.”

    Isn’t this the definition of modesty, covering what shouldn’t be exposed? We have such an “in your face”, “let it all hang out” culture, that, sadly, this has become commonplace in Novus Ordo Masses. That along with the pablum we are fed in homilies that are nothing more than Sunday school object lessons.

    When our family first encountered the TLM, almost six years ago, we were dumbstruck–my children cried because it was so, so much more than we had ever experienced. It was truly AWEsome! We do not live in an area where the TLM is easily accessible, but every month or two we are able to assist at a TLM.

    I know the Mass in English. When I was in Rome in December, I assisted at five Masses in Italian. Because I knew the Mass, I could fully participate (though I really, really, really wish we could have found a Latin Mass–what the Church has lost by abandoning Latin!). Because I know the Mass, I can fully participate in the TLM. At the TLM, I mostly just lay my 1962 Missal aside to just be present. I know the Mass and don’t want to be distracted by trying to keep up with the printed word. It’s okay; just be present in the moment.

  15. APX says:

    In fairness, there are priests who say the EF so quietly that even theme audible parts can’t be heard from the front pew, let alone the choir loft.

  16. Absit invidia says:

    Our modern society has a chronic obsession with indulging the senses. Of the 3 root sins: pride, sensuality, and vanity, our modern world is deep seated in sensuality – especially our modern church. Let the priest do his duty of offering the mass and we do our duty of offering ourselves to God.

  17. Vincent says:

    We do have to be careful though, someone with extremely poor sight has no means of seeing what is going on; if the priest is so quiet in his said parts as to be impossible to hear, then it’s really not an uplifting experience. My father is in such a position and finds nothing more frustrating than those occasions. I have 20/20 vision and I’m just fine. But then I serve and as a result speak louder to ensure that those whose vision is impaired can hear those audiological cues.

    In the spirit of say the black and do the red, the rubrics specify what should be silent and what should be said. And what is said should not be silent. There are no rubrics that say “only the server should be able to hear”! (Well, not in the 1962 Missal anyway, unless you take that as ‘assisting’, but that would be slightly tenuous.)

    This brings me on to another point, which is that volume largely depends on the design of the church. In a well designed big church (and historically they were well designed…), you shouldn’t ever need microphones, if Mass is said ad orientem. A curved apse will reflect the sound back, and most likely amplify it. In fact, in my parish church, the acoustics are so good that you would be able to hear anything above a whisper from the back of the church. However, when the priest is preaching, the servers can’t hear a word that he is saying, even with a microphone and speakers above them!

  18. Charivari Rob says:

    A couple of thoughts…

    “The Novus Ordo tends to shove everything at you and leave nothing unexposed.”

    I’ve heard that notion in a couple of places and it has never made sense to me.

    The Mystery is the Mystery. No scholar, saint, genius, prodigy, teacher, artist, or what-have-you can neatly explain, encapsulate, create, condense or diminish that Mystery, and no form of the Mass can, either. The important point is that the Mass keeps the Mystery at its heart.

    My experience, in fact, is that the Novus Ordo lays bare the existence of that Mystery for me to then contemplate its workings. It stands at the intersection of God’s vast Creation and my little world. It shows and bridges the gap between what I can order, enumerate, & control in my little life and what God has planned for me.

    It will take me all of my life, with sin & grace & failures & successes & maybe gaining bits of understanding along the way, struggling with that Mystery – to hopefully be ready on that day when (spoiler alert) nothing will be left unexposed and I stand in His presence (and hopefully get to stay there, as opposed to being thrown out the gate into the night with wailing, gnashing of teeth, etc…).

    ”Even people who are deaf or blind can participate at Mass in a profound way.”

    Father, please don’t take this the wrong way, but – there has to have been a better way to say that.

    I assume you meant it as Blind people participate at Mass without seeing it – so can you. Deaf people participate at Mass without hearing it – so can you.

    That ”Even” is the crux of it, and ”can” doesn’t help.

    ”Even” – It’s not needed, and it skews the tone of what you said. It injects an implicit diminished capacity of the object group that conflates capacity with the distinguishing characteristic of the group when the two are actually unrelated. ”can” – That distorts by suggesting a hypothetical (can participate) when in fact they DO participate. (Too often, people are amazed by people with disabilities because they’ve preconceived “can” as hypothetical exceptional cases and don’t realize that people commonly “do”)

    So, unfortunately, the tone becomes Blind people, deaf people – even they can participate in Mass.

    Drop the unneeded parts and it’s so much better.

    People who are deaf or blind participate at Mass in a profound way.

  19. ServusChristi says:

    Seeing that this is one of the first objections I get all the time from Novus Ordo Catholics after the one I’m about to mention, even those old enough to attend the mass before the Novus Ordo Missae. Father Z can you perhaps give your insight into why the mass is celebrated in Latin only and why Session 22 of the Coucil of Trent condemned the idea that mass ought to be only offered in the vernacular? (Note you, Canon IX condemns the idea that pronouncing the words of consecration in a low tone ought to be condemned.)
    I too think this also goes to the heart of the tension between the mass and the new mass. I’m tempted to bring up assembly theology but there’s already too much on our plate to deal with.

  20. “Orate Fratres!”

    Yeah, but you don’t (usually) hear the rest. For the longest time until the early 20th century, you didn’t have to, as only the servers would respond with the Suscipiat. Then with the onset of the “Dialogue Mass,” local bishops had the discretion (not the individual priest; I know, I looked it up) to allow the people to respond, even at a High Mass (as in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, for example; I know, I was there).

    As an MC, I would be at the missal next to the priest, so I would lead the response for everyone else, just loud enough for the people to hear. This prevented a cacophony that would otherwise follow.

    Of course, you will on occasion hear the priest say the entire thing audibly and facing the people (“Orate, fratres, ut meum ac vestrum sacrificium …”). I seem to recall this being the practice back home as a little boy, and wondered as an adult whether it was something permitted in the 1960 Code of Rubrics, but didn’t quite make it to the hand missals.

    I’m sure someone provided some metaphorical or popular reason why the priest would finish it silently, but as with some other things (MC and/or deacon stepping away for the Commemoratio, etc), there was first a practical reason.

    Groundhog Day is a great time to indulge liturgical minutiae. Meanwhile, I do believe Punxatawney Phil will see his shadow today. Bundle up, everybody!

  21. Giuseppe says:

    First, there are moments when it really hits me what a beautiful writer you are. The toddler with cheerios image is evocative and moving. God has gifted you with a talent that you nurtured.
    Second, the NO mass, when reverently said, is beautiful, moving, and is adult food. It may be more adult comfort food, but it is a truly awesome experience. My kudos to those priests who make the NO reverent. (Think of Rev. Scalia’s funeral mass for his father.)
    Third, thanks for this blog. It is a blessing to many.
    My best,

  22. Joseph Revesz says:

    I advise using the 1962 Roman Missal of St. Pope John XXIII and pay attention to the rubrics.

  23. Tom says:

    Interestingly, I have yet to hear a self-declared “Traditionalist” explain and defend the fact that for many centuries, that indispensable staple of today’s “Trad” life, the bilingual hand Missal, was strictly illegal under Canon law until the end of the 19th century. The argument was the same: people’s lack of comprehension of the Latin without a side-by-side translation was necessary to “preserving the veil of the mystery.” In the 1890s, under pressure from the progressive German hierarchy of the time who said “well, we’re translating and publishing them anyway, and are already doing so, whatcha gonna do about it,” the Vatican finally relented and gave permission. Yesterday’s transgressive, “modernist” innovation = today’s “immemorial tradition.”

    [I think that, back when, people knew more about the Mass than we give them credit for. Surely they knew more than most people today… who have everything shoveled at them in their mother tongue.]

  24. Thorfinn says:

    Tom – the bilingual hand missal is, frankly, a crutch for the vast majority of us in the modern era who did not grow up learning the Latin Mass from a young age, as did previous generations. If we knew the Mass we wouldn’t need to have our nose in a book. But here we are as adults painstakingly trying to rediscover the immemorial tradition of the Latin church, similar to the pain adults go through learning a foreign language that a child could pick up in a fraction of the time.

    FrZ – Some older folks who I know and love say that before the liturgical reform, priests gave more verbal cues that helped the congregation keep up than is common today – I don’t know which ones specifically, but perhaps saying the first word or two of certain prayers aloud, some practical solutions which may have been lost in the interregnum. I hope priests will take advantage of whatever opportunities are available (avoiding abuse, of course) to help the people keep up, understanding that very few are well versed in the Latin Mass. The sharp clap used by altar servers is perhaps one example.

    Visual cues are great too, but not always helpful to those trying to follow in a Missal, or feed a baby, or quiet a toddler (ha!).

  25. Tom says:

    In re: [I think that, back when, people knew more about the Mass than we give them credit for. Surely they knew more than most people today… who have everything shoveled at them in their mother tongue.]

    Father, I appreciate your response. This is not to start an extensive debate, and I will not make any more comments on the matter — it’s not my intention to hog your thread or make a mountain of a molehill. But, with respect, Father, it seems to me your response is based on a self-contradictory historiography. If people knew all about the Mass and didn’t need anything “shoveled at them in their mother tongue,” as you dismissively note, then why on earth was there such real and widespread demand for the translations — so strong, in fact, that the Holy See ended up caving after all? How come the once-anathema bilingual missal became *the* way for people to engage with the Mass in the 20th century?

    In fact, why then did the whole original Liturgical Movement arise? And why, tellingly, was the initial reaction of the Curia precisely the same rhetoric about needing to keep translations out of the hands of the laity, lest the “mystery” be “unveiled?” The striking parallel between the argument in this and similar posts, and the ultimately-failed argument of Rome against authorizing hand missals, is never addressed.

    The bottom line, as I see it, is this: many so-called Traditionalists have a doubtless well-intentioned tendency to commit a category error when conflating the “mystery” part of the holy mysteries, with a vague and subjective “sense of mysteriousness,” awe, or lack of rational comprehension on part of the faithful of some ritual aspect or another. But as I’m sure you will agree, ancient languages, physical veils, rood screens or iconostases, etc. do not the mystery make. The essence of the mystery-qua-mystery lies its *essential* incomprehensibility, not the artificial (and often historically unintended) incomprehensibility of the accidental stuff that has naturally grown around it over the centuries, which is a matter of prudential judgment. No matter how much we “show and tell” (or not), and this has varied a great deal based on historically and symbologically conditioned factors over the many centuries, the mystery will always essentially remain mystery. As the history of hand missals shows, we don’t need self-imposed incomprehension for that.

    Lastly, Father and others, please take the above in the spirit in which it is intended: honest food-for-thought from a fellow orthodox Catholic, trying to stick to ideas and facts, and not intended to either start a big debate or be accusatory or derogatory of anyone.

  26. cpdog says:

    “Having everything audible all the time, everything visible all the time, is like spoon feeding the blended carrots with choo-choo sounds.”

    Father, I’d be curious to get your thoughts on the Eastern Rite liturgies. Of course, while we do not have everything visible all the time (indeed, what is seen is significantly LESS than the Latin rites because of the iconostasis), almost the entire liturgy is audibly sung. Indeed, there is almost zero silence whatsoever.

    [The splendid Eastern, Divine Liturgy is its own rite with its own genius. All rites have built within them that salutary deprivation of the senses. In the West, we can’t hear everything. In the East, we can’t see everything.]

  27. Dear Fr. Z,
    Salva reverentia, Pater, but I think there is a still an issue to be addressed. That is, the priest’s seeming misunderstanding of the rubrics as to the level of voice. In the rubrics of the Dominican Rite (as summarized in Boniwell, Ceremonial (1946), p. 8), there are three levels of voice. 1. “Vox clara et intelligibilis”–loud enough to be heard and understood by all friars in choir and at least by the people in the front half of the church. 2. “Vox mediocris”: easily heard and understood by those around the altar (i.e. servers and ministers). 3. “Vox secreta”: loud enough to be heard only by the one uttering it.

    The priest here seems to be under the impression that everything audible is to be said in voce mediocri. This is wrong. I am sure that the Roman rubrics are the same as the Dominican on this. He should read the Propers, Collects (except the Secret), Kyrie, Gloria, Preface, Sanctus, Pater, Agnus, and dialogue elements loud enough so that those in the front half of a large church can hear them distinctly. And, if only the server replies, he should also be audible to them. So your inquirer should be able to hear all of these parts if she sits in the front part of the Church and her priest is following the rubrics.

    And, yes, I am old enough to remember the regular violation of this rule. When I was young (many) priests regularly rattled through the Mass in what amounted to an inaudible mutter. And it did get it over a lot faster. I remember trying to read along in my little hand missal, and the only way I know were I should be was by hearing the bells or the priest stopping for the sermon. Some people became so accustomed style of celebration that when dialogue Mass came in they complained that they “could not pray”—i.e. say their Rosaries and not distracted by the Mass going on (except for the elevation).

    Then or now, violation of rubrics is bad: Do the red.

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