In another post, I directed you to Michael Matt’s video. In that video he touches on several points. In my other post I underscored one theme. Here, I’ll underscore what he says, pretty disparagingly, about priests who talk in a certain way. Start at about 7:29.
What Michael is talking about has to do with a certain pitch, timber of voice often adopted by priests and bishops.
It is, to my mind, when used my men the vocal equivalent of a “French manicure”.
This is what I wrote about it some time back.
[T]he celebrant of Holy Mass must be taught how to say Mass, so he is at ease and can act as a normal man, but one doing something of grave, of supernatural significance, with gravitas, but not abnormally.
Priestly, not prissily.
So, in short, the priest should follow the rubrics for the Low Mass and obey the rubrics for the level of voice to be used.
If Father is at the main altar celebrating a regularly scheduled public Mass and if – seated reasonably close and not in the 60th pew in the back corner – you can’t hear anything … that’s a serious problem. NB: SERIOUS PROBLEM.
I don’t have to argue that. It’s manifestly clear from the rubrics. SAY – in the appropriate voice – the Black and Do the Red.
However, I must bring up what I really wanted to stress in this post.
And this is directly to seminarians, and to my brother priests and to bishops.
Fathers, use your normal voice when saying Mass. Don’t use a “priest voice”, different from your normal voice.
As Fortescue O’Connell (1962) says,
“The celebrant, while eschewing affection or any suggestion of formal declamation, [think of Hamlet’s admonition to the players] should so read the prayers and other parts of the Mass formulary, with such attention to punctuation, accentuation, pauses and voice inflections, as to make clear that he understands what he is saying and desires to render it as intelligible as possible to others, and that he recites the text with the reverence due to words so sacred… and in a tone which gives a lead to and encourages the people to talk out.”
By 1962, what Popes of the 20th century desired, more vocal participation founded in interior drive to respond, is being advanced. Fine. But the main point here, Fathers, is to use a natural, and not affected, voice.
What I find appalling, and surely this is what Fortescue O’Connell is describing and inveighing against, is the “priest voice”, which is often pitched higher – not to be better heard but rather for… damn, I dunno why! I think it is a subtle affectation. And sometimes it’s not so subtle. It out-Herods Herod.
This “priest voice” is often higher, sing-song, cloying, such that you feel like someone is dripping Karo Syrup on you. You hear this all the time, to one degree or another. This is the vocal equivalent of slouching around, shoulders hunched as if the weight of your amazing piety is too much to be bourne, or flitting and nearly pirouetting about with slips and slides leading with the head, or, just as bad, robotic angularity like an mannequin dancer or mime. Blech. Get over yourself!
BTW… pitching your voice higher is an old technique of the orator before the time of microphones and artificial amplification. The higher voice carries farther. That’s a different matter. That’s not what I am talking about. You can still speak with your normal voice at a slightly higher pitch to be heard, just as you can force your voice downward a bit so as not to be heard, like “golf announcer voice”. Moreover, I warmly agree with McLuhan about the damn microphone doing untold damage to sacred worship and, therefore, to people’s identity and faith.
Stand up straight. Move normally and with comfort without being rigid. Use your normal voice. Read with comprehension and for comprehension. Don’t know Latin? Then STUDY Latin! And at least review the prayers for their meaning, not just pronunciation before Mass begins.
In the Roman Rite, when the priest sits down, he sits sideways to the congregation. It isn’t about him. When the priest enters, turns to the people, exits, he is to keep his eyes lowered. The lowering of the eyes is described in the same terms as the low, or “secret” voice of Mass (demissis… submissa). Remember that there are distinctions to be made about gestures. There are three levels of bows, three levels of voice, three levels of eye position (cast down, or lowered, looking at the texts, and raised heavenward ad Deum). The old adage is “qui bene distinguit bene docet… he who makes distinctions well, teaches well“. Teach with your ars celebrandi. Every word and gesture teaches. Think about how 7 of 10 Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence and Transubstantiation. The way we priests say Mass has a lot to do with that.
If the occasion – Holy Mass – is special, then let the text shine by getting yourself out of the way. People in the pews will thank you.
Fathers, please, get rid of the “priest voice”.