ASK FATHER: Use of a microphone during Traditional Latin Low Mass. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

I have recently begun to attend the Low Mass. Is there a rule that forbids the celebrant from using a small microphone so that his voice can be heard by the congregation? I know Latin and would like to hear it! Thank you.

Good question.

First, let me point out that there are times when Father isn’t talking to you.  There are times when he is speaking so intimately that not even nearby servants can hear.  There are times when only the servers should hear.  There are times when everyone should hear.

In that later case, there is nothing “wrong” with using a microphone.

However, the use of the microphone itself creates its own set of difficult dynamics.  I refer you, for example to the observations of Marshall McLuhan about the long-term effect the microphone had on sacred worship.   For example, when people could hear everything, much was “de-mystified”.  Rather… de-mystery-ized.

Also, when it came to preaching, the fact that a preacher with a mic has to use only a fraction of his energy to get his voice to the last pew reduced both his appearance of conviction and.. indeed… his conviction.   Oratory is far far more than a written text.  It is also delivery.   And there is a relationship between speaker and text.

Microphones are not “bad”.  They have their uses.   They are tech.  So is the design of a church, the curvature of the apse, the vaults of the ceiling.  These create the church’s acoustics.

At a Low Mass, I would rather have a priest raise his voice for the readings in Latin and for the orations, those parts which everyone should hear.   However, depending on the priest’s Latin… well.  Results could vary.

FATHERS!  LEARN LATIN!  LEARN THE TLM!   Don’t be WUSSES!  You CAN do it!

There is nothing, by they way, about sacred liturgical worship which should be easy or effortless.  Sure, easy and effortless from the point of view of familiarity and then execution.  However, lots of effort goes into making something effortless.  When I worked as a musician, back in the day, my playing was effortless in sense, only because of countless hours of practice.  When I read Latin today it is effortless only because of years under my belt.  When I celebrate a Missa Cantata is it not hard because I’ve done a lot of them.  Once, it was harder.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t work.  It can be strenuous and effortless in different ways.

But, Fathers, you won’t know the joy, unless you start.   You would never have known the exhilaration of riding a bycycle for the first time, or realizing you really could swim, until soloed down that sidewalk or got thrown off the end of that dock.

GROW UP and LEARN IT!

These times and the spiritual needs of the people beg for something more than what we have been doing.

By the way, one of the reasons why sacred worship should be sung is precisely to help it be heard!

That said, you might know that there are prayers for vesting in sacred vestments for Mass.   Here is a prayer – tongue in cheek – for vesting with the clip-on mic wireless mic.

Concede, Domine, virtutem labiis meis et prudentiam ad Tuam proclamandam veritatem, ut per indigni servi Tui vocem, vox Tui tonitrui in rota contremat terram.

Perhaps you readers who have Latin can render this into accurate and yet smooth English providing also the verses alluded to in the prayer.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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19 Responses to ASK FATHER: Use of a microphone during Traditional Latin Low Mass. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

  1. carn says:

    Just so you know the state of affairs in Germany:
    https://www.katholisch.de/artikel/27362-wie-ein-diakon-einer-sterbenden-den-beichtwunsch-ausredete

    “How a diakon dissuaded a dying person from her wish for confession”

    “Gegenüber dem Diakon der Pfarrei äußerte sie den Wunsch zu beichten. Der aber wiegelte ab: Das mit den Sünden sehe man heute nicht mehr als so schwerwiegend an, da solle sie sich mal keine Sorgen machen. Die Kraft zu insistieren hatte die Schwerstkranke nicht mehr.”

    =

    She voiced a wish for confession towards the praish diacon. He played the issue down: the matter with sins is not viewed today such severe, she should not worry. The seriously ill woman did no longer have the strength to insist.

    The article tries to argue that there maybe there is something wrong about this.

  2. Ms. M-S says:

    There are no native speakers of Church Latin, so presumably everyone on earth has an accent. One has to begin at the beginning or go nowhere. Saying Latin Mass prayers slowly and carefully generally precedes speaking fluently and easily. And however slowly or rapidly the Latin Mass is said, the faithful in the pews aren’t subjected to free (mis)translation and revisions in the vernacular.

  3. mo7 says:

    FWIW, little me in the pew appreciated some of the Mass being audible when I first was learning it. Now I just like hearing the Latin

  4. mo7 says:

    FWIW, little me in the pew appreciated some of the Mass being audible when I first was learning it. Now I just like hearing the Latin

  5. Hellenist says:

    Concede, Domine, virtutem labiis meis et prudentiam ad Tuam proclamandam veritatem, ut per indigni servi Tui vocem, vox Tui tonitrui in rota contremat terram.

    Grant, Lord, power to my lips and intelligence to proclaim Thy truth, that by the voice of Thine unworthy servant, the voice of Thy thunder in its chariot may shake the earth.

    Not sure about the allusions.

  6. Kate says:

    When we travel to visit family, we are sometimes stuck with the option of attending the local NO or a TLM in which the priest and schola use microphones turned up pretty loud. It’s so awful that sometimes the NO with all its wonkiness wins out.

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    There is a fundamental difference between vocalizing or speaking with or without an amplification microphone. It literally changes the way people have to talk or sing. And it cuts one off from being directly in relation to the building and people. Singing with a microphone cut many people off from how singing had been done since Paleolithic times, and gave them unrealistic expectations of their own voices. It is just cruddy all the way down, unless the microphone user is very canny about it.

  8. Gregg the Obscure says:

    thanks for the translation Hellenist. as to allusions: “power to my lips . . . to proclaim Thy truth” recalls the calling of the prophet Jeremiah, the voice shaking the earth recalls the episode where Elijah waited at the mouth of the cave for the Lord to pass by (and His presence was in the “still small voice” nothing amplified there), the chariot of the Lord seems to refer to the same Elijah’s departure from the earth.

  9. Charles E Flynn says:

    The science of acoustics is full of surprises.

    From Mystery of Greek Amphitheater’s Amazing Sound Finally Solved
    By Tom Chao April 05, 2007

    Excerpt:

    The theater, dating to the 4th century B.C. and arranged in 55 semi-circular rows, remains the great masterwork of Polykleitos the Younger. Audiences of up to an estimated 14,000 have long been able to hear actors and musicians–unamplified–from even the back row of the architectural masterpiece.

    How this sonic quality was achieved has been the source of academic and amateur speculation, with some theories suggesting that prevailing winds carried sounds or masks amplified voices.

    It’s in the seats.

  10. Unwilling says:

    Learning and knowing Latin means different things to different people. I often exhort readers on Fr Z posts concerning Latin to learn “it”. First learn the sounds of the vowels – see YouTube. Then practice reciting the longer and shorter parts of the Ordinary. If you want more, get a one-volume course; if even more, get a multi-volume course. Meanwhile, be reading short passages of the Vulgate New Testament or other parts of the Bible that you enjoy. When you get this far, you will not need my advice.

    But let not the perfect be the enemy of the good. Would-be beginners may be reassured that they need not, most likely will not, and (perhaps legitimately — unless very young and starting now) cannot attain the level of expertise in the Latin language that Fr. Z commands. His knowledge, sensibility, and fluidity in the use of Latin is of the one in thousands level — not, to be sure, comparable to someone like Christine Mohrmann, but very very high. Anyone who can now read Fr Z’s comments on prayers/translations of the Mass can confidently start and reasonably hope to acquire enough Latin to take considerable satisfaction and consolation in their accomplishment.

  11. APX says:

    It should be noted that not all microphone use is created equally. Our choir director/organist is also a sound and recording engineer (he also puts out literal fires in the choir loft too. He’s a man of many skills.) The issue of using microphones for the the choir has come up from time to time. We use them differently than other churches. We also have a different kind of microphone. The general impression I get is that most choirs/cantors don’t use microphones correctly/as effectively as they could.

  12. JakeMC says:

    Considering I only had two years of classical Latin in college, and that nearly fifty years ago, I came pretty close in my own translation, though I only knew “rota” was “wheel;” didn’t know it could be translated as “chariot,” as Hellenist showed. As for the references, I think it’s from one of the Psalms, or perhaps a reference to Isaiah’s vision of the Cherubim around the Lord in His chariot.

  13. NOCatholic says:

    There is no question that electronic amplification has changed many things in society, not the least of which is the Mass. Much depends on how it is used.

    At the one low TLM I attended, I would have wished that the celebrant (and perhaps the man in the front row making the server’s responses) used microphones. I could barely hear either of them.

  14. ProfKwasniewski says:

    These two articles could be helpful on the question of what is supposed to be said loud enough to be heard by the congregation:

    http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2019/09/the-low-mass-is-not-silent-mass-rubrics.html

    http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2019/09/reactive-participation-further-thoughts.html

  15. Suburbanbanshee says:

    It is possible to use microphones well, and to install amplification that is just about the same level as an unamplified voice, but that just carries further. But it’s not easy.

    OTOH, we all have bodies and lungs and heads, so we already have amplification that we carry around with us. A church that is correctly designed will have lots of nice acoustic features. Self-amplification is more about relaxing than anything else; and babies are the best at it. If you can hear a baby everywhere in church, and if you could make out the embarrassing thing that toddler said, several hundred feet away, there’s not really an adult need for a microphone — unless the adults don’t know how to talk in large public spaces. Which most don’t, these days.

  16. donato2 says:

    I am against the use of a microphone. It reminds me too much of the priest saying Mass “versus populum.”

  17. pAlban says:

    There is an allusion to Psalm 76:19 (77:18). But I think “contremat” should be corrected to “tremefaciat”, although you lose some of the connection to the Psalm. I don’t think (con)tremere can be used to mean “tremble at”. You could rephrase to “voce Tui tonitrui in rota contremat terra”.

    But the interesting part is what is meant by “in rota”. Douay-Rheims has “in a wheel”. RSV has “in the whirlwind”. Grail uses a verb: “Your thunder rolled round the sky”. None of them connects too much with a microphone.

  18. pAlban says:

    Sorry, I should have written that (c0n)tremere CAN be used to mean “to tremble at” but not “to cause to tremble”.

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