Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sacred What? - Silence, Song, Amplification

The discussion I came across yesterday in my holy day leisure reading about the impact of sound amplification on Catholic Liturgy: see "Drop the Mic" by Kevin White (First Things) and "Unplug the microphones?" by Jeffrey Tucker (The Chant Cafe`) brought me back to Evelyn Waugh's appeal for the preservation of the old silent Latin Mass:

"When I first came into the Church I was drawn, not by splendid ceremonies but by the spectacle of the priest as a craftsman. He had an important job to do which none but he was qualified for. He and his apprentice stumped up to the altar with their tools and set to work without a glance to those behind them, still less with any intention to make a personal impression on them." (Reid, Dom Alcuin (2011-10-20). A Bitter Trial (Kindle Locations 424-427). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.)

If you are not at least 60 years old and didn't have the opportunity for weekday morning Mass before Vatican II or you don't have access to one of the new communities or monasteries committed to the TLM daily, in the half-light of early morning, at a side altar or in the crypt, you probably are at a total loss as to what Waugh describes with verve and no small amount of nostalgia. Video comes to the rescue!

A couple years ago in Trinidad, an over-80 lady friend of mine, daily Mass and Communion, told me of her experience of trying to go back and finding the silence and lack of sonorous exchange with the celebrant to be more than she could bear. We really are talking about different worlds and a profound rupture with our past. People underestimate the difficulty of recovery.

I think I'd like to argue against the abolition, straight across the board, of amplification, arguing simply from the old confessional experience back before most parishes installed a sort of hearing aid, where Father on his side had a microphone to speak into and the person on the penitent side of the confessional had a speaker to hold up to his or her good ear. It eliminated the embarrassed shouting etc. "Did you say 10 Hail Mary's, Father?" which sometimes had half the church outside either in stitches or in tears. How do you restore the "private Mass ambience" all of a sudden? Once again, I cannot see a substitute for a period of mutual enrichment of the two forms of the Roman Rite. Whether the elimination of amplification will be one of the upshots of that enrichment does not concern me, I guess.

 A new found, long distance friend of mine and I exchanged briefly about the resistance he encounters when he advocates or encourages priests and bishops to make a choice for celebrating the OF/NO ad Orientem. I sympathized with him, admitting that being "lord" of my own house and chapel, I don't experience that resistance or opposition. In that sense, you might say I live a sheltered life. What many celebrants do not understand is that ad Orientem worship does not diminish the sonorous or amplified exchange with the congregation. Rather, it lends sobriety (and rightly so) to Divine Worship, which ought not be compromised by furtive glances and indiscreet looks during the Preparation of the Gifts, Eucharistic Prayer and Communion.

We've gotten so accustomed, let's say to TV Masses having a certain intimacy about them for people watching at home, that we don't even realize any more how much distraction can be involved when a cameraman, doing his job no doubt, shifts his focus continually from closeups on the celebrant whose eyes are darting here and there and, as happens with Papal Liturgies, the guy focuses on subjects he finds particularly interesting, such as the poor old Cardinal sound asleep in the second row.

Although it may not be exactly counterproductive to discuss amplification of sound in church, I just want to go on record (for the umpteenth time) as saying that when and where possible the recovery of faithful observance of rubrics and the choice of orienting worship are what is urgent. Let's relegate discussion about sound systems to a later exchange!



  1. The absence of silence in the OF is not good; what we have there is pauses for silence(after the introduction to to the Penitential Rite; after the homily and after Holy Communion), but these are pauses, not true silences. I think the restoration of the silent Canon (which is not addressed to the people but to God) is essential. Indeed, the proclamation of the Mystery of Faith will have much more impact in a silent Canon than it does when it is simply an intrusion into a prayer the celebrant is addressing to God.

  2. Your Excellency,
    Pope Benedict's message for World Communications Day 2012 was all about the importance of silence: "In silent contemplation, then, the eternal Word, through whom the world was created, becomes ever more powerfully present and we become aware of the plan of salvation that God is accomplishing throughout our history by word and deed."

    1. Dear Stephen,
      He also had some powerful words about the centrality of the silent and hidden at Piazza di Spagna, on Dec. 8, commenting on the Gospel of the Annunciation. We need to gift our people with silence or better satisfy their longing. The popularity of perpetual adoration is the best indication for me that this is a fundamental longing of the heart.

  3. Your Excellency, I hope that you will forgive me a long quotation, but it seems appropriate here:

    “If there is to be a real participatio actuosa, there must be silence. … If silence is of such great importance, the few seconds’ pause between the ‘Let us pray’ and the prayer itself is totally inadequate—and indeed, it often seems artificial in any case. There is scope for silence at the preparation of the gifts, as well as before and after the communion. Regrettably, the silence before Communion is very rarely observed, contrary to the intention of the Missal. I must add, though it conflicts with the accepted view, that it is not essential for the entire canon of the Mass to be recited aloud on every occasion. The idea that it must rests on a misunderstanding of its nature as proclamation. Where a community has undergone the requisite process of liturgical education, the congregation is well acquainted with the component parts of the Church’s eucharistic prayer. In such a case it is only necessary to pray aloud the first few words of each section of the prayer—the headings, as it were; in this way the congregation’s participation (and hence the quality of proclamation) will be often far greater than when its internal appropriation of the words is stifled by an uninterrupted loud recitation. … The continual recitation of the canon aloud results in the demand for ‘variety’, but the demand is insatiable, however much…eucharistic prayers may proliferate. … In the end, even variety becomes boring. This is why, here especially, we are in such urgent need of an education toward inwardness. We need to be taught to enter into the heart of things. As far as liturgy is concerned, this is a matter of life or death. The only way we can be saved from succumbing to the inflation of words is if we have the courage to face silence and in it learn to listen afresh to the Word. Otherwise we shall be overwhelmed by ‘mere words’ at the very point where we should be encountering the Word, the Logos, the Word of love, crucified and risen, who brings us life and joy.”
    – Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, pp. 72-73.

    1. Dear Hidden One!
      Be forgiven and thanked! It was good to encounter again these words from "The Feast of Faith". It would be great to sit down with the Holy Father on this very point of silence and get him thinking, in terms of silence (as essential to worship), where he stands on the possibility of a "reform of the reform" or whether we couldn't after a time find a way to fix that better or best "restore point" and make some good choices on how to go about the organic development of the Roman Rite.

      I don't think that reinstating the Solemn High or Pontifical High Mass with the silent recitation of the Roman Canon would be the problem. The challenge would be with the simple recited Mass without a choir. We've over-stimulated everyone in the world and for too long. Need to pray about it more.

    2. Your Excellency,

      It would indeed be an awesome experience to discuss these and perhaps other liturgical matters with the Holy Father. I would be, however, inciredibly surprised even to have the chance to meet him in person, so I have to set my sights - my dreams, even - on a consolation prize: I would love to see a response to a dubium or something similar that provided some sort of 'official' proof that, even as things stand in the Novus Ordo, part of the Canon can be silent, as the then-Archbishop of Muenchen-und-Freising wrote. I know a few local priests who would probably start doing it and a number of seminarians who would look forward to doing it. Saying only the "headings" is certainly far from having a silent canon, but it's much closer and, like the 'Benedictine arrangement' of the altar, could be a useful intermediate preparation for something that the congregation is not ready for (or, in this case, is disallowed by the rubrics... of the Novus Ordo... for now).

      I definitely agree with you that a silent canon without a choir would come as a great shock to many. The shock would be greatest for those who wrongly believe that the spiritual life is an exterior one. Of course, in many parishes, a silent canon would be a brief shock, as things stand, considering the extensive present use of Eucharistic Prayers II and III, the former or which I think should be struck from the Missal entirely with all possible haste for precisely the same principal reason that it is presently in the Missal, i.e., its brevity. I, too, should pray more about these matters.

    3. Dear Hidden One,

      Do you know anyone who could formulate that "dubium"? You would need an accompanying catechesis. I need to let the idea settle a bit, basically because I cannot quite imagine the change. A restoration might just be easier...

    4. Pastorally, a restoration of the silent canon could be easier (I don't really know), but the Congregation for Divine Worship might be more willing to say, "Yes, this interpretation of the rubrics, which just so happens to have been made decades ago by the present Pontiff, is acceptable," than to say, "Yes, from here on in you can ignore this particular rubric." But again, I could be wrong.

      As to the dubium... I'm quite sure it could be done.


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