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?

{Father Z’s response below is good but it occurs to me that the questioner may actually be participating in a TLM with a priest celebrant who celebrates THE WHOLE MASS in a voice that can only be heard by the server.  In that case the poor questioner has a legitimate complaint.  According to the rubrics of the TLM parts of the Mass are to be proclaimed in a voice loud enough to be heard by ALL present and parts of the Mass are to be said sotto voce, heard only by the priest himself.  Abyssum}


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 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 abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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2 Responses to

  1. Gertrude says:

    As was once said when someone grumbled about not being able to hear – “he’s not talking to you”!

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