ASK THE LITURGIST – About the microphone

– Enrico Finotti

I was struck by the affirmation of a priest friend: “Do you know who did the liturgical reform?” – he told me – “The microphone” – he replied. Could be?

This is an interesting question. Let’s try to imagine suddenly returning to the past before there were microphones and before that, when there was no electric light.

With this ideal return to the past we could more easily understand the meaning of liturgical rites and dispositions that today might seem insignificant or outdated to us. The advent of microphones has been a major impact in the liturgical celebration. In particular:

– When ministers celebrated in different places and positions within the church, their voices could be heard coming from those places and the faithful spontaneously turned to them. The sound of the voice was enough to understand if the priest was at the altar or if he spoke from the pulpit or if he moved in procession; so for the other ministers and for the choir. With the use of the microphone the voice is spread everywhere in a uniform way to the point that the logistic position of the speaker is no longer perceptible: it can speak from the altar, from the ambo, from the nave, from the atrium, from the sacristy or even from outside of the church and everyone everywhere can hear the voice of the speaker with the same intensity. The liturgical place, from the auditory point of view, has become indifferent: even if sung by the monumental ambo, the Easter Praeconium does not undergo any acoustic variation and does not give any logistic indication. Only the visual aspect takes over: climbing on the ambo no longer has a physical function of transmission of the voice, but symbolic-visual of the place of the Word.

The use of the voice is also somewhat affected. In fact, the cantillatio of the readings, but also of the prayers, had also in the past a role of communicative efficacy, in that the voice took on power and reached the distant. In this sense one could understand the preacher’s oratory art. Also the musicality of the liturgical texts, the repetition and a certain cadence were oriented to a more effective communication. The microphone, instead, allows the diffusion of the voice without the need for particular precautions and anyone can read in normal tone. In this way it is certainly respected the way in which each reader stands and communicates. However, there is the danger of reducing the prayers and readings to the level of an always identical and daily communication. If we only grasp the opportunity of physical communication offered by the microphone, all the symbolic and solemn aspect of the liturgy would vanish. This is a continuous temptation: the faithful hear and therefore – it is said – no form of cantillatio makes sense anymore. In reality both the song of the prayers, like that of the biblical texts, has suffered a wide misunderstanding and a drastic reduction in the immediate post-conciliar period.

It is therefore a question of using the microphone without erasing both the logistical diversity of the celebratory places, and the richness and variety of linguistic expressions in the proclamation of the Word of God and in priestly prayer. Indeed the microphone, if of quality and used professionally, favors a better transmission of a sung text, which can be perceived in its nuances by the totality of the liturgical assembly.

In this sense the liturgy is enriched by the use of the microphone rather than impoverished, precisely because of a functionalistic use of the instrument, which should elevate it, enhance it and transmit it more effectively.

Such an argument must also be made regarding the electric light in churches. The liturgical books in force have not yet adequately assumed the necessary indications to regulate electric lighting in the context of rituals. However, it is more appropriate than ever for the electrical system of a church to be done with the criteria of common functionality or even with the sole criterion of enhancing the church as an artistic and museum environment. It is necessary to adopt a liturgical criterion, for which the illumination responds to the needs of the various rites and takes into account the entire festive cycle of the Church. It is a question of highlighting the solemnity, the feast, the weekday and the penitential day. An interesting criterion could certainly be the Easter Vigil in which the lights have a fundamental symbolic role. The three degrees of intensity, which we can name: lucernale, of the vigil and solar and which affect different moments of the Vigil (liturgy of the light – liturgy of the Word – Eucharistic liturgy) could be an interesting indication to set a criterion of illumination at the service of the liturgy in many of its expressions distributed throughout the liturgical year.

(From Il mio e il vostro sacrificio. Il liturgista risponde, 2018©Chorabooks. Translated by Aurelio Porfiri. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved)

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