The Voice and the Ear

The Scriptures are written down and bound into books but, as Paul writes to Timothy, you cannot imprison the Word of the Lord (2 Tim 2:9). God’s word is a saving event. God said, let there be light, and there was light… So we call Christ the Word of God, the decisive intervention of God’s love in the world. In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and lived among us (Jn 1:1, 14).

The reader in the liturgy gives voice to the scriptural text, liberating it from the printed page. In the proclamation, God addresses us in a human language event; God intervenes in the unique present, speaking to us in the here and now in words we hear and understand.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, the risen Christ is present between the voice and the ear.  We encounter God in a meeting of human hearts, in the faith-full presence to one another of reader and hearers.

It is vital to recognise that the human voice is the primary instrument of the word and that God’s word is proclaimed in the liturgy by a person of faith for a community of faith. It is a real human event in which God speaks to his people.

The mechanisation of the word, or its electrification through microphones, amplifiers and speakers, should support the human act but not overwhelm it. Such a liturgical philosophy is diametrically opposed to prevailing culture of the pop concert or television studio.

Many churches and cathedrals were built before the advent of sound systems and yet they were places for preaching and the proclamation of the word. This requires a certain approach to the voice.  The speaker needs to be able to project the voice across the space, pacing the speech to listen for the echo bouncing off the back wall before continuing.

Giving primacy to the human voice means that amplifiers and microphones must be of good quality so that they reproduce the human voice naturally and without distortion. Microphones should be kept turned down.  Formation for readers must include learning how to project the voice through regularly practice in the church without a microphone.

Throwing the voice out to the people in the middle and back of the church will change the pacing and intonation of the proclamation. It becomes a public act with the whole assembly, not just a quasi-private event at the lectern upon which the assembly is allowed to eavesdrop.  It requires physical effort on the part of the reader.

So much for the voice – what about the ear?

Communicating the word is a two way process which requires attentive listeners for it to be effective. People will hear the word of God better if they don’t read along from Missals during the Liturgy of the Word but engage in dialogue with the word.  Readers are channels of God’s word, but channels don’t work well if there is a blockage


Elizabeth Harrington