Built of Living Stones 221-225: Sound in the Place of Worship

Acoustics–probably the very first physical concern for a church.

§ 221 § Silence is the ground of all prayer. From contemplative silence emerge the sung and spoken prayer of the entire assembly and the prayers and proclamations of the various ministers. Liturgical celebrations call for the clear transmission of the sung and spoken responses of the liturgical assembly, as well as of the words of the individual ministers such as the priest celebrant, the deacon, the readers, and the cantor and leader of song. In addition, the space should provide an environment for instrumental music that supports the assembly’s song and worship.

Note that the “transmission” of the song and speech of the assembly is given first priority. People need the reinforcement of their sisters and brothers at worship that inspires their own opening up to God.

Start with the acoustical properties of the building’s interior:

§ 222 § The first consideration in providing quality sound transmission is the acoustic design of the building. The interior surfaces such as the walls, the floor, and the ceiling affect the transmission of sound, as do design features like the ceiling height, the shape and construction of rooms, and the mechanical systems such as heating and cooling units and lighting fixtures. The sound-deadening tiles so vital to noise reduction in gymnasiums and other public buildings will be used rarely in a church and only with professional advice to reduce or eliminate outside noise. Soft surfaces such as carpets, rugs, and large fabric wall hangings absorb sound, while hard surfaces such as stone, tile, glass, and metals reflect it. A combination of sound-absorbing and sound-reflecting surfaces properly applied and used in correct proportion provides the kind of system needed for a worship space.

§ 223 § Acoustical engineers can help parishes design a building capable of the natural transmission of sound; they also can be of great assistance in the renovation of existing buildings.

… and only then attend to what many prefer to speak of as “sound reinforcement.”

§ 224 § Another aspect of an effective audio environment is the electronic amplification system, which can augment the natural acoustics and can help to remedy problems that cannot be solved in other ways. Planners also should consider provisions for sound in the nave, in the sanctuary, and in adjacent spaces such as the gathering area and the space around the baptismal font. Accommodations should be made for people with special hearing needs.

§ 225 § Providing for the amplification of the proclaimed and sung word and for instrumental and choral music is a complex task that demands the skills and experience of experts in the field of acoustical design. Choosing local vendors who do not possess the requisite skills to understand the complex needs of the liturgical assembly may prove to be a serious, even costly liability.

Liability? That’s not overstating the situation.

All texts from Built of Living Stones are copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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