Snacking on the Word: Nehemiah 8:3

ezra.gifI’ve always loved today’s first reading … since I became a child old enough to understand it, anyway. Here’s a piece of it:

Standing at one end of the open place that was before the Water Gate, (Ezra) read out of the book from daybreak till midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand; and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.

I’m not an exegete and scholar on the par of my collaborator Neil, but occasionally something of the Scriptures strikes me. As I heard this longer passage at Mass this morning, I thought of the advanced technology of the age, namely the written word.

In an age of television and computers, even the best orator would not be able to hold children’s attention, much less adults’,  for six full hours. But this would seem to be akin to crowds gathering in Times Square for one of those Eve celebrations: watching the screens, the lights, mingling with friends and strangers. Something of a liturgical event, which the greater body of Nehemiah 8 portrays. (A great example of Old Testament participatio, by the way.)

Do we really need the latest media technology to captivate the masses? Can the power of the message be enough? Does the message of God, of Christ and his Gospel, come through powerfully enough with the best of sixth century BCE technology: the preached word?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Snacking on the Word: Nehemiah 8:3

  1. Gavin says:

    Good post!

    I’m curious, since this is related, of your opinion on Missalettes. I read about a priest who got rid of them at his parish. While it seems radical to me, he did have a good justification: the Word is meant to be proclaimed to the whole church, not read individually. Of course, all the objections to the removal were dealt with. If a lot people can’t hear, the priest said we need to evaluate both where people are sitting and the quality of the sound system. If they truly have a listening problem, missalettes are available at book stores. If one can’t afford it, the church would gladly purchase one for the parishoner. Everything is considered reasonably for it, but still the idea seems too extreme for some unknown reason. But I do like, as in your article, the emphasis on proclamation.

    I am a staunch foe of modern technology in worship. Or let me be clearer: modern technology as a replacement of what can be done by man. I don’t really have a biblical or theological reason for it. My church, which is probably not 400 feet long, allows for anyone speaking or singing from the ambo or choir loft to be heard clearly and distinctly. Why, then, should we have to put everyone in front of a microphone and blow their voice up? I’ve gotten some criticism for moving the choir from their former place in front of a mic, but in response they’re projecting well and it makes the music quieter. As far as even lights, MANY churches (actually, not mine) have enough stained glass that one can see literally clear as day in church. Hymnals can be read, people can be easily seen, gold sparkles, etc. Why, then, churches like this will blast people with bright artificial light I just don’t know. There was little more awful than when I was at such a church playing for 8:00 Mass and getting bombarded with light. At lease make them more diffused, indirect, and soft.

    And, lest I get called a hypocrite, I wouldn’t mind real pipes :P In fact, I’ve said that if my church had a pipe organ, it would have to be soft enough, due to space available, that the cantors could be clearly heard without the aid of amplification. Again, I wouldn’t mind getting rid of the electric blower and making children pump the bellows during Mass. It’d at least discourage organists’ families from using birth control :P Of course, the reason I don’t go back to meantone tuning is that it’s a matter of fulfilling a role artifically that can be done by a person. All our readers have great voices and can project easily into a room as small as our church. In a large church with poor accoustics, yes amplification is necessary. But I’d say there’s too much GRATUITOUS usage of technology.

  2. Jimmy Mac says:

    Some of us understand the spoken word better if we can read along as it is being proclaimed. Others can’t understand the spoken word well at all. Most don’t need to read, just to hear.

    There are enough attempts to regulate, rule, order, control and otherwise be truly clerical in this church already. I rarely use the missalette, but do not want them removed from those who want or need to use them.

  3. aplman says:

    From the presider’s chair I am beginning to notice that when lectors, deacons and priests prepare and proclaim their assigned texts very well, more and more people in the assembly begin to put down their missalettes, look up and listen. If the word is actually being proclaimed, many will intuit that the pew booklet is not necessary.

    How did your lectors proclaim the “Amen,amen!” in today’s first lesson? Did it come across as an Amen! or did it never really get off the printed page of the lectionary?

    I’d not be quick to assume that any church or chapel has such good accoustics (presuming excellent projection by lectors) that a sound system would not be necessary for some.

    Lighting is another issue and Gavin’s comment has started me thinking about how we use lights in my church. Hmm… is it possible we need all the lights so that worshippers can read the missalettes because the lectors aren’t projecting?

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