Turn Down that Microphone and Preach from your Soul! How the excessive use of microphones has adversely affected preaching

OK, so I tried a couple years ago to float the idea that microphones have had an overall bad effect on preaching. As I recall, I was largely overruled by those who considered the idea. But let me try again.

In my own parish I largely preach without a microphone. That said, I have a large cavernous Church, built of stone and plaster and both music and voice resonate well. Only with with a fairly full church at our principle liturgy do I use a little amplification. Not only do people say they can hear better (less echo), but I also experience an energy that comes from it.

Yes, generally I like to preach the old fashioned way, I belt it out.

How powerfully the modern use of microphones has affected preaching and to some extent singing. Consider, that to preach without a microphone means to preach with elevated volume and it requires one to strongly project the voice. In effect one has to preach authoritatively and passionately. Without a microphone I have to speak boldly. And as I preach in this manner, the physical requirement affects the message. As adrenaline began to build, enthusiasm and a kind of confident joy overtakes me.

Now I am not generally known for a quiet style of preaching anyway 🙂 but preaching in this manner strengthens my message even more. Body and soul are fully engaged in proclaiming the message.

Ah what power the preachers of old had to have! Imagine Jesus preaching out in the open to thousands. He surely did not speak gently, he needed power to project.

I have discussed with brother priests before the concern I have at how too much microphone harms our preaching. Too much microphone causes the priest to adopt a gentle, lyrical style of preaching. His style too easily becomes suggestive, rather than using bold proclamation. The suggestive and conversational tone of many a modern preacher can, if not balanced by other things, amount to an “uncertain trumpet.” St. Paul warns, “For if the trumpet produces an uncertain sound, who will muster for battle?” (1 Cor 14:8) It is a sure fact that many of the Catholic faithful have no readiness or appetite for battle and this can partially be laid at the feet of uncertain and uninspired preaching and teaching.

So perhaps a suggestion….Use less microphone for the preaching moment and for the proclamation of the Word. It is a very different type of preaching that emerges from such a context, and I think, a far better, bolder and braver preaching. The lectors too will benefit from a louder and bolder style.

It is a true fact, not all churches, (especially the ones built after 1970 and until recently), are well suited for this option. But many are, and we surely need bolder preaching today and trumpet that is more certain. Some of preaching simply comes down to the physicality of the moment. If a priest needs to project his voice he is affected by that very fact and his message inevitably turns bolder and braver. He will feel the very voice of the Prophets echo though him.

Lectors too will find a whole new experience for they will not merely read the Word of God, they will proclaim it. And those in the pew will be less sleepy and the authority of the Word of God will reach them in a whole new way.

And finally, music will also benefit. Too much modern Church music, if you ask me (and I know you didn’t but I’m saying it anyway), is rather sing-songy and lyrical. Meditative music is nice and has its place but we also need a return of some of the bold and brave singing enshrined in the hymns of the past; before heavy use of P.A. systems influenced us to sing more softly and in a more folksy manner. Different musical styles all have their place but good gutsy singing has taken something of a hit and I blame the loud microphones for some of it.

Less mike and more manpower may well re-energize the proclamation of the Word, the preaching of it and the singing of praise to God. A certain trumpet can awaken even the dead! (cf 1 Cor 15:52).

You will say, not every preacher has a booming voice. Perhaps, but I didn’t either. To some extent the technique can be learned. All I am saying is don’t just rule it out. At least consider the possibility of less mic, and in some cases, like mine, no mic.

This video shows Jesus preaching to an unruly crowd in the synagogue. No Microphone in those days!

39 Replies to “Turn Down that Microphone and Preach from your Soul! How the excessive use of microphones has adversely affected preaching”

  1. Well said, Monsignor! You are exactly right: amplification typically causes a speaker to change not only the volume, but also the quality of their speech. I also agree with your conclusion that this is usually not a good change.

  2. There is a theological theory that the soul of the hearer is better affected by the real voice of a priest, and not as much by electronically manipulated sound.
    Those ordained to preach [such as priests and deacons] are imbued with the power and authority to convert by the very hearing of their voice. This is why it used to be advocated that you put down your missal and listen rather than read along the Gospel as the priest reads it. The very hearing of the words from the mouth of the priest can touch the hearer’s heart.
    Keep this in mind when you are trying to convince someone of a Truth – I have found that saying it myself [same with a lay teacher or reader] doesn’t have the same impact as when I can ask a priest to tell my friend the same Truth. It is really amazing the difference.

    From a more material aspect, folks that learned to preach or sing without amplification used to learn the art of ‘throwing one’s voice’, or voice lessons. A quiet mild-mannered person can be taught the proper way to PROJECT in a stunningly effective method. How do you think all those operas, sermons, philosophical discussions, and political speeches were heard in all the eons preceding electricity?
    Don’t strain the voice, learn to project using the diaphragm, that huge muscle beneath the lungs.

  3. Very true. We are flesh as well as Spirit. What we do with our bodies affects our spirit. If one is whispering for the benefit of the mike, it is difficult to preach boldly.

    And you are probably right about the music too. I always thought that wishy washy music was a Catholic preference, like statuary and rosaries (I miss Protestant music at C&E.) But I think you are right and it has to do with the fact that most Catholic parishes are huge, and therefore need mikes. When I was Protestant, I remember my pastor telling me that “we believe that God is a little bit deaf, so we all need to speak and sing loudly, so he can hear us!” But services then had a maximal attendence of about 20 people. If everybody belted out “Onward Christian Soldiers” in my 10,000 soul strong Catholic parish, it would be us who would be deaf, not God!

    But you know, it’s not just priests who need permission to speak boldly, it is the congregation whose walk would benefit from singing boldly. It is not possible to sing most of the drivel we are given today boldly. And again, what we do with our bodies affects our Spirit.

    Too bad. Unfortunately with the priest shortage I don’t see any way Catholic parishes can approach the intimacy of Protestant ones, and still allow everybody access to Mass.

  4. All churches should be fittted with induction loop systems so that hearing impaired people (having approriate hearing aid) will be able to hear you quite clearly. You will need to use a mic for this to work, but it doesn’t need to be linked to the speakers. This should be a basic feature of all churches.


    1. Thank you, Rob. Although I agree with Father, I have hearing loss and your comment makes hearing the homily possible for me.

  5. Hear, hear!!! Preach it, brother! I’ve been railing against electronic amplification for years. Many lectors rely almost entirely on the microphone to amplify their voice, falsely believing that louder means clearer. The same goes for preachers. I just ignore the thing and preach as if we were all sitting on the side of a hill. Of course, I have a big mouth, so volume isn’t a problem for me. At times, my southern accent has been a problem. . .but only for the Yankees and others fer-re-ners. 🙂

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  6. Think of St. Bernardine of Siena, St. Anthony of Padua, St Vincent Ferrer preaching to tens of thousands of people outside in fields and making themselves heard. The same was true of the Lincoln- Douglas debates, and for that matter for all public oratory, political conventions, etc. before the age of the microphone. Here, for example, is an account of the Gettysburg Address: “A crowd of fifteen to twenty thousand crowded around the speakers’ platform. [Edward] Everett spoke first, holding the audience spell-bound for almost two hours. Lincoln then rose and delivered his address in less than two minutes” (from http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/gtsburgaddress.htm). This was an open air address! No acoustic resources whatever, except one’s own voice and knowledge of how to use it.

  7. They seem to be experimenting with the amplification in my parish church. The ambo microphone has seemed quieter recently, and there are some new acoustic tiles of some sort on the ceiling. I don’t know if it encourages better, bolder and braver preaching, but it does encourage more active listening, if you want to hear what’s being said.

    Of course, our pastor is not generally known for a quiet style of preaching anyway…

  8. The most shocking, offensive and degrading invention of recent times has been the ear piece microphone that some priests who are oblivious to liturgical ensibility actually wear in church, like rock stars in performance. I am afraid that if one has to explain why this is totally wrong, one has already lost the argument.

  9. Well, I have been to some of the churches and piazzas where Sts. Anthony and Bernardine preached….. even had the privilege of preaching from a pulpit where the latter had preached…but with a microphone. I am a bit of a skeptic and am convinced that a lot of the crowd in the public squares never heard most of the preaching but were there for the great event of a famed preacher.
    So with all due respect I will stick to my microphone.

  10. We read the bible and then we see a painting or a film portraying what we read and we say, “got it”, or, “almost got it”, or “didn’t quite get it” or “where did they get that?”. For me, that video didn’t quite get it.

    This topic has been on my mind too, at times. Sometimes, a priest will preach boldly with a microphone and it will be deafeningly loud. The Mass might have done better to ignore all technological advances, especially if the altars were turned around to make the Mass more tv friendly.

    One time, Jesus preached to the multitude from a boat, while sitting. Sitting isn’t the postures of bold proclamations, although He must have spoken somewhat boldly for all of them to hear Him.

    I support your efforts, Monsignor, not necessarily so that the preacher will speak louder, but because louder doesn’t make something truer. I think we agree that it best when the boldness comes from within the preacher, rather than from turning the amp up to 11.

      1. Well actually, water is a natural amplifier. Words spoken over water are amplified and carried much further than they would be on land, as water does not absorb sound. In addition, The Lake of Gennesaret (also called the Sea of Galilee or the Sea of Tiberias) is surrounded by sloping hills/small mountains, so it is really like being in a natural amphitheater.


        Folks who live near lakes are used to understanding that a quiet conversation in a boat can likely be heard by anybody standing on the shore for several hundred miles.


        1. Oh sorry. That was supposed to be several hundred yards! Though with Jesus you never know!

  11. I agree with you whole heartedly! Likewise, instruments being heard primarily through the sound system adds a layer of artificial sound which would be best avoided.
    All the best music I’ve heard in churches is without amplification. Few priests I know couldn’t project in their churches. The ones that couldn’t are the ones who have fan shaped carpeted stadium style churches. The argument about a large church requiring a microphone falls when our ambo is in fact a raised place as sound travels better down than out, especially when placed 1/3 of the way down the church as with the old Gothic Pulpit. The microphone wasn’t necessary when people came with more frequency, with more squirmey (if I may be so bold as to create a word) children than today, it’s not needed today either. I’ve been to Episcopal funerals where the gospel is proclaimed from roughly 1/3 the way down the nave. This would be a “suitable place” by most estimations if it enables good proclamation by softer-spoken priests.
    Be assured, Msgr., that you were, and still are, right on this!

    1. Thanks. I think carpet (or lack thereof) makes a big difference too. I also suppose the Gothic arrangement you describe works well when there are no pews or when the pews are reversible.

    2. I just started reading this blog and have replied a few times under my name, Stephen. I didn’t realize there was another. From now on I’ll finish my replies with “Stephen from New Orleans” so no one will think that I’m speaking for you….sorry.

  12. Kudos on this piece. See Marshall McLuhan’s original piece, “The Liturgy and the Microphone” for further support. It can be found in the posthumous collection published in 1999 entitled The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion by Marshall McLuhan, edited by Jacek Sklarek and Eric McLuhan.

  13. I agree wholeheartedly to Msgr. Charles Pope point.

    In the past, we designed our churches to carry the celebrant’s voice. Now we build deplorable shaped churches that can’t carry a tune….instead we blast the church with speakers thinking that natural acoustics no longer matter.

    Funny enough, the closest parish I am at now is installing uber expensive sound panels because they built the church according to modern shapes….shapes that can’t carry sound….

    1. Yes, it is interesting how in the oldest churches, what I am here is describing is easiest to do. This makes sense, given that they were built prior to microphones.

  14. Our church needs some amplification, but it isn’t usually super loud for preaching. My pastor’s homilies are amazing and he doesn’t need to yell them out. Now, if we could reduce the volume on the music, it would be perfect. Rarely can one hear the congregation singing over the music.

  15. Two bits of advice from the Prince of Preaching, Archbishop Fulton Sheen:

    5. A whisper can have more value than a shout. Macaulay said of Pitt, “Even a whisper of his was hear in the remotest corner of the House of Commons.”

    6. If there’s a commotion, disturbance, or latecomers, do not raise the voice; lower it and the audience will try to catch the whisper.

    Read more here in my post, “How to Give a Talk Like Fulton Sheen”:


    1. Yes, there is a place for what you describe and I use it, but here I speak of the overall tone and tenor of speech. Also Sheen knew how to raise his voice too, often to great effect

      1. “And there’s third reason for making the holy hour. BECAUSE THE LORD ASKED FOR IT!”

  16. As a former sound engineer, it is possible to set up sound reinforcement that is transparent and largely unnoticeable to all but the well-trained to hear it. The problem is most people just crank up the system and use the PA as an elaborate megaphone. Also, getting that trasparency requires rehersal, sound checks, and little to no variation from service to service. In short, you would have to treat Mass like an entertainment performance–and that is exactly what the Mass is not supposed to be–so it’s one more piece that explains why liturgy has deteriorated over the decades.

  17. Great article. I have OFTEN thought that I could hear the Homily better if the Priests turned their microphones off and just projected their voices…speak from the diaphram…you don’t need to yell or shout. I used to do a lot of public speaking and that is what I did…and people came up to me afterwards and told me that they could actually understand every word.

    Last Sunday I noticed that the Priest sent an acolyte back to the Sacristy to get his clip on mike, which he had forgotten to put on…and guess what? I understood about every fourth word; the homily was useless.

  18. Thank you, Msgr. Pope, for great insight and encouragement. I’ve been a lector and choir member for most of the past 30 years. I also speak and perform, occasionally, in other settings: museums, open air, etc. I have asthma that is triggered by temperature and physical exertion; just on adrenaline I can be quite loud but only for a few minutes at a time, so to ward off fatigue I must use an inhaler before speaking and a mic while speaking at extended lengths of time.

    The main problem that many lectors have is that they allow the lectionary to do all the work. When I read at Mass I pray that God will give me one soul who will go home and read the Bible to find out what more is said there. I try to read every time as though the words were being heard and spoken for the very first time in history. And, I try to reconstitute the printed Word with my voice and emotions. (I have more to say on lectoring but, I’ll leave it at that. http://mentemincaelestia.wordpress.com/on-faith/)

  19. Good article. As a radio announcer, as well as a priest, I agree all the way. Mic stuff is another secular idea coming from the “spirit” of Vatican II.

  20. Blaring music lets the congregation hide behind the loudspeakers. We’re passive during the songs. Everybody can sing, somewhat, although not everyone has “pipes”, but if nobody can hear your offering, anyway, for the jangling clavicord and the mic-swallowing cantor, you might as well not even try. Myself, I try, but my quiet singing voice stinks. When I project, I’m great. But if I’m the only one projecting in the immediate vicinity, I’m the loud-mouth braggart who thinks he can sing. It’s a dilemma.

  21. One thing the Baptist’s could use from us, is, well, a lot of things, but one thing we sure could use from the Baptist’s is how to preach the Word. It is nice to say that the fire of the Lord overcame the Apostles, it’s another thing entirely to see that same fire hovering over the preacher in front of you.

  22. Msgr Pope: Thank you for your priesthood and for sharing your observations so generously. I think you are quite right that there is too much dependence on all these tools, which seem to take on a sort of life of their own, particularly the rock star mikes others have mentioned which really appear to be a challlenge to the wearer’s humility. A holy priest with a humble but confident trust in his ministry for the Lord should need nothing more than his stole to preach the Gospel effectively.

    I am a reader, and have cultivated some level of skill over the years via Toastmasters and various business presentations in using what I am grateful is the gift of a good speaking voice. More importantly, I have been given a love of Scripture which engenders a desire to present the text in all its richness.

    So I believe that beyond techique or technology what is needed most is a sense of awe and wonder in the incredible message we are honored to proclaim from the inexhaustible gift of God’s Word. This enthusiasm is infectious so long as we remain impressed more with the message than the messenger.

    There is always the hazard that pride would have us say (in effect) “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking!”

    God Bless!

    1. Well hopefully even the most “holy” of priests would be wearing a little bit more than his stole…Though it does present an interesting mental image! 😉

      1. Ha-ha, that’s very funny! The point I was trying to make is that the stole is the symbol of the priest’s power, so he should not feel the need for props, e.g., headset mikes. More to the point, all it takes to get great sound equipment is money, while only a priest (or in a more limited fashion, a deacon) acts “in persona Christe”, with the divine assistance from the Holy Spirit inherent in that charism. May they all preach boldly!!

        Of course your “mental image” raises the question: If a priest says Mass on a nude beach, does he need anything more than the stole? A question not likely to be addressed in any future edition of the GIRM!

        Just kiddin’ – let us always have more reverence, less novelty.

  23. As a victim of overamplification in the pews, I wholeheartedly agree with your comments about the negative effect of the microphone and ramped up sound system on preaching and proclaiming of scripture.

    If the church has been built in an acoustically unfortunate way, then the microphone has to be used, but it should be directed towards the speaker as well as the congregation so that there can be some feedback — so that the reader or preacher can hear himself and adjust accordingly.

    In an old church, there is no need whatsoever for amplification.

    I would ask you to consider making your comments about music stronger. In order to make beautiful music, the ear must hear and adjust accordingly. There is a delicate balance between what is produced and what is heard by the maker of the music. Good acoustics actually make for better music, as the musician can make adjustments to tone and other elements. This becomes essential for a choir. Music from a choir, especially chant, will be intolerable under amplification, even with an excellent choir. And it can be sublime without it, even with a choir that doesn’t have that much skill! Why? Because they can hear themselves!

    Please keep making these points! God bless!

  24. The Monsignor gets it right. Additionally, it is nice to see (old) churches that had the choir loft built above (sorry – I’m being redundant) the seating level of the congregation so the choir was able to project easily to all. The old timers did things, including architecture and structure, for a reason. Raising up the pulpit and the choir loft was far superior in many ways to the techno/amplified situation to which we are now subjected. More mystery, less flash.

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