As of late I have been attending the local parish for Mass. I have found that the microphones and sound system are set at what I perceive to be very high levels. In fact, even with 30 dB attenuation with earplugs, I can hear the Mass quite well and at a reasonable noise level even from the last pew. With attenuation, I hear the homily as if a person were speaking to me at a three or four foot distance without attenuation.

Why is Mass loud in some churches? I can think of a few reasons.

* Some persons in the assembly are hearing impaired and have requested a higher level of amplification.

* Poor acoustics due to church design. Poor acoustics might be due, for example, to heavy carpeting or because a church was originally designed for another function (i.e. the church was once a gymnasium).

* Greater tolerance of “loud spaces”. Examples of loud spaces include sports arenas, rock concerts, and the central business districts of cities.

Since I suspect that some persons benefit from the audio amplification, I merely adapt to my surroundings by using inconspicuous earplugs. Even so, I wonder if my use of earplugs to lower the sound level for my comfort defeats an important principle of the liturgical reform. Am I actively participating if I use passive devices to turn down the volume? Am I in some way sequestering myself from the unison of active participation? I must admit that what I perceive to be loud amplification impedes my personal thought and meditation to some degree. Perhaps what I deem to be over-amplification is purposefully designed to counter a tendency for the mind to wander.

I now ask for the experiences of other PTB readers. Do readers find their churches, and other churches they’ve visited, to be over-amplified? Should over-amplification be tolerated out of charity and concern for those who might have difficulty understanding the Mass at a lower volume? Are there newer technological solutions that allow a worshiper to understand Mass at a sound level comfortable for him or her without compromising the overall intelligibility of the Mass for the entire assembly?

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