As a child, I was taught to listen. This was vitally important at home, at school, and especially at Mass. Today, as the transcriptionist for Daybreak Productions, I am charged with the task of listening to audio files of the Sunday Televised Mass and writing a transcript that is used for Closed Captioning the Mass for the hearing impaired. I'm happy to say that, unlike algebra and perfect penmanship, acquiring the skill of active listening has proven very useful indeed.
For Catholics who find themselves hospitalized or homebound with illness or injury, or as caretaker for a sick child or family member, this is their opportunity to attend Mass via television or the Internet. After the production team records the Masses, they send me electronic audio files that I then use to create my transcript.
I have to say that transcribing the Mass is the most unusual freelance assignment I've ever had. When people ask me what this job is like, I compare it to trying to pronounce the word "transubstantiation" - a bit daunting at first, but not difficult if you just concentrate and take your time. As the listening ears that tune in to these quiet, peaceful Masses, I sometimes feel like I'm eavesdropping like a spy or some kind of unseen interloper who's secretly listening in and capturing every last word.
Just having the sound and not the visual is a throwback to the days of radio when audiences had to rely on their ears and their imaginations. Of course, I am able to visualize what's happening during Mass, but focusing so closely on the words brings a new appreciation for what they represent.
Yes, I do pray along with the audio Mass I'm transcribing. On a human level, the scribe's ear is aware of every cough, every "uh" and "um." I can hear them breathing. The music ministers, like my South Buffalo friend Chuck Basil, beautifully use their musical talents to inspire listeners to sing and thus "pray twice."
I'm always rooting for the lectors. Unaccustomed to being recorded for television, most sound nervous at first, but each one manages to deliver their Scripture readings with clarity and true reverence.
I've learned many things doing this job. For example, it has taught me how to spell Ephesians, Thessalonians, and my favorite, Philippians. Philippians was a struggle because it goes against my inner instinct that it should have two "L"s and one "P", because it's pronounced like "Phillip", but who am I to judge?
When some of the text of the Mass changed a few years back, I was fortunate to have early access to it. After multiple listens and having to type them week after week, I found that I didn't need the "cheat sheet" provided in the pews. This must have amazed my fellow parishioners. And, if I ever find myself in a spelling bee, I'll dazzle them with "consubstantial."
The most interesting aspect of this transcription experience is that I get to go on a "Priest Tour" of the diocese. Each Mass allows me to hear from different members of our diverse population of preaching padres serving the Church in various capacities across Western New York.
This includes many parish priests, both the newly ordained and the more seasoned, as well as missionaries, educators, hospital ministers, youth ministers and deacons, of various ages, ethnicities and personal styles. Each of these good Fathers has his own personal approach to celebrating the Holy Mass.
Some speak very softly and gently, often pausing for reflection. Others gain volume as they build the scriptural "bridge" from reading to reading to Gospel. Many priests like to lighten the theological lesson by telling stories or jokes, or quoting the saints and popes.
There are a few I've come to know who do not hesitate to vocally proclaim the Gospel. And while every voice has its own kind of power, a few always cause me to adjust the volume on my speakers. What I hear most clearly are their heartfelt efforts to reach out to and inspire this congregation they cannot see. I'm listening, fathers.
Over time, I've come to view this work as kind of a sacred trust. It never fails to impress me that I am sitting at home at my humble desk, hearing the words of consecration. My work must be accurate, because an entire community needs to read these words I'm typing in order to pray their Mass.
I am keenly aware that I'm not just typing a series of words, but sacred words of prayer, words that deserve our attentive listening. As I tune into the deep words of our faith, and the sounds of musical grace, I'm grateful for my ability to hear and to really listen.
Services like this one are supported by the the Catholic Communication Campaign, which helps us to grow in faith, worship and witness. The collection will take place in most parishes the weekend of June 11-12. To donate online, click here.