Q: At an ordination I saw a priest, vested and concelebrating, step away from the altar. He took out a camera and took photos (not once, but several times). The bishop seemed oblivious to this, but it puzzled me. Is this a matter of liturgical law or regulation; a breech of etiquette; or something else? To me it seemed quite out of place and inappropriate. But if it’s OK, I could overlook it. — J.P., Illinois
A: Among the few documents that address the theme of photographs at Mass is the 1967 instruction “Eucharisticum Mysterium,” issued by the Congregation of Rites. No. 23 briefly touches on this subject:
“Great care should be taken to ensure that liturgical celebrations, especially the Mass, are not disturbed or interrupted by the taking of photographs. Where there is a good reason for taking them, the greatest discretion should be used, and the norms laid down by the local Ordinary should be observed.”
Since the task of formulating precise norms and guidelines falls upon the local ordinary, many dioceses have issued directives, above all, related to weddings, baptisms and similar situations where photographers and camera technicians can easily get out of hand.
Not surprisingly, nobody mentions concelebrating priests taking photos for the simple reason that the possibility never crossed anybody’s mind.
A concelebrating priest taking pictures obviously violates the norm of disrupting and interrupting the Mass — in this case the Mass he himself is celebrating. The fact that he is a concelebrant takes nothing away from the fact that the Mass requires his complete and undivided attention.
The same could be said of other situations in which priests engage in activities which distract them during Mass. I once saw a priest choir director slip on a stole for the Eucharistic Prayer and attempt to concelebrate from the choir loft, a practice of very dubious validity.
Large concelebrations do sometimes have a detrimental effect on many of us priests, leading to a certain forgetfulness of who we are and what we are doing. Added to that, the ubiquitous digital camera has made multiple image-taking almost a reflex reaction.
A good rule of thumb for a priest is to not do anything that he would not do while celebrating alone with a congregation.
No priest (I hope) would whip out his camera or cell phone in the middle of his parish’s Sunday Mass and start snapping pictures. If that appears absurd, then it is no less so while concelebrating.
With the current ease for distributing digital photos, it should be easy to designate photographers for special occasions such as ordinations and make the pictures freely available to all.
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
ROME, 15 JUNE 2010