Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: Sunday Mass featured on television is commonplace where I live — I presume for those who are infirm and unable to go to Church. I would like to know if there are any guidelines as regards to the production of such a Mass. For example, can this be pre-taped for succeeding Sundays and if so, since the readings during taping are not for the day, what happens to the celebration? Is this merely an abuse or does this invalidate the sacrament? Must a televised Mass applicable for a particular day be done live? — R.B., Manila, Philippines
A: Most guidelines giving norms for televised Masses are issued by the national bishops’ conference.
I am unaware if the Philippine bishops have issued their own norms. The norms I have available to me, those of the United States, issued in 1997, and those of Italy, from 1973, agree as to the principles involved.
The U.S. guidelines for televised Masses are available on the Web site of the bishops’ conference.
In Italy, Masses transmitted on a national basis (the usual case for Sunday transmissions) come under the norms of the conference, except for the frequent transmissions of papal Masses.
Locally transmitted Masses are subject to the ordinary of the diocese where the Mass is celebrated and he may issue appropriate norms adapted to particular circumstances.
In the United States the local bishop is responsible for assuring that all is done according to liturgical norms.
The first thing to remember is that a televised Mass is not a substitute for assisting at Mass and does not fulfill the Sunday precept.
It is rather a means offered to those unable to attend Mass to somehow participate in the worship of the community. While those unable to attend Mass do well to follow a televised Mass, they are not obliged to do so, and may honor Sunday in some other way through prayer and sacrifice.
As the U.S. guidelines state: “The televised Mass is never a substitute for the Church’s pastoral care for the sick in the form of visits by parish ministers who share the Scriptures and bring Communion, nor is it ever a substitute for the Sunday Mass celebrated within a parish faith community each week. However, televising the Mass is a ministry by which the Church uses modern technology to bring the Lord’s healing and comfort to those who cannot physically participate in the liturgical life of the local Church and who often experience a sense of isolation from the parish and its regular forms of prayer and worship. In addition, many regard televised liturgies as a means of evangelization, of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and promoting the Church’s worship via modern means of communication (cf. “Inter Mirifica,” No. 14).”
The U.S. guidelines recognize the limitation of the medium of television “with its inherent lack of physical interaction, to lead people to more passive roles as spectators.” But the benefits for those who make use of it outweigh the dangers involved.
Because of the difficulties involved such as time constraints and cost, the U.S. guidelines suggest the following principles:
The first requirement for good telecast liturgies is good liturgical celebration. When the Mass or other liturgies are televised, those responsible for the planning, production, and celebration must make every effort to respect basic liturgical principles, including:
— giving careful attention to the modes of Christ’s presence in the liturgy, e.g., the Word, the Eucharistic bread and wine, the assembly, the priest;
— following the directives of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal;
— the full, conscious, and active participation of the faithful;
— the integrity of the liturgical year;
— a homily addressed to the assembly, while taking into account those who watch on television;
— the appropriate use of trained liturgical ministers;
— the use of live liturgical music that fits the celebration;
— a sense of noble simplicity;
— the good use of liturgical space;
— an unhurried, reverent pace;
— an awareness of and visual contact with the viewing congregation;
— notification to the viewers when the Mass is pre-recorded.
The U.S. guidelines also suggest several models for a televised celebration. The ideal situation is a live telecast in real time. This may also permit some parishes to make the texts of the liturgy available to those watching and even bring Communion to coincide with the end of the televised Mass.
Live transmission is practically the only form contemplated in the Italian norms due to the particular Italian situation in which Mass is transmitted live every Sunday by one of the national public television stations, either from the Vatican or from a different church or cathedral every week. A next-best solution is the delayed telecast, which is the taping of a Sunday Mass and its transmission on the same day.
The least satisfactory solution, to be avoided if possible, is the pre-recorded telecast.
Viewers must be informed that it is pre-recorded and has certain limitations such as having been celebrated outside the liturgical day or season. The guidelines give as an example the “taping of ‘Christmas morning Mass’ on Monday of the fourth week of Advent.”
Other disadvantages are that the Mass usually must take place in a studio and not in a community that regularly gathers for worship. Editing may include inappropriate special effects, or shorten some elements which are not convenient for worship. Editing may even make the priest and ministers appear to be actors.
However, if no alternative is available, this Mass should be taped on the closest possible date to the day of transmission and only one liturgy may be taped with the same group on any one day.
Also, the full liturgy should be recorded and editors should not eliminate any elements of the Mass (the Gloria or a reading) due to time constraints.
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Follow-up: Televised Masses [02-01-2005]
There were several interesting addenda to our column regarding televised Masses (Jan. 18).
An extraordinary minister of holy Communion in Virginia who attends a homebound person asked if it were permissible for him to “to record a Sunday Mass to be used when I take Communion to a person unable to go to Church. I record the Mass from EWTN while I attend Mass at my parish church and obtain the sacred Host. I retrieve the tape and immediately go to the homebound person. Then I play the tape which includes everything from the entrance procession, prayers, readings, homily and petitions of the faithful. At that point I stop the recording and say the Our Father with the person and give her Communion. I only use it on the same day that the Mass was being said. The person understands that it is a recording of that Sundays Mass.”
I think that some distinction needs to be made. As an extraordinary minister of holy Communion you should always fulfill the rites of the Church just as they are set out in the liturgical books.
Therefore while you do a good thing in bringing the tape, it may not substitute the rites of introduction and the reading foreseen in the rite of Communion to the sick, and the two things should be kept separate although you would probably be justified in using the briefer form of the rite.
Perhaps you would save time and complications if you were to make it possible for the person involved to watch the Mass on EWTN herself and time your arrival toward the end of the transmission.
Another two questions involved not so much the transmission of Mass on television but within the context of a celebration.
From the Australian state of Victoria a correspondent wrote: “Masses at one large local church are now ‘telecast’ to the congregation on several large video screens, including one on each pillar at either side of the altar. The view and angles are continually altered for best position, and prayers and hymn words are displayed at the necessary times. I find the intrusion enormous, and its spectacular nature distracting and disappointing. Are there any recommendations for the level of appropriate technological intervention?”
Meanwhile, a U.S. reader asked: “What about Masses that have the overflow crowd across the parking lot at a parish hall, watching the Mass on closed-circuit TV? Someone brings Communion over at the appropriate time, but does this count as participating in the sacrifice of the Mass?”
The two situations, while apparently similar, are actually very different.
The general principle is that one must physically assist at Mass as part of a cohesive assembly. The assembly may be very large but must in some way form a recognizable whole.
The first situation, that of enhancing visibility via the use of large screens, may be useful and even necessary on some very special occasions when many participants are at some distance from the altar or some special rite, such as a priestly or episcopal ordination, is carried out.
This is usually done during papal Masses in St. Peter’s Square, although I don’t remember ever having seen it done within the basilica itself despite its being the world’s largest Church.
This may also be because the lateral naves are never occupied during Mass, so everyone can see the altar even though, frankly, one sees little from the back.
Because we are almost all children of the television age, it is necessary to rein in the cameramen so that they concentrate on the essential rites and avoid special effects, such as zooming in on children, which only cause distraction and dispersion.
My own experience is that one’s attention is naturally drawn toward the projection even when the altar is clearly visible.
The danger is that one adopts the passive attitude typical of television gazing in such a way that the spiritual exercise of active participation in offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass with and through the priest is impeded.
In this way one may be mentally in the same situation as those who follow a Mass on television, even though from a formal point of view one is present at the celebration.
For this reason I do not think that it is pastorally prudent to habitually use these projections. Yet, since they are a relatively new technology, I do not know if any official declarations have been made.
From what we have said, it should be clear that the second situation, that of following the Mass from the parish hall, is incorrect and is not sufficient to fulfill the Sunday precept.
Some other solution should be found to cater for the overflow, either adding Masses or seeking an alternative venue.
It might even be permissible, as an extreme solution, to set up television screens outside the church, which would in some way preserve the unity of the assembly. But they may not be in another location.
For example, I remember that for the beatification of (now Saint) Pio of Pietrelcina, logistics made it necessary to divide the assembly between two Roman sites: St. Peter’s Square and St. John Lateran.
On this occasion a cardinal celebrated Sunday Mass for the pilgrims at St. John’s before the beatification ceremony began and then all present followed the ceremony at St. Peter’s on television screens.