A Skeptic on Liturgical Technology

In the comments, Mary asked about my averrance to the use of video images. She had some specific questions:

How do you think that parishes should handle it when the bishop issues a pastoral letter by video?

I’ve had to set up multiple televisions for this four or five times. I remember the process quite well. I can hook up multiple screens to a single player and run audio through a sound system. Once, in an unprepared parish, I held a microphone to the sound grid on a projector. Having monitored the message for four or five Masses on a weekend, I don’t recall any of the details. On the other hand, it happens so infrequently that parishioners may well remember the details.

When the bishop sends a video message, I’m a good soldier and I make the best of what the parish provides me. I’m usually the most technologically savvy person on staff, so it’s always left to me to coordinate the presentation. But I’m also an acoustic musician, and I believe in the personal connection between a person speaking or making music with a minimum of in-between stuff. I acknowledge this is just my idealism.

Can you imagine sermons being improved by a well-chosen image or two?

I can. But most preachers struggle mightily to string together a beginning and an end with a significant portion of meat in between. There are priests who could probably do this well, especially if they captured the images themselves, or worked with a photographer-collaborator. That last option would probably be deeply fruitful. I just don’t know how it would possibly work without a lot of practice. And many images are owned by people who captured them. Credit, and compensation, are due.

Showing hymn-words when there are more people present than you own hymnals for?

I will say that the assembly sounds great when their noses are not in a book.

Let me say that as a skeptic, I’m not totally closed to the idea. If a priest wanted to work with a photographer, that might be a great collaboration, like music & lyrics, or ice cream & cake. The last priest I knew who worked with a visual medium, employed a power point to enhance his “sermon” on respect for life–it was a Votive Mass for Life. He used it to cite long stretches of church documents. Eye-catching and accurate. Notable for being different.

My own sense is that unless one is prepared to use the medium of images and video as an artist, I think any presentation will fall short of an ideal. The commitment comes with the building, however, not with the priest. In a parish from twenty years ago, they used to regularly have “post-Communion meditations” projected on a video screen. I never saw one. The pastor who hired me put the kabosh on the project. He hated the big black screen above and behind the altar. But there was nothing to do with it, not even projecting a single image on a seasonal basis.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in Liturgy, technology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Skeptic on Liturgical Technology

  1. Jimmy Mac says:

    “How do you think that parishes should handle it when the bishop issues a pastoral letter by video?”

    Simple: ignore it in the same manner as the written ones are ignored.

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