A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

Slide Shows at Homilies

ROME, 4 SEPT. 2007 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Are there guidelines for slide shows shown during the homily at Mass? Are there guidelines for who (pastor/bishop) can authorize slide shows? Are there guidelines for the music played during a slide show? Is it OK to have a slide show and no homily? M.M., Howell, New Jersey

Q: Each year, in our archdiocese, on two Sundays the homily at all the Masses is replaced by a recorded fund-raising appeal, one for the archdiocesan annual appeal and one for Catholic Charities. The celebrant does not give a separate homily. In the past it has been an audio recording; one year it was to be a video. I am not at all opposed to giving money to the archdiocesan appeal and Catholic Charities, but this seems like an abuse of the rubrics for Mass. B.W., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

A: The most recent norms regarding the homily are found in the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum." Here are two key norms:

"[64.] The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself, 'should ordinarily be given by the Priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating Priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a Deacon, but never to a layperson. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a Priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate.'

"[67.] Particular care is to be taken so that the homily is firmly based upon the mysteries of salvation, expounding the mysteries of the Faith and the norms of Christian life from the biblical readings and liturgical texts throughout the course of the liturgical year and providing commentary on the texts of the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass, or of some other rite of the Church. It is clear that all interpretations of Sacred Scripture are to be referred back to Christ himself as the one upon whom the entire economy of salvation hinges, though this should be done in light of the specific context of the liturgical celebration. In the homily to be given, care is to be taken so that the light of Christ may shine upon life's events. Even so, this is to be done so as not to obscure the true and unadulterated word of God: for instance, treating only of politics or profane subjects, or drawing upon notions derived from contemporary pseudo-religious currents as a source."

It is clear, therefore, that the priest or deacon who gives the homily must be physically present. Thus, tapes or videos cannot replace the homily.

Likewise the proper place for an appeal is preferably after the post-Communion prayer, although in some cases a priest may effectively tie in a direct appeal with the themes of the liturgy during the homily. If a taped appeal is to be made, a priest may shorten his homily so as not to prolong the Mass.

It could be argued that when the bishop himself makes the tape or video, it is merely a modern version of a pastoral letter. These letters, which the bishop addresses to the whole diocese as its pastor, usually deal with matters of particular concern. Because of their importance they are sometimes read out at Mass in place of the homily.

A case could be made for this argument, but I believe that when dealing with regular annual appeals, and not some particular pastoral concern, it is still better to place them at the end of Mass and not replace the homily.

I am unaware of specific norms regarding the use of slide shows or presentations. But the norms above would certainly exclude the substitution of the homily by a presentation.

Another question is if they may be used as aids to the homily. The question has been debated among pastoral liturgists and I find the arguments against their use more convincing.

Images tend to remind people of television and thus they tend to induce a passivity that distracts from the core message being transmitted by the words.

Some would argue that "an image is worth a thousand words," but this is a fallacy for whatever message is suggested by an image is understood in words by our linguistic intelligence. We think and hear in words, and nothing is understood without words. The spoken word is indispensable for all interpersonal communication.

Faith, as St. Paul said, is transmitted above all by hearing which is one reason why preaching has always been privileged in Church practice.

* * *

Follow-up: Slide Shows at Homilies

In response to our piece on slide shows during homilies (Sept. 4) a reader from Evansville, Indiana, mentioned a case which went beyond a presentation: "Once, our parish priest replaced the homily with a film. As you noted that images may remind people of television, this action by our priest reminded me of a movie theater. It was as if I were watching a movie that did not interest me. While the lights in the church were dimmed, I am sure others felt the same way and some of them may have even taken a short nap in the darkness."

While the homily may not be the place for the use of such media as DVD's and presentations, they can be most useful evangelization tools in other contexts such as catechesis and the continual Christian formation of adults. As another reader pointed out, such modern means are "easy to use, pleasant to view, and draw wonderfully focused lessons and applications. They are often prepared by religious sisters and are the fruit of a lifetime of professional communication in the classroom."

If truly useful, it is even possible to use such means in the church, as it is not always possible or practical to convoke the people at other times or venues. For example, with adequate foresight the pastor could invite the faithful to remain a few minutes after Mass to view a video or presentation on some topic of pastoral or spiritual concern.
 

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