ROME, 8 JUNE 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
It is a regular feature at Masses in Australia and New Zealand
that children or artists make banners for decorating churches,
especially for the different seasons and for special occasions,
such as confirmations. Many parishes are now replacing overhead
projectors with the words of the hymns, with computerized
PowerPoint displays that allow for all kinds of graphics and
backgrounds to be added. I have seen everything from small
discreet icons to actual video clips of the entry into Jerusalem
from Mel Gibson's Passion during the Sanctus and worse.
Are there any norms for visual displays in church, and in
particular, the use of projected images during Mass?
J.B., Melbourne, Australia
A: There are few specific laws or even orientation regarding
this aspect. But perhaps some of the principles formulated by
the U.S. bishops' document on Church art and architecture, Built
of "Living Stones," might be of help.
With respect to the use of banners, the document says: "127.
Fabric art in the form of processional banners and hangings can
be an effective way to convey the spirit of liturgical seasons,
especially through the use of color, shape, texture, and
symbolic form. The use of images rather than words is more in
keeping with this medium."
This would at least indicate that tasteful and well-designed
banners may have a place within the liturgy, even if the
handiwork of children. Indeed, in one form or another, banners
such as the symbols of confraternities and other Catholic
organizations have long been used on solemn occasions such as
Since the use of videos or overhead projections is such a
novelty and is still a rarity, I have found almost nothing
official on this theme. Some of the general principles on
liturgical artwork in "Built of Living Stones" might help
clarify the issue:
"The Role of Religious Art
"143. Art chosen for the place of worship is not simply
something pretty or well made, an addition to make the ordinary
more pleasant. Nor is the place of worship a museum to house
artistic masterpieces or artistic models. Rather, artworks truly
belong in the church when they are worthy of the place of
worship and when they enhance the liturgical, devotional, and
contemplative prayer they are inspired to serve.
"Components of True and Worthy Art
"146. Authentic art is integral to the Church at prayer
because these objects and actions are 'signs and symbols of the
supernatural world' and expressions of the divine presence.
While personal tastes will differ, parish committees should
utilize the criteria of quality and appropriateness in
evaluating art for worship ….
"148. Appropriateness for liturgical action is the
other criterion for choosing a work of art for church. The
quality of appropriateness is demonstrated by the work's
ability to bear the weight of mystery, awe, reverence and wonder
that the liturgical action expresses and by the way it serves
and does not interrupt the ritual actions which have their own
structure, rhythm and movement ….
"Materials of the Artist
"162. Artists choose materials with integrity because they
will endure from generation to generation, because they are
noble enough for holy actions, and because they express what is
most respected and beautiful in the lives and cultures of the
community. Materials, colors, shapes, and designs that are of
short-lived popularity are unworthy ….
"163. Similarly, artworks consisting of technological and
interactive media, such as video and other electronically
fabricated images, may also be appropriate for sacred purposes.
Subject to the same criteria of suitability as other sacred art,
technologically produced works of art can point toward sacred
realities even though they do not possess the more enduring
form, color, texture, weight, and density found in more
traditional sacred art."
Thus, while No. 163 apparently leaves open the possibility of
the use of technological aids, it does not elaborate upon the
contexts in which these means may be used.
Personally I do not consider that the use of slide shows and
videos during Mass is a legitimate option. It is said that a
picture paints a thousand words, but even a picture must be
interpreted using words, albeit mentally. Thus, these visual
elements, instead of enhancing the rite, draw attention away
from the liturgical action of participating in the rite itself.
For this reason I believe that No. 148 cited above, by
stressing that liturgical art serve and not interrupt "the
ritual actions which have their own structure, rhythm and
movement," is especially applicable in this case.
* * *
Follow-up: On Banners, Overhead Projectors and
PowerPoint Displays [6-22-2010]
Related to our comments regarding the use of videos and slide
shows during Mass (see June 8), several readers questioned the
very wisdom of using overhead projectors. A Sydney, Australia,
correspondent wrote: "More and more churches over the world are
using the projector during Mass to show the readings, prayers
and lyrics of the songs. They believed that the contents, when
clearly presented to the congregation, may help to understand
the Mass better. Nevertheless, such projections would inevitably
cause distractions which on the contrary make people to drift
away from the essence of the Mass."
Personally I believe that a moderate use of these projections
can be of use, above all in presenting the lyrics and music of
hymns and sung parts of the Mass. In this sense they could
almost be considered as the modern equivalent of the large choir
books of medieval times. These outsized books which contained
the musical notation for Mass and the Divine Office were usually
placed at the center of the choir so as to be visible to all.
I am less enthusiastic about projecting prayers, readings and
other proclaimed texts as these should be listened to rather
than read. Even here, however, it could be argued that the
projection is no more distracting than a hand missal or any
number of other liturgical resources commonly found in parishes.
It is also cheaper as the parish does not have to invest in
hundreds of weekly bulletins or expensive hymnals.
I would agree with our reader that an overuse of these
projections could end up being a cause of distraction. For
example, to project the text of the Eucharistic Prayer would
almost inevitably turn attention away from the altar and toward
Great care should be taken regarding their location. It must be
remembered that they are a complementary resource and not a
necessity. If the church's structure does not allow for a
discreet location it is better to renounce the use of the
projector and seek other solutions. Insofar as possible, the
screen should not be in the presbytery and never behind the
In synthesis, I would say that these means may be used if they
can help liturgical participation. They are only tools, however,
and the proper celebration of the liturgy must never be
influenced or limited by their presence.