ROME, 15 JUNE 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
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. —
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
"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
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
Not surprisingly, nobody mentions concelebrating priests taking
photos for the simple reason that the possibility never crossed
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
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.