|ROME, 18 JAN. 2005 (ZENIT)
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
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
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
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.
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,
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;
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;
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
The least satisfactory solution, to be avoided if possible, is the
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
* * *
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
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
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
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. ZE05020121