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Liturgy: Televised Masses

1/19/2005 - 7:30 AM PST

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ROME, JAN. 19, 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 -- I 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 involved.

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 sacrifice.

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. 14)."

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, the priest;

-- 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;

-- a 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;

-- a 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 ...

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