Look This Way!

I recently received this impassioned email:

“Where are we when the focus of attention at Sunday Mass becomes the projector screen rather than the altar and ambo, when every ritual moment is distracted from by texts flashed up demanding to be read/ sung/ recited? Why is it necessary to project the words of the Lord's Prayer, Lamb of God and even the Amen?

“I can understand that displaying the prayer texts may help participation at school Masses, or on occasions such as funerals when many attend who are not regular church-goers.  But surely we can keep our liturgy as a human rather than a multimedia experience?  As for those background scenes of running water and sunsets and snow-capped mountains - give me a hand-quilted banner any day!”

While data projection can indeed facilitate fuller participation, it is not without its problems as the above makes clear. The use of such technology can be counterproductive when it distracts from the purpose and focus of worship or intrudes on the liturgical space.

When the assembly focuses its attention on a screen during worship, the dynamic of the ritual is altered: liturgical responses and exchanges are directed to a screen or wall rather than to the presider or fellow worshippers. There is also the danger of turning participants into spectators waiting to be entertained by what appears next on the ‘big screen’.

Many churches are not architecturally designed for the use of visual media technology and considerable effort may be required to accommodate it. Power point slides require time and skill to prepare. Data equipment can clutter a sacred space and be complicated to use.

Relying too much on projected words during worship can make a ritual celebration seem more like a catechetical session. The words and reading become the focus instead of engagement with the sights, sounds, silences and feel of the liturgy. We need to be more aware of involving all of the senses in liturgy because it has become too wordy and intellectual. People with sight problems or who are not able to read written English may feel left out when the rest of the assembly is constantly reading printed words on a screen.

Liturgy needs to be ‘real’. Projecting images of wheat and grapes on a screen during Mass is no substitute for using bread that can be broken and shared and offering the chalice to all the faithful. Technology used judiciously can be an aid to good liturgy, but it must never become the focus for the assembly’s attention or take the place of real actions and symbols.

Some argue that using visual media technology is worth the effort because it appeals to young people and attracts them to worship, but research indicates that projection technologies do not contribute significantly to attracting youth or keeping them involved in worship. In fact, young people tend to be the biggest critics of attempts by adults to make worship relevant, partly because the production values lag far behind those of popular movies and video games.

Elizabeth Harrington