Technology and Liturgy

Technology and Liturgy

I received two interesting emails in the same week recently. The first one said:
“The small parish which I attend has purchased a laptop to project the hymns and prayers on the screen as our overhead projector is fairly old. I am very knowledgable with Power Point and love graphics. Am I allowed to use liturgical images between the hymns, readings and prayers during Mass?”

What a coincidence then to receive this:
“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? Are we to be the first generation in the long history of the Christian church that is unable topray from memory these most basic liturgical texts? What an insult to the old faithful at the 7 am Mass who certainly aren't suffering from Alzheimer's yet!

Personally I find a huge screen intrudinginto sacred space distasteful, but I willingly allow that projecting the words of hymns can be helpful. I will also allow that, at school Masses, or on occasions such as funerals when many attend who are not regular church-goers, displaying the prayer textsmay help participation. 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!”

Technology can be of enormous help in the preparation of liturgy, and data projection can enhance liturgical celebrations by facilitating fuller participation. However, technology sometimes intrudes on worship, turning participants into spectators waiting to be entertained by what appears next on the ‘big screen’ and cluttering a sacred space with equipment.

I was once part of a group of liturgists on a guided tour of a historic capital city church. To our amazement, the minister spent most of the time demonstrating his pride and joy – the latest in projection equipment. Computers and screens intruded on the beautiful timber furnishing. We were shown lovely images of nature while a tired and dusty arrangement of artificial flowers dominated the sanctuary. Enough to make a grown liturgist groan!

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.

I wonder too if people with sight problems or who are not able to read written English easily feel left out when the rest of the assembly is constantly reading printed words on a screen or in a detailed order of service?

Liturgy needs to be ‘real’. Projecting images of wheat and grapes on a screen during Mass is in no way a 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.

Elizabeth Harrington