Televised Masses

And More on Masses in Honor of the Blessed

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ROME, JAN. 18, 2005 ( 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 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 day.

The least satisfactory solution, to be avoided if possible, is the pre-recorded telecast.

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 constraints.

* * *

Follow-up: Masses in Honor of the Blessed

Several readers asked for clarifications regarding the celebration of Masses of blessed and saints (see Dec. 21) not included in the universal calendar.

One asked if a Mass in honor of a blessed who had been a member of a Third Order could be celebrated for members of the order even outside of a church pertaining to the group’s First or Second orders.

The principal distinction between the liturgical celebration of saints and blessed is the restriction of the celebration of the blessed either locally to the places connected with their lives or relics, or within the churches of religious orders to which they pertained.

In the latter case the celebration of a blessed would usually be restricted to churches and chapels of the order but not necessarily, as in the case of orders of brothers or women religious, to priests who belong to the order in question.

No. 35 of the 1997 notification regarding particular calendars would not appear to allow for the celebration of blessed outside of these churches for particular groups such as members of Third Orders. Indeed, the document suggests that these celebrations should be occasions for pilgrimages to the churches where the Mass may be celebrated.

However, I think that in the not-too-distant future some modification of these norms will be necessary in order to accommodate, not just the blessed of Third Orders, but also the needs of the members of, say, Catholic Action and the Legion of Mary as well as some of the more recent lay ecclesial movements. These do not, strictly speaking, have churches or oratories of their own, but their members meet in parishes and other centers.

The celebratio
n of the future blessed of these groups, many of which are international in character, will require a less geographically limited permission.

With regard to the texts to be used, if there is no official Mass texts or at least no approved translations for the recently blessed, then the most appropriate common should be used (virgins, pastors, men or woman saints etc.)

This throws some light on another aspect mentioned in my earlier reply which some found a bit confusing.

When speaking about the liturgical calendar, there are several levels. For the whole world there is the Church’s General Liturgical Calendar which contains those celebrations of saints considered to be of universal or historical importance.

Also on the level of the whole world is the Roman Martyrology, which contains the entire list of saints and blessed celebrated in the Church although the vast majority of these are venerated only in certain areas.

On this level, any priest may celebrate the feast of a saint found in the martyrology of the day, provided the day is free of other general or local celebrations which would impede its celebration.

He may not, however, celebrate a blessed outside of the areas where this celebration has been specifically permitted by the bishop, or the bishops’ conference and ratified by the Holy See.

On the local or particular level there are National, Regional, Diocesan, and Religious Order Calendars.

These may include saints and blessed from the Roman Martyrology, not included in the general calendar, as either obligatory or optional memorials within the confines of the territory for which they have been approved.

They sometimes attribute a higher degree of liturgical solemnity than that of the general calendar, especially in the case of national, diocesan or church patrons and occasionally a different date from that of the rest of the Church.

A traveling priest is usually obliged to follow the calendar of the country he is visiting. If celebrating without a congregation, however, he may follow the general calendar or that of his own nation or religious order.

As mentioned, there may be some exceptions: In Rome the many national colleges (North American, Brazilian, Filipino, English, Irish, etc.) have traditionally followed the calendars of their home countries with respect to major feasts and particular saints and blessed. This privilege may usually be exercised only within the colleges themselves.

Another exception could be when the prayer texts for a local celebration exist only in the language of the place. In such cases a traveling priest, either alone or accompanying a group, would not necessarily have to follow the particular celebration unless it had the category of a feast or solemnity in which case he could take the most appropriate common.

* * *

Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country.

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