Pre-recorded Masses

And More on «Dry» Liturgy

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ROME, MAY 26, 2009 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I am a priest and have been wondering for some time about the validity/liceity of Masses I’ve celebrated for my diocesan television station. I celebrated specific Masses, including Christmas and Divine Mercy Sunday, well in advance of the actual dates. I believe these are valid, but are they licit? — J.R., Queens borough, New York

A: We dealt fairly amply with the question of televised masses and related questions in our columns of Jan. 18 and Feb. 1, 2005.

In this column, while illustrating the different norms issued by the U.S. bishops’ conference we touched on the question of pre-recorded Masses:

«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.»

With this in mind we can say that if these norms are respected, then the pre-recorded Mass is both valid and licit, albeit it is not the ideal situation.

The complete guidelines can be found online at the U.S. bishops’ conference Web site:

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Follow-up: «So Very Dry» Liturgy

Pursuant to our May 12 column on «dry liturgy» we received a couple of interesting comments.

One reader wrote: «Whereas I agree with you for the most part, I believe we must get past the rubrics and spend time celebrating the liturgy properly, with enthusiasm. In my priesthood of 42 years, anyone who shows enthusiasm, is a good homilist, and celebrates with joy and happiness gets dissed by other priests because people are going to a different parish. I have always felt that if a priest sees his congregation dwindling in favor of another parish, he ought to go over and find out what that parish is doing and perhaps learn from them. You can follow all the rules and rubrics and have a meaningful celebration of the liturgy. Good music, good homily, prayerful presiding will turn a dry liturgy into a true celebration of God’s gifts to us.  Unfortunately, jealousy reigns.»

While it is true that human limitations such as jealousy can also be present, I agree with our reader on persisting in celebrating the liturgy with faithful enthusiasm. In the end the effort will bear fruit where it matters most, the salvation of souls. To paraphrase an expression of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta: «If in doing what is right people say you are working for egotistical motives or seeking personal adulation, don’t worry; do what is right anyway.»

Another priest correspondent, writing from India, commented on the original letter: «The question of ‘So Very Dry Liturgy’ I found very disappointing/disturbing. I do not know whether that is the questioner’s personal experience or that he is quoting from hearsay. I am also an Indian priest but working in Nepal. And I have traveled through many parts of India and have known many dioceses and missionaries and am in touch with many areas of the Indian Church on a regular basis. And my own personal experience has been quite contrary to what the questioner writes. On occasions I have heard from non-Catholics who attend our liturgy that they find it deep and much more meaningful than theirs, except maybe for the singing and ‘entertainment’ part.

«Of late I am afraid some think — maybe with the influence of the mass media — that liturgy has to be entertaining, and occasionally we do find some priests attempting comical things to make it ‘more interesting.’ Once, even someone came to complain to me that one of the priests asked the gathering of the youth, ‘Would you like to have a short and enjoyable Mass or a boring and dry long Mass?’

«I was so surprised that a priest was able to say such things to youngsters and also that he had different categories of Masses in store for them. Unless we have it clear within ourselves that the liturgy and especially the Eucharist is not an entertainment program but worship — ‘source and summit of our Christian life’ — I think these types of questions are natural. And I fully agree with you that what is lacking in such areas (if it is true as the questioner says) is proper catechesis, and [hence a need to] develop true and authentic devotion at the sacraments. In many parts of India there are very many prayer groups, charismatic and others, where spontaneity finds its proper application. And I find it very difficult to accept that fidelity to liturgical norms makes it ‘dry.'»

I am grateful for this comment. While I have not yet had the privilege of visiting India, my work in Rome brings me into frequent contact with Indian priests, seminarians and laypeople of various Catholic rites. Every time I attend one of their liturgies I perceive an enthusiasm and degree of participation that is anything but «dry» but rather reverent and fervent.

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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. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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