ROME, JUNE 15, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: At an ordination I saw a priest, vested and concelebrating, step away from the altar. He took out a camera and took photos (not once, but several times). The bishop seemed oblivious to this, but it puzzled me. Is this a matter of liturgical law or regulation; a breech of etiquette; or something else? To me it seemed quite out of place and inappropriate. But if it’s OK, I could overlook it. — J.P., Illinois
A: Among the few documents that address the theme of photographs at Mass is the 1967 instruction “Eucharisticum Mysterium,” issued by the Congregation of Rites. No. 23 briefly touches on this subject:
“Great care should be taken to ensure that liturgical celebrations, especially the Mass, are not disturbed or interrupted by the taking of photographs. Where there is a good reason for taking them, the greatest discretion should be used, and the norms laid down by the local Ordinary should be observed.”
Since the task of formulating precise norms and guidelines falls upon the local ordinary, many dioceses have issued directives, above all, related to weddings, baptisms and similar situations where photographers and camera technicians can easily get out of hand.
Not surprisingly, nobody mentions concelebrating priests taking photos for the simple reason that the possibility never crossed anybody’s mind.
A concelebrating priest taking pictures obviously violates the norm of disrupting and interrupting the Mass — in this case the Mass he himself is celebrating. The fact that he is a concelebrant takes nothing away from the fact that the Mass requires his complete and undivided attention.
The same could be said of other situations in which priests engage in activities which distract them during Mass. I once saw a priest choir director slip on a stole for the Eucharistic Prayer and attempt to concelebrate from the choir loft, a practice of very dubious validity.
<br>Large concelebrations do sometimes have a detrimental effect on many of us priests, leading to a certain forgetfulness of who we are and what we are doing. Added to that, the ubiquitous digital camera has made multiple image-taking almost a reflex reaction.
A good rule of thumb for a priest is to not do anything that he would not do while celebrating alone with a congregation.
No priest (I hope) would whip out his camera or cell phone in the middle of his parish’s Sunday Mass and start snapping pictures. If that appears absurd, then it is no less so while concelebrating.
With the current ease for distributing digital photos, it should be easy to designate photographers for special occasions such as ordinations and make the pictures freely available to all.
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Follow-up: Eucharistic Adoration
The June 1 column, which focused on the practice of including babies in the offertory procession, also dealt with the topic of Eucharistic adoration. A reader from Virginia noticed that my reply said, “It is true that participating at Mass is the greatest possible act of adoration and that no amount of adoration could ever substitute a single Mass.” The reader asked, “Can you please identify where this is actually written? I do not ask this for the sake of having you prove yourself, but for the sake of knowing its source, that it may increase one’s knowledge and faith and spiritual development.”
This doctrine is solid in virtue of the infinite value of the Mass, insofar as it is the very sacrifice of Christ himself. At the same time, the doctrine it is not always expressed so directly in Church documents as I stated in my column.
The Catechism says:
“1378. Worship of the Eucharist
In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. “The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession.”
“1379. The tabernacle was first intended for the reservation of the Eucharist in a worthy place so that it could be brought to the sick and those absent, outside of Mass. As faith in the real presence of Christ in his Eucharist deepened, the Church became conscious of the meaning of silent adoration of the Lord present under the Eucharistic species. It is for this reason that the tabernacle should be located in an especially worthy place in the church and should be constructed in such a way that it emphasizes and manifests the truth of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.”
From this it can be seen that the foremost means of adoration is during Mass. Other forms of adoration developed later and derive from that of the Mass.
The site www.therealpresence.org contains a wealth of documents on Eucharistic doctrine that readers might find useful.