From a reader…
I was wondering if you have any ammunition one might use to argue against the installation of projector screens in a church. My son, in seminary, just learned that a fellow seminarian’s home parish has ‘voted’ to install projector screens, with the support of the pastor. Naturally this is disappointing to a seminarian, but also to those of us in general who have truly hoped this kind of thing was in the past. I was just wondering if you had any information that might be useful for the prevention of this sort of things. The pastor has argued since they do it at St. Peters for a papal Mass that it is good enough for them.
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. T. Ferguson
Firstly, the seminarian’s response should be (to the pastor, or anyone on the parish staff or council), “Oh really? Well that’s interesting. I hope that works out well for everyone. I am so excited about one day working in ministry and getting involved in exciting projects like that, to ensure that more people come to know and love Jesus. In the meantime, I really, really, really love these cookies!” Accompanied by a big smile (as authentic as possible).
To anyone who appears disgruntled by this, the seminarian’s response should be, “Oh, I’m so sorry you’re going through that. You should know that I pray for (St. X parish) all the time. I just hope I can become holy enough to be pastor some day and help clean up some of these messes. Please keep me in your prayers. In the meantime, these cookies are really, really, really delicious!” (Accompanied by a concerned look with a slight tilt of the head, followed by a big smile).
Seminarians – avoid getting drawn into these conflicts. They seldom end well for you, and can end up eliciting comments that make it onto written evaluations that redound with negative repercussions years later.
Onto the meat of the issue. Screens in church are silly, and distracting. They play into the notion that the Holy Mass is primarily a didactic event and if we don’t read and understand absolutely everything on a verbal level, we’re not “getting out” of it what we should. They contribute to the myth that participation requires us uttering as many syllables as possible, preferably in unison. Further, the notion that everything has to be seen as clearly and closely as possible to be meaningful is drilled into our highly visual and digital society.
If the church is as large as St. Peter’s Square and gets as many congregants on a regular basis, perhaps there might be some slim justification (though I can’t say I’m a fan of screens even at St. Peter’s).
Fr. Z adds:
I endorse what Fr. Ferguson wrote about seminarians not getting involved in those matters. I add… don’t try to involve them!
As far as the screen thing is concerned… I agree again. I will add the observation of the late Marshall McLuhan that “the medium is the message”. This is why sometimes a well-placed, well-chosen photo has more impact than a 1000 words, or why McLuhan could argue that it was the genesis of the microphone and electric amplification that killed Latin and liturgy in the Church.
In 1974 he wrote in The Medium and the Light: Reflection on Religion:
Latin wasn’t the victim of Vatican II; it was done in by introducing the microphone. A lot of people, the Church hierarchy included, have been lamenting the disappearance of Latin without understanding that it was the result of introducing a piece of technology that they accepted so enthusiastically. Latin is a very ‘cool’ language, in which whispers and murmurs play an important role. A microphone, however, makes an indistinct mumble intolerable; it accentuates and intensifies the sounds of Latin to the point where it loses all of its power. But Latin wasn’t the mike’s only victim. It also made vehement preaching unbearable. For a public that finds itself immersed in a completely acoustic situation thanks to electric amplification, hi-fi speakers bring the preacher’s voice from several directions at once. So the structure of our churches were obsolesced by multi-directional amplification. The multiple speakers simply bypassed the traditional distance between preacher and audience. The two were suddenly in immediate relation with each other, which compelled the priest to face the congregation.
The microphone killed Latin, enervated preaching and paved the way for Mass “facing the people”, innovations all. Microphones were in use long before the Council. But their cumulative effect, with the liturgical changes, were deadly. There are times when we should simply turn them off… and go ad orientem and use Latin.
When everything is made plain, apparent, immediate, visible, audible, etc., then there is no effort to find the Mystery in the hard elements of worship. Immediacy strips out the transcendent. That makes participation at Mass … something else.
Finally, back in the days of Benedict XVI did that pastor argue for Latin and a chanted Gradual instead of a responsorial psalm because that’s what they use at St. Peter’s? Who wants to bet?