Worship & Technology

Media Technology in Worship: Some Practical Suggestions

September 24, 2008

ANGELA McCARTHY

Figure 1Media technologies are increasingly a part of parish life,
as they are a composite part of social existence in our current world. Dioceses and parishes have websites ranging from minimal contact information to well-structured and richly informative places of interest. The impulse to Google for information provides us with data that can be precise and factual or wildly extreme in its point of view.

Media technology is, therefore, expected to inform us and, at times, to form us. The effect of media is such that it “extends to defining not only what people will think but even what they will think about. Reality, for many, is what the media recognize as real; what media do not acknowledge seems of little importance.”(1)  When such technologies are used within worship practices, they need to be used with care, as the same reality bearing consciousness applies. If there are too many images, too much information given visually that is not relevant, it will dictate what people think about and distract from the focus of the Paschal Mystery. On the other hand, the positive use of media technology “can draw people more deeply into a worship service and encourage their participation.” (2) 

Within worship, media technology might contribute in two ways: either as systems of visual or audio presentation of many and varied sources that are used within liturgy, or as liturgical media art where it is of the liturgy itself. (3) 

The former includes DVDs used to inform the congregation about things such as World Youth Day or Project Compassion during Lent, or suitable additions to a homily. It also includes the provision of words of songs and prayers for the assembly’s use. Within a multicultural parish where not all members share the same original language, the words of lengthy prayers, like the Creed, can be presented in the language of the liturgical service for anyone needing this assistance.

The latter, liturgical media art, includes the art images that will reflect the scriptural passages of the liturgy of the day. Real art is required. In “commissioning artists and choosing works of art to be admitted into a church, what should be required is that true excellence in art which nourishes faith and devotion and accords authentically with both the meaning and the purpose for which it is intended.” (4)

screenIn my parish, St. Thomas More in Bateman, Western Australia,  primarily uses images prepared by Jenny Close, a liturgical artist from Brisbane, Australia. Her images are theologically sound and use contemporary images closely related to the Scriptural theme of the liturgy that we access through LiturgyHelp.

There are dangers though! Melheim declares that since we are living in a tech world, “good tech is better than no tech” but “no tech is better than bad tech”! (5) 

Bad tech is when a picture of the Good Shepherd is presented with the words of the Lamb of God! Theological confusion results and the assembly could well be annoyed. For it to be good tech, the preparation needs to be completed well in advance and carefully checked, using good art images that reflect the scriptural readings of the liturgy, with the words for the music in lines that match the music phrases. The assembly must be honoured and respected by well-prepared presentations that truly assist people to achieve that “fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.” (6) 

Another danger that our parish has faced is when a DVD is dropped on the computer desk minutes before a liturgy begins with no explanation about when it is required. To switch modes of presentation requires access to further equipment via a cupboard that might be locked. Key retrieval during the liturgy is awkward. Such media needs must be planned and operators notified. All other liturgical ministers are trained, so there should be training of technical operators who are then acknowledged as part of the liturgy team.

Our parish community appreciates the pastoral benefit of technology in various special celebrations. Annually, we have celebrated a wedding anniversary Mass. Up to thirty couples attend in the year in which they have a major wedding anniversary (25, 30, 40, 50, 60 years). Prior to the concluding rite, each couple is called forward to receive the assembly’s congratulations and their certificate while their wedding photo is displayed onscreen. This always provokes a warm reaction from the assembly as well as some mirth at the changes in fashion! In 2008, eighteen couples joined the celebration, with five of them celebrating 50 years of marriage.

The placement of a suitable screen for digital presentations can be problematic, particularly in older style churches. Our parish had the benefit of built-in technology when the church was built in the early 1990s. As can be seen in figure 1, the screen is discreet when inactive. Figure 2 shows that when activated, the image from the data projector behind the screen is relayed by a mirror that then lights up the previously blank space with the required digital presentation. This fulfills the requirement that electronic media “should fit into the architectural design and should be made inconspicuous." (7)

There is a very fine line that separates contextualisation of the liturgy in a manner that is relevant to the receiving culture, and syncretisation where integration with the prevailing culture is to such a degree that the two cannot be distinguished. (8)  It is important for all liturgy teams to work together to ensure that technology for worship is used well, with appropriate training and preparation processes in place, and that it utilises liturgical media art that truly fulfills the requirements of the liturgy.

(1) Pontifical Council on Social Communications, Aetatis Novae (February 22, 1992) 4.

(2) Eileen Crowley, Liturgical Art for a Media Culture (American Essays in Liturgy)

(3) Ibid., 15.

(4) Australian Conference of Catholic Bishops, General Instruction on the Roman Missal (2008), n. 289.

(5) Rich Melheim, "95 Theses: Church Technology," The Clergy Journal (January 2008).

(6) Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium (Contitutuion on the Sacred Liturgy), n. 14.

(7) United States National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Built of Living Stones (2000), n. 233.

(8) Tim Page, "Technology in Worship," Stimulus 12:3 (2004).

Dr. Angela McCarthy is a lecturer in theology in the School of Philosophy and Theology, Fremantle, The University of Notre Dame Australia.

Photo credit:  Angela McCarthy; Figure 1: data projector not in use; Figure 2: data projector in use.

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