Worship & Technology: Active Participation Is Key - Part 1
September 04, 2008
Technology plays a major role in worship. Our choice is to either ignore that truth or embrace technology for the greater good of the liturgy.
Several years ago I was in a football stadium with 50,000 other men attending a Promise Keepers teaching and prayer event. Unquestionably, this is an event where the shear visual clutter of stage props, microphones, video cameras, speaker set-ups, lighting banks, and jumbo-trons can distract from the event’s purpose. It looked, felt, and acted like a rock concert. Yet, while I was experiencing this culturally typical entertainment model, there were moments when I felt more connected to God and humanity than ever before. Even in a football stadium, with all the dazzle and over-the-top sound equipment, there still existed, for me, a deep sense of personal holiness. I came away from that experience with the knowledge that it is not necessarily the technology that interferes with our gaining a sense of God’s presence in our lives; rather, it is our participation in each situation.
While this was a Protestant evangelical gathering, the Roman Catholic Church has fully embraced similar circumstances, such as the April 20, 2008 Papal Mass at Yankee Stadium. Yet, the Protestant church has embraced technology to a greater degree than the Roman Catholic Church. A 2003 survey by The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship found that in Western Michigan only 20% of the Roman Catholic Parishes were using projectors for worship compared to a 66% usage by evangelical Protestant churches. ("Projectors in Worship Survey," Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, 2003.) What can be learned from their experience as the Roman Catholic Church rapidly moves toward the use of more technology in worship? What are the unintended consequences that may occur? Will technology create an artificial reality? Will parishioners become watchers of the liturgy? How does a faith community embrace technology as a tool of the culture in which we live?
The Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has remained the theological foundation for liturgical reform. In terms of technology and its application in the liturgy, we can find insights into how to adapt to an ever-changing culture. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy emphasizes that the faithful participate intelligently, actively, and easily (n. 79). “Active participation” remains the standard from which to judge each choice we make in the rites and rituals of the Church (Ibid., 14.)
It is truly remarkable that the Bishops of Vatican II understood and emphasized active participation in the liturgy as one of the primary issues that must be discussed, considered, and implemented. We have been using and adapting new technology ever since the construction of the first communal places of worship. Today, we experience the most obvious link with technology for the support of music ministries. But technology has existed throughout the ages. How 12th-century cathedrals were constructed, how we create spaces that are comfortable in terms of temperature and humidity, how engineering technology affects the building of large clear span spaces, and even how a pastor researches his homily via the Internet represent just a few examples of embracing technology for worship. In the United States, Built of Living Stones speaks little about how to use technology. The closest this 2000 document comes is to state that the design of the church building should respect the culture of every time and place (no. 38). What does this mean to a parish contemplating construction or renovation of a place for worship and devotion?
In Part 2 of this article, I will identify three core essentials that I believe will help parishes answer this question.
Robert D. Habiger, AIA, ACLS is an architect and liturgical design consultants with Dekker/Perich/Sabatini in Albuquerque, New Mexico USA.
Photo provided by Robert D. Habiger.
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