Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Saw It on the Big Screen...

I like books.  It is an almost sinful affection.  I like the way they feel in the hand, the sound of the page turning, the aged golden color of the page, the sheer weight of a book, the straight forward appearance of the type style (chosen for legibility more than for style), for the fact that a book is where you place on your shelf, that you can jot something in the margin, that when you are done with it you may pass it on, that others have passed on their books to you (complete with notes in the margin and signatures on the inside front cover...  I like books.  I don't think they will ever go away.  I might be among the minority in that opinion.

It seems that Joe Carter over at First Things has found a Roman Catholic Priest who is not so sure books belong in Church. 

Monsignor Donald Sakano, of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in Little Italy … has long since stopped feeling embarrassed when people ask him tricky theological questions and he has to Google the answers. “Before, I would just have to look smart and try to respond to them,” he says. Now he never gets it wrong. Sakano sees tremendous potential in the Catholic Church’s embrace of the digital. He is currently working on a project to outfit Old St. Pat’s sanctuary with flat-panel monitors in a way that won’t disrupt the vertical sight lines of the Gothic design. “Ideally,” he told me, “we’d have tiny screens on the back of the pews, like at the Metropolitan opera. Can you imagine? We’d be able to send parishioners personalized messages.” He wonders if a digital offertory could be incorporated into the mass somehow, so that the moment of giving would be preserved, but people wouldn’t have to carry cash. And he thinks that digitizing all the books in the church would help with the clutter problem: the Catholic Church is currently making changes to the mass (a version “more faithful to the original Latin” goes into effect on November 27th), he told me, and new books and hymnals have been pouring in. Wouldn’t it be better without “these big, fat books?”

Fr. Sakano, the answer is NO!  And it is not because I am old, curmudgeonly, or opinionated.  It is because there is an essential difference between books and information we obtain from the screens of this world.  Now, don't get me wrong, I love the internet.  But the nature of the information there and the way we obtain it suggests to us not permanence but change.  It is an entirely different sense for books.  They suggest permanence even when their information has long since become antiquated or untrue.  I think the Mass (Divine Service, Eucharistic liturgy, etc.) belongs in books with the hymns of old  because of the way we see the book and the way we see things on the screen.  Everything being equal, the very thing we want to impart in the communication of the unchanging Word in the unchanging Feast is permanence and transcendence.  These are the very things that screens agitate against in our senses.  They remind us of the changing nature of everything around us and so they may be apt communicators of the world and its chances and changes but they are poor communicators of the unchanging Christ and the means of grace in which we encounter Him who was, who is, and who is to come.

Call me foolish or old fashioned, but when it comes to matters of teaching the faith, Scripture, and worship, lets keep the books.


Terry Maher said...

Something to be note here, apart from the digital issue, is that the RCC does not have hymnals as we do, and we do not have missals as the RCC does.

The RCC itself does not publish anything like LSB -- where orders of service and a section of hymns are from the church itself. It publishes an ordo, and translations thereof, and such music as it contains will be chant for parts of the ordo. There is no Catholic hymnal; the "hymnals" one finds are from independent publishers, not in relation to the RCC as CPH is to us. A national episcopal conference may indeed give approval, but it is not a "hymnal" from the RCC as a whole.

Which reflects that hymns are not part of the Mass. They may be sung at Mass, but they are not part of the ordo. We do not have missals.

I think these significant differences also make a difference in how a digital version plays out in the pews.

And, FWIW, we have LSB in the pews, but nobody uses them -- they go either from the hand-out or the screen.

Segfault Reloaded said...

It is more disturbing that Fr. Sakano believes that what he finds on the Internet is correct. When I read material on the Internet that relates to my own area of expertise, it is almost always wrong, sometimes seriously wrong.

IBM did some experiments at the end of the last century that proved that it is easier to read paper documents than to read them on a high quality color monitor.

Terry Maher said...

Everything you read in a book is correct? Nobody ever published a book with bogus stuff in it? A document is no more or less in need of scrutiny because of how it is published.

Erik Maldre said...

I think you're taking Pastor Peter's point in a different direction with your comment about publishing bogus stuff in books. The advantage that a printed book has over an e-book in a church service is in the nature of editing. Uploading an ebook on a screen involves minimal cost and effort. Changing a printed book involves a great deal more labor and cost. Thus there's a more permanent sense to printed books.

Thanks for your insight into hymnals in the RCC, Terry. I makes me all the more thankful being blessed with CPH!

Joanne said...

CPH's Lutheran service software is allowing us to present the whole service, in order, in a printout that is handed out to the congregation as the bulletin. The order, the liturgy, the hymns, the prayers, the scripture readings, the psalms, etc. This has obviated the need to jump from page to page in a service book or from book to book to handouts during the service. This greatly simplifies the following of the service by the congregation and visitors.

We were excited by the posibilities until we realized that if we printed out all that we wanted in the bulletin handout, that it took too many sheets of paper. Hymns with the music bars takes up way too much paper-space. We were disappointed and began learning ways to economise on what we printed out from Lutheran Service Builder (LSB).

Imagine, as I can without 2 seconds of thought, passing out prepared Ipads, as we used to handout hymnals and as we would handout paper-based bulletins to parishioners as they enter the church for the service. Digital display of the LSB in a digital bulletin should allow us to display all that we can do in LSB to each service attendee, in great detail, if desired, without the limiting issue of using too much paper.

I am opposed to putting up large screens in the church or at places of worship because these become fore-ground by their size and placement up front where many can see them. The function of providing service aides should be kept as visually auxilliary as possible and referring to a large, communally used screen in the service is an innovation of function just like watching a broadcast of the service would be instead of participating in the service as a "real" thing.

And yet we have small, personal helps, aids like bulletins and hymnals, service books, that are digital and could be displayed for used in the hand. The function fullfiled is not innovative, though the small-scale electronic/digital display may be new.

And, I'm speaking of these aids in the context of using LSB in the context of using only master texts and master content in this digital/electronic way of bulletin/service book display.

I believe that costs of Ipad like displays of digital content will come down in costs comparable to the cost of printed on paper service books. Thus making practical
the common use of such hand-held electronic bulletin display.

I can even imagine a day when patrons attending a ball game and other such events, will purchase a cheap, throw-away Ipad-like game bulletin that will be either prepared, unchangeable content, or connected to wireless networks for constant update ability.

As to that issue of digital display being impermanent, remember the functional use in the church is as a one divine service aid. How permanent would you want that beyond having an archival copy as is done now with paper copies of the bulletin.

With electronic/digital publications one makes them temporary or permanent by policy. One makes them unchangeable or updateable by decision and by choice of technology. The electronic publishing software controls who, if anyone can update the content.

One last issue, that of multi-media capability of the Ipad-like bulletin display device. Yes, sound and video are possible and if you can imagine how you might use that in a service aid, bulletin function, it's there for you and for CPH's LSB to develop the Lutheran catholic appropriate ways to use it, i.e. multi-media bulletins in the context of confessionally sensitive worship services based on the synodical master electronic texts (service book, Bible translation, hymn music sounds, CPH digital art library, etc.

Just because it's electronic doesn't mean it must be impermanent and updateable. And, going from the physical limits of paper to electronic display options can be liberating, once one has become confident in one's ability to control and save electronic publications similarly to the way we control and save paper-based publications.

This is already TLDR, sorry.