Consider the scene. The Bishop has taken his place at the entrance to the sanctuary. He is prepared to confirm some twenty children. It is a sacred moment, a Sacrament is to be conferred. The parents are in deep prayer thanking the Holy Spirit who is about to confirm their children for mission….. Oops, they are not!
Actually, they are fumbling with their cell phone cameras. Some are scrambling up the side aisle to “get the shot.” Others are holding the “phone” up in the air to get the blurry, crooked shot. The tussling continues in the side aisle as parents muscle to get in place for “the shot.” If “the shot” is gotten, success! If not, “woe is me.” Never mind that a sacrament has actually been offered and received, the point was “the shot,” the “photo-op.”
Consider another scene. It is First Holy Communion. Again, the children are assembled. This time the parents have been informed that a single parishioner has been engaged to take shots and could they please refrain from amateur photography. This is to little avail, “Who does that deacon think he is telling me to refrain, denying me the shot!?” The cell phones still stick up in the air. Even worse, the parish photographer sends quick word via the altar server, “Could Father please slow down a bit in giving the children communion? It is difficult to get a good shot at the current (normal) pace.” After the Mass the photographer has two children along side, could Father perhaps “re-stage” the communion moment for these two since, in the quick (normal) pace of giving Communion, their shot was bad, as the autofocus was not able to keep up…”Look how blurry it is Father.”
It would seem the picture is the point.
Actually I would propose, it is NOT the point. Real life and actual experience are the point. Further, in the Liturgy, the worship and praise of God, the experience of his love, and attentiveness to his Word is the point. Cameras, more often than not, cause us to miss the point. We get the shot but miss the experience. Almost total loss if you ask me.
I wholeheartedly agree with the concerns of Msgr. Pope about the intrusion into the sacred moments of the liturgy by our presumption that technology always improves and does not detract from what is happening. In fact, we too often miss the whole thing because we are so concerned with the shot, with preserving the moment in time, or by our desire to have a Hollywood moment at this event in the life of the family. This often happens right in the context of Sunday morning -- when people flash away as if the Mass were a tourist destination. I cannot tell you how many times I have cautioned folks against missing the moment by trying to preserve it. It is a caution most often offered in vain.
I am even more troubled by the mostly funny videos of wedding disasters (who can forget the priest who drops the host down the front of the bride and then begins to reach into her cleavage to retrieve the errant host). What troubles me is not that these moments happen -- unfortunately they happen all the time -- but the perspective of the video camera means that someone was filming the event from right up close and personal -- the very place no videographer or photographer should have been!
I would only close with more words from this wise and pastoral priest:
A final reiteration: Remember the photo is not the moment. The moment is the moment and the experience is the experience. A photo is just a bunch of pixels, lots of 0’s and 1’s, recorded by a mindless machine and printed or displayed by a mindless machine. A picture is no substitute for the actual experience, the actual prayer, the actual worship that can and should take place at every sacred moment and it every sacred liturgy.