ROME, 4 SEPT. 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: Are there guidelines for slide shows shown during the homily at Mass?
Are there guidelines for who (pastor/bishop) can authorize slide shows?
Are there guidelines for the music played during a slide show? Is it OK
to have a slide show and no homily? —
M.M., Howell, New Jersey
Q: Each year, in our archdiocese, on two Sundays the homily at all the
Masses is replaced by a recorded fund-raising appeal, one for the
archdiocesan annual appeal and one for Catholic Charities. The celebrant
does not give a separate homily. In the past it has been an audio
recording; one year it was to be a video. I am not at all opposed to
giving money to the archdiocesan appeal and Catholic Charities, but this
seems like an abuse of the rubrics for Mass. —
B.W., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
A: The most recent norms regarding the homily are found in the
instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum." Here are two key norms:
"[64.] The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of
Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself, 'should ordinarily be
given by the Priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a
concelebrating Priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a
Deacon, but never to a layperson. In particular cases and for a just
cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a Priest who is
present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate.'
"[67.] Particular care is to be taken so that the homily is firmly based
upon the mysteries of salvation, expounding the mysteries of the Faith
and the norms of Christian life from the biblical readings and
liturgical texts throughout the course of the liturgical year and
providing commentary on the texts of the Ordinary or the Proper of the
Mass, or of some other rite of the Church. It is clear that all
interpretations of Sacred Scripture are to be referred back to Christ
himself as the one upon whom the entire economy of salvation hinges,
though this should be done in light of the specific context of the
liturgical celebration. In the homily to be given, care is to be taken
so that the light of Christ may shine upon life's events. Even so, this
is to be done so as not to obscure the true and unadulterated word of
God: for instance, treating only of politics or profane subjects, or
drawing upon notions derived from contemporary pseudo-religious currents
as a source."
It is clear, therefore, that the priest or deacon who gives the homily
must be physically present. Thus, tapes or videos cannot replace the
Likewise the proper place for an appeal is preferably after the
post-Communion prayer, although in some cases a priest may effectively
tie in a direct appeal with the themes of the liturgy during the homily.
If a taped appeal is to be made, a priest may shorten his homily so as
not to prolong the Mass.
It could be argued that when the bishop himself makes the tape or video,
it is merely a modern version of a pastoral letter. These letters, which
the bishop addresses to the whole diocese as its pastor, usually deal
with matters of particular concern. Because of their importance they are
sometimes read out at Mass in place of the homily.
A case could be made for this argument, but I believe that when dealing
with regular annual appeals, and not some particular pastoral concern,
it is still better to place them at the end of Mass and not replace the
I am unaware of specific norms regarding the use of slide shows or
presentations. But the norms above would certainly exclude the
substitution of the homily by a presentation.
Another question is if they may be used as aids to the homily. The
question has been debated among pastoral liturgists and I find the
arguments against their use more convincing.
Images tend to remind people of television and thus they tend to induce
a passivity that distracts from the core message being transmitted by
Some would argue that "an image is worth a thousand words," but this is
a fallacy for whatever message is suggested by an image is understood in
words by our linguistic intelligence. We think and hear in words, and
nothing is understood without words. The spoken word is indispensable
for all interpersonal communication.
Faith, as St. Paul said, is transmitted above all by hearing —
which is one reason why preaching has always been privileged in Church
* * *
Follow-up: Slide Shows at Homilies
In response to our piece on slide shows during homilies (Sept. 4) a
reader from Evansville, Indiana, mentioned a case which went beyond a
presentation: "Once, our parish priest replaced the homily with a film.
As you noted that images may remind people of television, this action by
our priest reminded me of a movie theater. It was as if I were watching
a movie that did not interest me. While the lights in the church were
dimmed, I am sure others felt the same way and some of them may have
even taken a short nap in the darkness."
While the homily may not be the place for the use of such media as DVD's
and presentations, they can be most useful evangelization tools in other
contexts such as catechesis and the continual Christian formation of
adults. As another reader pointed out, such modern means are "easy to
use, pleasant to view, and draw wonderfully focused lessons and
applications. They are often prepared by religious sisters and are the
fruit of a lifetime of professional communication in the classroom."
If truly useful, it is even possible to use such means in the church, as
it is not always possible or practical to convoke the people at other
times or venues. For example, with adequate foresight the pastor could
invite the faithful to remain a few minutes after Mass to view a video
or presentation on some topic of pastoral or spiritual concern.