Norms for Televised Masses in the Birmingham Diocese

Author: Bishop David Foley

Norms for Televised Masses in the Birmingham Diocese

Bishop David Foley
Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama

God has greatly blessed the Diocese of Birmingham. Through the dedication and expertise of many people, the televising of the holy sacrifice of the Mass and other liturgical celebrations has borne much fruit not only within the boundaries of this diocese, but practically "to the ends of the earth." Grateful for the good things God has worked in our midst and conscious of my responsibility as bishop to safeguard and refine the work already so well begun, I now seek to promote this vital apostolate by the publication of norms for the televising of the Mass in the Diocese of Birmingham. It is my hope that these norms will help to preserve past accomplishments and, with the grace of God, refine it for generations to come.

The following norms are based upon guidelines for televising the liturgy which were approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 1996 and have been expanded to meet the needs of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama. They articulate the requirements and the principles for good liturgical celebration, while recognizing the inherent demands and limitations of the television medium. The guidelines support and affirm the ministry of all who are devoted to the production of televised Masses, who provide an important pastoral service to the sick and homebound of our parishes.

Why Televise the Mass?

The church at worship is God's priestly people called together and united with Christ in a sacred work through which God is glorified and we are made holy.1 In the eucharistic assembly, in the proclamation of the word and in the celebration of the sacraments, God is present in our midst. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy reminds us that "all who are made children of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his church, to take part in the sacrifice and to eat the Lord's Supper."2

However, being a part of the worshiping assembly is not always possible for all members of the community. Those who have been hospitalized, homebound or imprisoned do not have the opportunity to be physically present. For this reason, many dioceses telecast the Mass and other liturgies as a way of reaching out to those who cannot be physically present for the community's celebration of the Eucharist. The televised Mass is never a substitute for the church's pastoral care for the sick in the form of visits by parish priests, deacons or extraordinary ministers of holy communion, who share the Scriptures and bring holy communion, nor is it ever a substitute for the Sunday Mass celebrated within a parish community each week.

Televising the Mass is a ministry by which the church uses modern technology to bring the Lord's healing and comfort to those who cannot physically participate in the liturgical life of the local church and as a result often experience a sense of isolation from the parish and its regular forms of prayer and worship. In addition, televised liturgies can be an important means of evangelization, of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and promoting the church's worship via modern means of communication.3


The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy clearly articulated the primary importance of the faithful's "full, conscious and active participation," which is called for "by the very nature of the liturgy" and which is their "right and duty" by reason of their baptism.4 As members of the worshiping assembly, they are called to join the offering of themselves with the offering of Christ. Thus, participation in the Eucharist involves both internal and external expression including, but not limited to, an attitude of prayer and attention, physical movement, sentiments of praise and adoration, and joining in the sung and recited responses.

Telecasts, by their very nature, may attempt to connect people and places that are physically separated. While there may be a tendency for the medium of television, with its inherent lack of physical interaction, to lead people to more passive roles as spectators, some elements of telecasts can engage the viewers as participants. Although the televised Mass is not a substitute for participation in the actual celebration of the church's liturgy, it does provide an opportunity for those unable to be physically present (1) to hear the word of God, (2) to be moved to pray the saving sacrifice of Christ our Lord, and (3) to identify with a worshiping community and with the whole church.

A Word of Gratitude

All who work to provide the televising of the liturgy offer an important service, often under difficult conditions. It takes special skills and pastoral sensitivity to produce a televised celebration of the Mass that is liturgically appropriate, given the limits imposed by the medium itself. Every encouragement should be given to those who have been called to this apostolate.

Of particular note in the Diocese of Birmingham are those generous and self-sacrificing people associated with the good work of the Eternal Word Television Network. Mother Mary Angelica, PCPA, abbess of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, and all who collaborate with that community's many important pastoral initiatives are to be commended for having provided the Mass to many dioceses where local diocesan celebrations are not available.

Similarly, others are encouraged to engage themselves in this fruitful apostolate, always keeping in mind the importance of keeping the bishop informed of developments in this important work and seeking his counsel and approbation.

The Role of the Bishop

The bishop of a diocese in which a televised Mass is produced has the responsibility to see that liturgical law is carefully observed, especially regarding the liturgical feasts and seasons, the use of approved liturgical texts and translations of Scripture, proper vesture and the ministers' fulfilling their proper roles in the celebration.5

In the preparation of these norms I consulted with my brother bishops in whose dioceses the broadcasts of the Mass from Birmingham are received, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy and its secretariat; and the cardinal-prefect and officials of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. These norms are intended to apply to all broadcast or taped celebrations of the Mass which are produced in the Diocese of Birmingham, whether transmitted on an occasional or a regular basis.


1. In General

a. Arrangement of Liturgical Furnishings

The provision of furnishings for the celebration of Mass must be in complete accord with the requirements of the liturgical books. This is also true of the requirements for the altar, the ambo and the chair for the priest celebrant, use of which should neither be omitted nor duplicated. There is to be only one altar, one ambo and one chair for the priest celebrant.6

b. Orientation

All televised Masses will be celebrated in such a way that when the priest is standing at the altar he is facing the faithful (versus populum). This practice, currently observed in all but a relatively few parishes throughout the dioceses of the United States, has proved its pastoral effectiveness. Any confusion caused by a television Mass at variance with the practice of the diocesan bishop will thus be avoided.

c. Live vs. Prerecorded Celebrations

Whenever possible, the liturgy should be telecast live. When, for serious reasons, this is not possible, consideration may be given to prerecording the liturgy. A liturgy that is prerecorded for delayed telecast should be taped as it is celebrated in a local worshiping community and then be telecast at a later time on the same day. If the transmission is not simultaneous with the actual celebration, that fact should be made plain to the viewers.7 Only when neither of these options is possible should the liturgy be taped in advance in a setting other than that of a regularly scheduled liturgy celebrated by a local worshiping community. In order to reflect the integrity of the liturgical year, a prerecorded liturgy should be taped on a date as close as possible to the date of the actual telecast. In order to preserve the sacred character of the liturgical celebration, only one celebration of the Mass should be recorded on a given day with the same group of people.

d. Time Constraints

The celebration of the liturgy should not be rushed nor should elements of the liturgy be omitted. Those responsible for planning, production and for presiding at the celebration need to be sensitive to the requirements of the liturgy as well as the time constraints of television. For the integrity of the liturgy, those who produce a delayed television broadcast of the celebration should be strongly discouraged from editing out parts of the Mass (e.g., the Gloria, one of the readings) or introducing musical or other elements not present at the original celebration. Planning and the careful choice of options can help to keep the celebration within a particular time frame.

e. Participation

In human terms, no other single factor affects the liturgy as much as the attitude, style and bearing of the celebrant.8 Therefore, the priest who is to preside at a televised liturgy should be carefully chosen and should take pains to ensure that he is prepared for this special work. Since the liturgy is the work of Christ and the work of the church, the televised Mass should always be celebrated within a living community of God's people whose presence reveals the full, conscious and active participation of the faithful. Even when the liturgy to be televised is taped apart from a regularly scheduled liturgy, there should always be a group of people present who participate in the liturgy as fully as possible by their prayer, song and presence. Their participation must be considered as being of prime importance, a goal which may be achieved by seating the assembly in such a way as to foster a sense of community and by the choice of liturgical music which is easily sung and known to the faithful present.

f. Liturgical Music

Music is very important in televising liturgical celebrations. The televised Mass should normally include the sung acclamations, i.e., Alleluia, Holy, Holy, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen. If acclamations are to be sung in Latin, the text and/or the music should be available to the faithful so they might have an opportunity for full and active participation in the liturgy. Ideally, the responsorial psalm should also be sung. Other appropriate songs may be, sung in accordance with guidelines found in Music in Catholic Worship and Liturgical Music Today. Additional musical selections should correspond to their placement in the liturgy and not simply be used as occasions for performance. The use of prerecorded music, even to accompany the congregation's singing, is not appropriate for the liturgy.9

g. Legitimate Diversity

In order that all may be nourished by the rich and beautiful treasures of the Roman Missal, full use of the various options provided in the order of Mass should be utilized. This is particularly true of the penitential rite and the choice of eucharistic prayers, including the memorial acclamation. The traditional use of incense and of the blessing and sprinkling of holy water should be encouraged at least on occasion.

h. Visual Elements and the Privacy of Persons

As much as possible, the televised image should concentrate on the action of the rite. When the priest prays, the camera should show him praying. When the reader reads, the camera should show the reader reading. Extended shots of sacred images accompanied by the disembodied voice of the priest or the reader are to be avoided. The photographing of the faces of communicants as they ask for God's forgiveness in the penitential rite, receive holy communion or make their thanksgiving after holy communion is likewise inappropriate since it can infringe on their privacy at a highly personal moment of spiritual reflection.

2. The Order of Mass

a) Gestures

Only the gestures prescribed by the Roman Missal may be used at Mass. The introduction of extraneous gestures is to be strongly discouraged, especially given the importance assumed by televised Masses and public models for the celebration of the Eucharist. If the tabernacle is located in the sanctuary, the priest and ministers are to reverence the reposed sacrament with a genuflection at the beginning and the end of Mass and when they approach it to remove or reserve the reserved sacrament at communion. No other reverence of the reserved blessed sacrament is called for in the course of the Mass.10

b) Entrance Rites

The entrance procession, entrance song and introductory rites are to be followed precisely as they are described in the order of Mass. The Book of Gospels may be carried by the deacon or, in his absence, by the reader in the entrance procession.11 The Lectionary is never carried in procession.

c) Liturgy of the Word

Readings from sacred Scripture and the chants between the readings form the main part of the Liturgy of the Word. The homily, profession of faith and general intercessions or prayer of the faithful expand and complete this part of the Mass.12

—Only the approved Lectionary for Mass for use in the dioceses of the United States may be used for the proclamation of the scriptural readings. Whenever there are several readings, a different reader should preferably proclaim each reading so as to bring out more clearly the differences in the text.13

—Since the homily is an integral part of the liturgy and necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life, there should be a homily during a televised Mass. The homilist needs to be sensitive to the needs of the gathered assembly and of those who will be viewing the telecast. The homily should always be based on the scriptural or liturgical texts of the Mass and must not be preoccupied with nonliturgical and nonscriptural sectarian political subjects or other extraneous considerations.14 The character of the homily should be "a proclamation of God's wonderful works in the history of salvation, the mystery of Christ, ever made present and active within us, especially in the celebration of the liturgy."15

The requirements of the liturgical books regarding the Prayer of the Faithful are to be carefully followed.16 The priest should introduce the petitions and pray the closing prayer, while a deacon or a lay minister should offer the petitions themselves. The petitions should be short, universal in character and reflective of the broad needs of the church as laid down in the rubrics.17 The final prayer, after the petitions, is addressed to the Father. It should not be substituted with any prayer or petition otherwise directed.

d) Liturgy of the Eucharist

"At the Last Supper Christ instituted the sacrifice and paschal meal that make the sacrifice of the cross to be continuously present in the church, when the priest, representing Christ the Lord, carries out what the Lord did and handed over to his disciples to do in his memory."18

—The use of Latin in a predominantly English-language Mass is appropriate when the meaning of the Latin text in question is understood by participants. The Eucharistic Prayer should be in English throughout in order to assist the faithful in their understanding and to emphasize the unity of the prayer from the introductory dialogue through the doxology. If on some special occasion the Eucharistic Prayer is used in Latin, that language should be used throughout, and in any case the bishop should be consulted previously.
The faithful are to receive holy communion which has been consecrated during the same Mass at which they are participants.19

—In accord with liturgical law, the choice of the communicant to receive "on the tongue" or "in the hand" is to be respected absolutely.20 In the light of the faculties received by the conference of bishops, communicants are never to be obliged concerning the manner of reception of holy communion.

The purification of vessels should take place in a timely manner at the side of the altar or at a side table. Sacred vessels are never purified at the center of the altar.21

These norms are intended to apply to all Masses produced, televised or taped for later broadcast in the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama.

Given on the feast of the Chair of St. Peter the apostle, in the jubilee year of the birth of our Lord, Feb. 22, 2000.


1 Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7.

2 Ibid., 10.

3 Cf. Inter Mirifica, 14.

4 Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14.

5 See ibid., 20 and 22 and Inter Mirifica, 20.

6 See Lectionary for Mass, 16, 17, 33 and 34.

7 See Notitiae (1969), p. 406.

8 Music in Catholic Worship, 21.

9 Ibid., 54 and Liturgical Music Today, 60.

10 See General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 233.

11 See ibid., 128 and 82.

12 Ibid., 33.

13 Lectionary, 52.

14 Ibid., 24; Sacrosanctum Concilium, 35.2; General Instruction, 41.

15 Sacrosanctum Concilium, 35.

16 General Instruction, 45, 46, 47; Documents on the Liturgy, 239 Consilium, "The Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful," January 1965 1st ed.; April, 1966, 2nd ed.; Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, "General Intercessions," announced in BCL Newsletter, October 1979, in Thirty Years of Liturgical Renewal, ed. Frederick McManus, (USCC: Washington, DC, 1987), pp. 200-210.

17 General Instruction, 46.

18 Ibid., 48.

19 Ibid., 56h.; Eucharisticum Mysterium, 31, 32; Sacrosanctum Concilium, 55.

20 See Notificazione sulla comunione in mano (Prot. 720/85), 7.

21 General Instruction, 120.