Norms Issued by Bishop of Birmingham, USA

Authored By: Fr Richard E. Donohoe


Fr Richard E. Donohoe

Televised Masses require special care and attention

On 22 February 2000, feast of the Chair of Peter, Bishop David E. Foley of Birmingham in Alabama, USA, published Norms for Televising the Mass in the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama, norms which are intended to "preserve past accomplishments, and, with the grace of God, refine [them] for generations to come".

Basing the norms on those published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1996, Bishop Foley articulates "the requirements and principles for good liturgical celebration", while "recognizing the inherent demands and limitations of the television medium".

Quoting from the USCCB norms, he explains that 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". He emphasizes that televised Mass can 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" (cf. Inter mirifica, n. 14).

By its very nature, the medium of television inherently challenges the "full, conscious, and active participation" which is called for "by the very nature of the liturgy" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 14). Television in its current state of development cannot provide the opportunity for physical participation and human interaction which enables full, conscious and active participation.

The norms are also rooted in the Diocesan Bishop's 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, the ministers' fulfilling their proper roles in the celebration" (see SC, nn. 20 and 22; Inter mirifica, n. 20).

Consulted in writing the norms were Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile in Alabama and chairman of the USCCB Committee on the Liturgy, and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

The norms instruct producers of televised Masses to carefully observe the requirements of the Missale Romanum. Special attention should be given to the placement of ambo, altar and presidential chair. Gestures proper to the priest, to lay ministers and to the people must be maintained. Instructions regarding the procession with the Book of the Gospels and the number of readers optimum for proclaiming the readings are to be followed. Also specifically mentioned are requirements regarding the homily, the prayer of the faithful, the distribution of Holy Communion and the purification of sacred vessels.

With regard to use of the vernacular, the norms state "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", but the Eucharistic prayer, from the preface dialogue to the great amen, "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".

The norms direct that televised Masses will be celebrated with the priest celebrant facing the people (versus populum), which is the common practice in Dioceses in the United States. Bishop Foley states this will avoid "any confusion caused by a television Mass at variance with the practice of the diocesan bishop".

The norms address several issues unique to the technical demands of the television medium: the complex question of time constraints, ways to facilitate the participation of the faithful, care in the choice of liturgical music and restraint in the use of visual elements which distract from the essential action of the Mass.

Care must be taken, writes Bishop Foley, to include the beautiful and rich diversity of legitimate texts in televised Masses, so that "all may be nourished by the rich and beautiful treasures of the Missale Romanum…". The norms call for "the full use of the various options provided in the Order of the Mass [including] the Penitential Rite and the choice of Eucharistic Prayers, the Memorial Acclamation, the traditional use of incense and of the Blessing and Sprinkling of Holy Water". The norms also stress the importance of carefully observing the liturgical law in regard to the manner of reception of Holy Communion: "the choice of the communicant to receive 'on the tongue' or 'in the hand' is to be respected absolutely" (see Notifcazione sulla Comunione in mano [Prot. 720/85] n. 7).

The norms are of special importance for the Diocese of Birmingham (USA), since the Catholic television network, EWTN, broadcasts from there.

Fr Richard E. Donohoe

Secretary for Liturgy
Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
22 March 2000, page 5

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