Pre-recorded Masses

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Pre-recorded Masses

ROME, 26 MAY 2009 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university. Q: I am a priest and have been wondering for some time about the validity/liceity of Masses I've celebrated for my diocesan television station. I celebrated specific Masses, including Christmas and Divine Mercy Sunday, well in advance of the actual dates. I believe these are valid, but are they licit? — J.R., Queens borough, New York

A: We dealt fairly amply with the question of televised masses and related questions in our columns of Jan. 18 and Feb. 1, 2005.

In this column, while illustrating the different norms issued by the U.S. bishops' conference we touched on the question of pre-recorded Masses:

"The least satisfactory solution, to be avoided if possible, is the pre-recorded telecast. "Viewers must be informed that it is pre-recorded and has certain limitations such as having been celebrated outside the liturgical day or season. The guidelines give as an example the 'taping of "Christmas morning Mass" on Monday of the fourth week of Advent.'

"Other disadvantages are that the Mass usually must take place in a studio and not in a community that regularly gathers for worship. Editing may include inappropriate special effects, or shorten some elements which are not convenient for worship. Editing may even make the priest and ministers appear to be actors. "However, if no alternative is available, this Mass should be taped on the closest possible date to the day of transmission and only one liturgy may be taped with the same group on any one day. "Also, the full liturgy should be recorded and editors should not eliminate any elements of the Mass (the Gloria or a reading) due to time constraints."

With this in mind we can say that if these norms are respected, then the pre-recorded Mass is both valid and licit, albeit it is not the ideal situation.

The complete guidelines can be found online at the U.S. bishops' conference Web site:

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Follow-up: Pre-recorded Masses [6-9-2009]

After our brief comments on pre-recorded Masses (see May 26), an English reader remarked:

"Initially I was not very happy with televised Masses, whether live or pre-recorded, seeing them as 'second best,' perhaps 'slightly unreal' poor substitutes — until I was temporarily not well enough to attend Mass. Then I appreciated televised Masses more than I can say, and they must be an even greater spiritual lifeline to those who are rarely or never able to go out to Mass. Surely it is what is in the hearts of both the celebrant and the viewers/listeners at the respective times of the celebration that matters. And who knows what messages may reach the casual viewer/listener who may not be practicing, or not even Christian? Offhand I cannot recall seeing any education/sensitizing [regarding] the value of watching TV Masses; maybe there is room for work there. I write from England where, as far as I know, recordings always take place in churches with a genuine congregation present, thus retaining the feeling of the support of a congregation."

Our reader is correct as to the possible widespread benefits of televised Masses. We did not address this point as the question revolved around the optimal means of televising, not the fact of broadcasting as such. Although there is no real substitute for an actual celebration, as our reader said, a televised Mass is a spiritual blessing for those unable to attend. And it can even be a means of evangelization.

In a related question a hospital chaplain asked: "I celebrate Mass in the hospital chapel and the Mass is televised on the hospital's closed-circuit TV system for the benefit of patients who cannot come down to Mass. Usually these Masses have a congregation, but sometimes, especially on Sundays, there are no congregants. My practice when no one is attending the Mass in the chapel is to repeat the people's responses for the benefit of those watching the Mass on TV from their rooms. Since this is essentially a private Mass that is being televised, is it permissible to repeat the people's parts?"

I would say that if possible, it would be best to attempt to ensure the presence of at least one person, perhaps a hospital volunteer, who could give the responses — and this especially on a Sunday.

However, if this is not possible, then I think the special situation justifies the chaplain's practice of saying the responses so as to help those who will be following the Mass from the wards.

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