What sort of policy do you have for photos in church during sacramental celebrations? I’m thinking particularly of First Communion celebrations, where a kind of liturgical anarchy seems to have invaded the church.
In the age of the ubiquitous mobile phone, everyone can be a photographer, recording images of an event to be cherished subsequently. But people do not always think about how they might be impacting the rite, other people, and, most of all, themselves.
All of us have seen celebrations whose character has been completely transformed by hordes of competing relatives (dads and uncles especially) who have swarmed all over the church, not only getting in the way of liturgical ministers but of each other, fighting for the best position. The atmosphere of the celebration has been derailed. Even if there is a parish ban on photographs, and an official photographer is present as the only one to record the “event”, the mobile phone has now transformed the playing field so that people are free to ignore any policy that might be in place.
From a ritual point of view, we now see phenomena such as, instead of holding the worship aid and singing the entrance song, everyone is holding up their phones taking pictures of their kids in the entrance procession. Of course, no one can see past the forest of phones…. And once your phone is out, the temptation to check your emails or your social media feed instead of being part of what is going on can be difficult to resist.
But it’s the actual distribution of Communion that causes me the most concern. How do you tell people truths that they may well not understand? That it’s impossible to “photograph” a sacrament, and that by attempting to record a “magic moment” they are actually depriving themselves of the opportunity to enter into that moment by being fully present to it. That taking a picture in effect “distances” you from what’s going on. You become a spectator instead of an integral “part” of the action.
Yes, you were there, but as a recording agent, not as a true participant. You’re on the outside, looking in. By trying to record the action, you significantly dilute the imprinting of the action in your mind and dilute its effect on you, so that it will be more difficult to recall and relive subsequently except by looking at the digital image. Your life will, in effect be changed, and not for the better.
I’m sure many parents would be mystified by all this because, for them, the sacrament is all about their offspring and not about a communal celebration of the presence of Christ in the midst of the community. It’s their children’s day, not the Church’s. They want to be able to replay the “event” for ever after, share it with their friends and online. The rite thereby becomes a spectacle. Symbols and symbolic action become objects for gawking at, not for entering into.
This is doubtless what Guardini had in mind when he questioned whether people today even have the capacity to take part in the liturgical act.
The same principles apply to photographs at baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, weddings of course, and this weekend, the Rite of Election. Let us hope that those who embark on the next stage of their Christian journey will not be too distracted by the demands of today’s technology and media.