Do we need a digital projector at Mass?
...I would argue that the only place an image may be appropriate would be the first slide, seen before Mass. This may remind the assembly of the season and perhaps indicate what is to come in the Gospel...
Data or digital projectors are now a common tool of liturgy, but have we become overly reliant on them? This is old technology: the first ones appeared in Australian Churches over two decades ago. They were the size of a small car and just about as expensive (I may be exaggerating here, but you get my point). Over the years, as data projectors became smaller and cheaper, many parishes did away with hymnals, choosing to project lyrics to a screen behind or to the side of the sanctuary.
The issue with images
With this evolution has come the creeping need to add graphics, images, texts, animations and any amount of whiz-bangery to enhance what may appear to be at first-try a bland presentation. What appears bland in the parish office though, can be appropriate when seen in the context of the rich imagery of the Mass.
I would argue that the only place an image may be appropriate would be the first slide, seen before Mass. This may remind the assembly of the season and perhaps indicate what is to come in the Gospel. Any other image is distracting and implies that the Mass is not enough. Does the assembly need a large picture of a lamb during the parable of the Lost Shepherd or is the Gospel enough? Do we need a picture of a gigantic host (shudder) as we celebrate the Eucharistic Prayer or is our attention directed to the altar? Do we actually need all the illustrations or are they just distractions from the real, important work taking place right in front of us?
While the General Instruction of the Roman Missal is silent on the issue of technology, the entire first chapter is dedicated to the dignity of the Eucharistic celebration. The signs, symbols, imagery...everything we use must be appropriate, well considered and assist the faithful in fully and actively participating in the celebration.
Words, words, words
We have had some significant changes to how we respond in Mass with the introduction of the new Roman Missal. This was in 2011, six years ago. I hear all the time the lament, 'I still don't know the responses'. I wonder if this is because we are reliant on seeing the words on the big screen. Is it time to learn our responses, to internalise them? Several parishes put everything up on the big screen, including 'Liturgy of the Word' and 'Eucharistic Prayer'. What does this presume about those gathered? The assembly does not need a visual liturgical road-map.
We could also consider dialing back some of the people's responses on the screen. Do we still need a reminder for 'and with your Spirit' on the screen? Do we need, 'Lord hear our prayer' for that matter? Could we omit some of the responses from commonly used mass settings as well? (Can I get an 'Amen' anyone?)
It is a difficult balance though. I have lectured Religious Education teachers in liturgy, and one of the 'beginners' rules' I always promote is a disposition of welcome and evangelisation. We need to make people feel included, even if they don't come to church regularly. A way of doing this is to ensure everyone can participate fully and actively by knowing how to respond and move. Rather than putting all the responses on the screen though, parishes could consider handing out response cards with the newsletter to those who ask for them. We are never going to learn the 'new' responses each week if we keep on reading them. We need to work on building our collective capacity. It is well and truly time to take the 'training-wheels' off!
Do we really need 'em?
There are benefits to having a data projector in your worship space. Screens assist us with reflecting our liturgical season simply and cheaply. You can play the Archbishop's 'letter' during appeals and other films at appropriate times. A projector allows a community to not be wedded to any one hymnal (although printing lyrics in newsletters can similarly 'free' communities from a single publisher's repertoire).
Some parishes though are beginning to remove their digital projectors, believing that the sign and symbol of liturgy is diminished by having the technology. Not having a digital projector is also a simple solution to the difficult question of 'can I play a slide show at our wedding/funeral/baptism?'!
If you use a digital projector in your parish, I invite you to audit yourself next time you celebrate a liturgy. How often does your attention wander to the screen? Why is your attention drawn there? Is it distracting? If your attention is drawn away from the tables of the Eucharist and the Word, if it is drawn away from the assembly, is it appropriate?
The term 'liturgy' comes from the ancient Greek word, 'leitourgia' meaning 'work of the people'. Liturgy should not be reduced to an exercise in reading. It must be the authentic work of the people: participating in the fullest sense, together - hearing, eating, drinking, greeting. Someone I admire has been known to say, 'the best seating arrangement for a screen is often the worst arrangement liturgy!'
James Robinson, Education Officer, Liturgy Brisbane
The Australian Catholic Bishops document for planning of new Churches 'And When Churches are to be Built...' reference the provision of digital projectors in new churches. See #242, #696-698.