Cameras at Mass can be a distraction

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | May 8, 2009

At one, each of the 11 children must have had 20 relatives who owned cameras and every one wanted to snap a shot. (Or two or three.)

The children joined the priest around the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer and so many camera flashes went off during the entire time that I had to close my eyes because they hurt. And I was at the back of church. It seemed a wonder that the priest could see the bread and wine at all with all those flash haloes in his eyes.

At the other parish, they announced at the start of Mass that they would not allow any photography, period. Even after Mass, the priest did not offer to stay in the sanctuary in his vestments so the children and their families could come up and get photos. (They did later take some in the back of church with Father.)

In the Green Bay Diocese, there are no written directives about photography at Mass. It is left to individual parishes and their priests and parish directors. Some will not allow any photos; some allow them all the time. Most priests are in the middle — not intially saying anything and hoping that people have the decorum to take photos sparingly, and at the proper moments.

One of those is certainly not during the Eucharistic Prayer. There is nothing more sacred to our faith than the moment that our Lord becomes present to us – body, soul and spirit — in the sacred species. Yes, it is definitely a family moment — because we are the family of God. But no, it is not a family “photo moment.”

Yes, some media do use still and video photography in churches. Compass photographers have taken shots, especially at special Masses, such as ordinations and episcopal installations — but they do not use flash. Most professional photographers own camera equipment that allows such “low light” photography. As Rick Evans, long-time Compass photographer, said, “Once Mass begins and things get solemn, you shouldn’t use a flash. And I will never shoot anything going on at the altar with flash; it doesn’t seem right.”

Flash photography creates distractions. It also brings a certain flavor to the moment that is more reminiscent of party events or casual outings, like a trip to the circus, than of the “source and summit of our faith.”

We all want to have those special moments captured for posterity. So parishes — just like all families — should provide photo opportunities for these once-in-a-lifetime events.

But there is also a time to put away the camera and join the community in worship. After all, that’s really why we’re there, isn’t it?

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