Taking photos in church: Cheapening the moment?

This is the only photo of my sister on the day of her First Holy Communion. I’m the one with the rosary around my neck because, hey, I wanted to wear something religious too. I appreciated my parents’ indulgence in letting me do so for this photo. What they did NOT do is take a photo in the church during the holy moment she received this precious Sacrament.

I guess we really never questioned that decision. Like most people my age (that photo was taken in 1968, so you can approximate my vintage), we don’t have photos of the moment of our reception of Sacraments like Baptism, First Eucharist, Confirmation. When you think of it, today we don’t take photos of First Penance, so why the hubbub to take photos of the reception of other Sacraments?

I appreciate Msgr. Charles Pope‘s recent blog piece examining this whole business of family members rushing to take photos of little James Matthew’s reception of the holy Host the moment it is placed on his tongue or Mary Katherine’s expression the moment the bishop slaps her on the cheek at her Confirmation. To make matters worse, you just know those photos are going to end up on Facebook or Twittered to the universe. Seems to kind of cheapen the moment, yes? no? And what should all those photographers really be doing instead of jockeying for position for the perfect shot?

Here’s a peek at Msgr. Pope’s thoughts on the subject:

Consider the scene. The Bishop has taken his place at the entrance to the sanctuary. He is prepared to confirm some twenty young people. It is a sacred moment; a Sacrament is to be conferred. The parents are in deep prayer thanking the Holy Spirit, who is about to confirm their children for their mission … oops, they’re not!

Actually, they are fumbling with their cell phone cameras. Some are scrambling up the side aisle to “get the shot.” Others are holding their phones up in the air to capture blurry, crooked shots. The tussling continues in the side aisle as parents muscle to get in place for “the shot.” If “the shot” is gotten—success! If not, “Woe is me!” Never mind that a Sacrament has actually been offered and received; the point was “the shot,” the “photo-op.”

Consider another scene. It is First Holy Communion. Again, the children are assembled.  This time the parents have been informed that a single parishioner has been engaged to take shots, and are asked if they would they please refrain from amateur photography. This is to little avail. “Who does that deacon think he is telling me to refrain, denying me the shot?” The cell phones still stick up in the air. Even worse, the parish photographer sends quick word via the altar server, “Could Father please slow down a bit in giving the children Communion? It is difficult to get a good shot at the current pace.” After the Mass, the photographer brings two children up with him; could Father perhaps “re-stage” the Communion moment for these two since, in the quick (normal) pace of giving Communion, their shots came out poorly.  “You see, the autofocus wasn’t able to keep up.  Look how blurry they are, Father.”

It would seem the picture is the point.

I have seen it with tourists as well. I live just up the street from the U.S. Capitol and it is fascinating to watch the tourists go by on the buses. Many of them are so busy taking a picture of the Capitol (a picture they could easily find in a book or on the Internet) that I wonder if they ever see the Capitol with their own eyes.

The picture is the point.

Actually, I would contend that it is NOT the point. Real life and actual experience are the point.Further, in the Liturgy, the worship and praise of God, the experience of His love, and attentiveness to His Word are the point. Cameras, more often than not, cause us to miss the point.

We get the shot but miss the experience.
Almost a total loss if you ask me.

At weddings in my parish, we speak to the congregation at the start and urge them to put away all cameras. We assure the worried crowd that John and Mary have engaged the services of a capable professional photographer who will be able to record the moment quite well. “What John and Mary could use most from you now are your prayers for them and your expressed gratitude to God, who is the author of this moment.” Yes, we assure them, now is the time for prayer, worship, and joyful awareness of what God is doing.

Most professional photographers are in fact professional and respectful and know how to stay background and not become a part of the ceremony but rather to record it discreetly. It is rare that I have trouble with them. Videographers still have a way to go as a group, but there are many who I would say are indeed professional.

Pastorally it would seem appropriate to accept that photos are important to people and to make reasonable accommodations for them. For major events  such as weddings, Confirmations, First Communions, and Easter Vigils, it seems right that we should insist that if photos are desired a professional be hired. This helps keep things discreet and permits family and others to experience the sacred moments more prayerfully. Infant Baptisms are a little more “homespun” and it would seem that the pastor should speak with family members about limiting the number of amateur photographers and be clear about where they should stand…

You are invited to read the rest here

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Categories: Blog for Catholic Apptitude

Author:Jennifer Kane

Content Evangelist, Jennifer Kane, is a secular Carmelite (OCDS), wife, mother, grandmother who worked for more than 30 years in marketing/communications which included 20 years in radio broadcasting including news director. She holds degrees in Journalism/Communication (BA) and English (MA) from St. Bonaventure University. In 2016 she authored the Vatican application for minor basilica status for The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Olean, New York. Pope Francis granted that title in 2017. Research on the basilica formed the basis of her history book, A Place Set Apart. She previously authored the book, A Worthy and Capable Clergyman, the second part of the history book in a slightly different format. She is founder and editor of the website, CatholicAPPtitude.org, the #1 English language website cataloging/reviewing Catholic apps for mobile devices.

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2 Comments on “Taking photos in church: Cheapening the moment?”

  1. July 9, 2014 at 11:02 pm #

    Photography during mass and public sacraments: my thoughts as a photographer. Please excuse the randomness of my thoughts.

    *Youth record and share their lives.

    *Evangelism, questions are asked about the photo recorded event by both believers and non believers. Discussion are deep and not usually about dress and food (give us more credit.)
    *My daughter was sharing her First Communion photos with a friend (years later as a fifteen year old.)The friend was baptized but had not been to Church since Baptism. The friend had concluded that God was nonexistent and if there was a God, he was vengeful and non forgiving. My daughter told her about Reconciliation. The friend decided to re-look at what it means to be Catholic. My daughter concluded that not having faith was profoundly sad; she could not imagine living like her friend with no loving God and no hope.

    *The Catholic Church needs to adjust to technology, it is here to stay. Even in schools, Elementary thru Post Grad; it is here to stay and there must be someone to say this is okay and guide them. How will the future (and technology is a huge part of the future) be guided for those faithful and those in need of faith? By saying,”No”? Can the future Church afford this line in the sand?

    I visited Asturias in Spain this summer in a remote village where the priest celebrates Sunday Mass in eight different villages every week. Guess what? The village was taking pictures throughout the mass and the Baptism. I saw as many as 15 cell phones and six cameras.

    *Pictures will be revisited over the years and the sacredness of the captured event will be looked by generations. The message being that we are a “Family” of faith. We have a history of being Catholic. Catholic, not as an institution, Catholic as Family and a heritage. Or ….. Catholicism to be shared and further (re)explored by ex or non-believers.
    (Remember, the rich, throughout the Catholic Church, have been painted in sacramental settings and as participants in holy events.)
    The ordinary people can now be a part of those pictures. The difference is that the pictures are capturing the reality and not some regal fantasy.

    We are building our own history, recording our daily lives, which includes an intimate link with our Faith, our personal history as a Catholic that is not separate but a part of all our daily lives.

    As a photographer, educator, and tech user, I do acknowledge this opens the Catholic Church to those who abuse by inappropriate social skills and inappropriate editing. But the Catholic Church should embrace the future and needs of those people who value their Faith enough include it as recorded part of their lives.

    Possible rules:
    No flash or sound should be permitted. Photos taken from your seat and not the aisle.

    Remember: *Records our history as participating Catholics.

    *Youth record and share their lives.

  2. July 10, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    @rodrig54, your your insights are valuable. Thank you for sharing them. I agree that guidelines for photographers should be in place. What do you think of only permitting one professional (and well versed) photographer to the liturgical/sacramental event?

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