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April 16, 2020

Lessons from livestreaming: A watcher’s view

Lessons from livestreaming: A watcher’s view

Over the weekend I watched around 10 different services being livestreamed from all kinds of places: Saint Peter’s in Rome, the Pope in his small Chapel, an Anglican Church here in Portland and a Presbyterian Church in Ohio, I think it was.

Providers of this kind of programming probably have several things in mind:

  • Keeping contact with members and keeping members in touch with the parish, including in touch with the building
  • Supporting people in time of fear
  • Asking for help to keep the parish afloat financially
  • Keeping the rhythm of prayer and worship that is so important in people’s lives. Cardinal Timothy Dolan in New York observed that he was hearing that people are indeed missing the experience of going to church

As a consumer of livestream liturgy, I had a couple of observations based on how these various celebrations helped me to pray and to be in touch with the parish. Below is a list of things I have concluded from watching live-streamed Masses.

Where and how

  • Celebrating in the normal space for Sunday liturgy can remind people that their absence is keenly felt, but I find that the sound quality from the echo of a large empty space is not conducive to prayer.
  • Wherever you celebrate, be sure to use liturgical books and to honor the altar, even if it is a portable or temporary altar. Also try to ensure that the liturgical season is taken into account — more than just the color of the priest’s vestments.
  • Wherever you celebrate, test the technology ahead of time and, if possible, have more than one camera angle. A two-camera broadcast makes a big difference. When someone is reading focus on the reader, as this is part of the experience of the Word of God.
  • Be sure that the faithful have been given instruction on how to find your livestream event.
  • In preparing the liturgy, be sure that if this is the only livestreaming you are doing, you take into account the various language groups in your parish.
  • The prayers and readings should be rehearsed — out loud — at least a couple of times before the celebration. Tripping over words is more evident in a recording. This applies especially to the intercessions.

And so, we begin

  • The priest should introduce himself at the beginning of Mass, as there will be people who stumble across your livestream.
  • The introduction to the celebration and preaching should take address the unusual circumstances and remind the faithful that their prayer links them to the whole world in its suffering. It is important to let people know that they are missed, but that they are also still in communion and welcome at the celebration. It is appropriate to mention what the pastoral staff and those present at the liturgy are doing to keep themselves healthy.
  • At the same time, this is a liturgy, and the form and structure should be respected. Avoid the use of asides or breaks in the action. Let the liturgy be live.

The celebration itself

  • The silences called for during Mass need to be a bit longer than usual. While things settle down quickly in the place where the celebration is occurring, it will take time for people at home to appreciate the power of silent prayer. Give them that time.
  • The responses need to be spoken into a microphone. Yes, people have been going to church for a lifetime, but without the strong support of the spoken and sung responses, people will remain silent. At the same time, when the Psalm is led, the other microphones should be silenced, as other voices can make it difficult for people to understand the response.
  • The volume of the presidential prayers, especially if the liturgy is being celebrated in a smaller space, should communicate the intimacy of the setting.
  • Eye Contact. More than at normal Sunday celebrations, the priest, the deacon and the lectors are not speaking to a book. Because of the nature of a broadcast, the faithful will be seeing the faces of the ministers up close. The ministers who are praying and reading are literally face to face with the individuals watching at home.
  • Music is very important in these celebrations. This is probably not the time to introduce a lot of new music. Use melodies and texts with which the community is familiar. This applies with special force to the Acclamations in the Eucharistic Prayer. One exception would be to have a song for healing that would be used on a weekly basis until we are reunited at the altar.

Prayers and Readings

  • Do not automatically use the shortest readings and Eucharistic Prayer II. Do not shorten the homily or the Prayers of the Faithful. The pastoral situation may lead to that conclusion, but don’t start there.
  • It is appropriate to pray for those who are sick from the virus, for health care workers and for the scientists and researchers who are working to find a cure.
  • This is an opportunity to allow the faithful to see the Preparation of the Altar and Gifts more closely than normal. Take advantage of this opportunity. The same applies to the manual actions during the Eucharistic Prayer.
  • Leave some time at the Sign of Peace — the Pope has wisely indicated that the Sign of Peace should be omitted from Mass at this time. It may not be happening where you are broadcasting, but it may be a moment of special interaction among family members.
  • The invitation to Communion and the Communion of the Priest are very important and should be done with additional deliberation: take your time. Remember that this would normally be a good 10 or more minutes of your people’s Eucharist. Allowing only 60 seconds or less is not helpful.
  • The “Act of Spiritual Communion” is a good prayer to recite after the priest and those few who are present have received Communion.


  • It is appropriate to thank those who made the broadcast possible.
  • It is appropriate to mention the need for financial support for the parish. Additionally, thank those who can make contributions since so many are without work.

I am sure there are many more things we could discuss, but I hope this gives you a few things to think about as we continue our real-time learning curve with livestreamed liturgy. I am so grateful for all the parishes and people who are making this possible. I can’t wait to see what you all do during the Easter season!

Dr. Glenn CJ Byer
Dr. Glenn CJ Byer

Dr. Glenn CJ Byer has written widely on the liturgy, including articles on the meaning of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, marriage preparation, the renovation of churches and the Anointing of the Sick. He also speaks widely on the role of lay ministers in the Mass.