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March 31, 2021

Technology in the Liturgy


Technology in the Liturgy

 

The U.S. mail service has been notoriously slow the last few months. Starting with the pre-holiday rush in December, deliveries have been delayed by weeks in some cases. I received Christmas cards in late January. Another item that was late coming to me was the monthly devotional booklet that my wife and I use to practice lectio divina, or prayerful reflection on the Church’s Mass readings. Fortunately, around the time I was needing the new book, OCP had just published its Breaking Bread 2021 eMissal app.

Available in the Apple and Google app stores for $4.99, the app launched on Ash Wednesday and contains readings, prayers and music for the Sundays and holy days of the 2021 liturgical year. In the absence of my monthly book, I turned to the app, and there may be no turning back.

I love the convenience of tapping the app to access the readings and prayers for the upcoming Sunday Mass. As a family, we can prepare for Mass ahead of time by examining the readings, asking questions, diving deeper using a Bible and its notes and commentaries. The other advantage is that while I sometimes (okay, often) misplace or lose my book, that never happens with the app, since my phone is always with me.

But the thing I like most about the app is the music. There are other apps out there with the readings, but none, as far as I know, provides over 850 hymns, psalms, Mass parts and more. During the pandemic, we have been attending Mass via livestream, and one of our biggest frustrations has been not having the music in front of us, so that we can participate fully in the sung worship of the Church. This eMissal makes it easy for us to quickly find and select the songs used in the liturgy. Having the music allows us to sing. And isn’t that what God is calling all of us to? To worship not only with our minds, but also our bodies, our mouths and tongues. “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful!” (Psalm 149).

This time of pandemic has led to concerns about people losing their connection not only with the local parish community but also their very faith, and God himself. Our hope is that this app will make it easy for people to stay connected, through regular reflection on the Word of God, full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy, and through singing those beloved hymns and songs that make up our rich Catholic heritage.

Projection, screens and other technology

In October 2019, my family traveled to Anaheim, California to attend the Amazing Parish conference. While there, we decided to visit Christ Cathedral in the Diocese of Orange. Once known as Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral, this impressive glass structure had been painstakingly remodeled to accommodate Catholic worship.

We attended Mass there on a Saturday evening. Modern in design, the remodeled church is beautiful and authentically Catholic, with emphasis on the Eucharist and the other sacraments, the saints, and other pillars of our faith. The church was impressive and awe-inspiring in many ways. But perhaps the biggest surprise for us was this: there were no books in the pews. Instead the church has several large screens high up on the walls. They projected not only the words of assembly responses but also notated music for the hymns and other sung responses. The screens are easily seen from any part of the nave.

This was only the third time I had experienced screens and projection in a parish setting. From what I hear, it is becoming more common. Here in my local archdiocese, I am aware of only five parishes that have and use screens. Many new churches being built are incorporating them.

Of course, it’s a controversial topic. Some believe there is no place for screens in the sacred space of our churches. Others have embraced them as a practical means of giving the assembly what it needs to participate fully in the liturgy.

While musicians are allowed to use iPads and other tablet devices for music, those same devices are not allowed at the ambo or in the sanctuary, per USCCB restrictions. So, for instance, a cantor cannot proclaim the psalm holding a tablet device; nor can a priest say Mass from a tablet. For those actions, a book is required, and for good reasons.

Currently, projection and screens are not disallowed by the USCCB. Some bishops and priests/pastors have expressed concerns about them, while many others extol the advantages of these new technologies.

My personal experience is that it can be done well, and it can also be done poorly. When done well, the screens do not draw attention to themselves, per se, but only provide the content (prayers, responses, readings, song texts) the assembly needs, in a clear, readable, unobtrusive way. Otherwise, they blend into the background. When done poorly, the screens are ugly, hard to read, and distract from the sacred actions. Done well, they actually help us focus more directly.

Think about the difference between singing from a hymnal and singing from projections on a screen. When we sing from hymnals, our heads are down, our eyes on the page, reading the music. Musicians tell us that is not an ideal posture for singing (head down or at least bent forward), as it partially closes the throat. When we sing from screens, our heads are upright, and our eyes are directed forward, yes to the screen, but if it is well positioned, then our eyes may also more easily focus on things like the sanctuary, the crucifix, and especially the priest and the altar, where primary ritual action takes place. Proponents point to this aspect in their defense of screens.

My wife hates screens, no matter how well done. That is true for many. I myself am more neutral; it doesn’t bother me when done well, otherwise I too prefer a good book in my hand. Some argue that books themselves were a disruptive new technology that people struggled to accept and get used to at one time. As faithful Catholics, we are certainly people of the book. Books play an important role in our prayer and worship, and always will, I believe.

Musicians have taken advantage of digital tools for some time now, even before churches began using screens. I finally experienced my first professional recital (it was a chamber music concert) in which the musicians used tablet devices for their musical scores rather than physical sheet music. That was two summers ago. I remember being shocked, initially. To turn pages, they used a small foot pedal. They seemed completely at ease with it all. One advantage is that the device is backlit; it makes the music easy to read in the dim lighting of a concert hall or orchestra pit. No clip-on music stand lights required.

Many church musicians have adopted tablets for their ministries. Instead of lugging around two or more enormous binders with thousands of pages of music, it’s all loaded into their tablet. There are other advantages. If there are last minute changes to a liturgy (e.g., “Father said we are doing a sprinkling rite this morning. Quick, do you have a good setting for that?”), those with tablets can easily find one. The musician who took sheets out of the accompaniment binder, and gathered all the music needed for today’s liturgy into a smaller binder, now needs to go back to the large binders to fine one. And sometimes music doesn’t get put back in those binders, after being removed. When using a tablet, the music is always there.

Those who use online liturgy preparation tools like Liturgy.com and Breaking Bread Digital Music Library celebrate the hours they saved typically spent at a photocopier, not to mention the ink and paper, and the time spent delivering the music to musicians. Liturgy planners can be emailed to a whole ministry team with the touch a button, parts can then be downloaded to tablets, along with recordings to aid in learning and rehearsal, and more. The advantages are hard to argue against.

As a publisher that has been around for 100 years, OCP is fully committed to offering hymnals, missals and other printed resources in support of those musicians and parishes that prefer the physical format. We are fully committed, also, to offering online and digital resources to those who prefer that format. That’s our mission and our purpose: serving the evolving needs of the Church. Wherever people gather to worship Christ, we hope to be there, providing the music to sing his praises.

To learn more about the licensing required to stream and project music at Mass, visit onelicense.net.

Wade Wisler

Wade Wisler currently serves as the Publisher and CEO of OCP. During his 20+ years at OCP, he has held the roles of Copywriter, Worship Publications Manager and Director of Music Development and Outreach, among others. Wade’s background as a musician and a Spanish speaker have been essential in virtually every one of these roles, and his devotion to the Catholic Church is evident in all aspects of his life.