by Elizabeth Harrington. 

This article originally appeared at Liturgy Brisbane on May 4th, 2017.

At a recent parish liturgy committee meeting, several members commented negatively about the large number of family members and friends who take photographs at parish baptism celebrations. They are often intrusive, frequently distracting, and sometimes will even request a stop in proceedings for a photo-op.  This becomes particularly difficult when several children are being baptized at the one ceremony.

Banning photos during the celebration of baptism, confirmation and first communion would make the ceremonies run more smoothly and respectfully, but it is a negative response to a well-meaning desire on the part of families to record an event which is important to them.

Many of the families who come to the baptism of an infant seldom, if ever, have contact with the Church. We want to make them welcome and give them a good experience.  Our entire attitude during the parish preparation with the families as well as the liturgy itself should always geared to welcome and hospitality.

We began to realise that photographs might be a powerful teaching tool as well. We are selling ourselves short when the family just has shots of the child, cake and gifts afterwards, because this is not what the sacraments are really all about.  Instead, it would be good to have a set of photos which helps the family to understand the rite, so that they could look at the pictures and say things like: “This is the part where we marked his forehead with the cross; this is where we anoint her with oil; look at all the water the priest used – it was cold and he didn’t cry; this shows us being given the light of Christ to hold on her behalf…”, and so on. A set of photos like this could have an important catechetical function as they are shown and the story is retold.

This is when the brilliant idea came to us. Photos are now so easy to take and share.  Why not establish a new parish ministry of photographer?  The parish photographer would know where best to stand without being intrusive and would know how to capture some of the key moments of the rite.  The parish would then promise to e-mail the photos to the families in the following week or send them a CD as a gift from the parish.  The photos could be easily slotted into a document which provides a little commentary on the various parts of the liturgy.

The idea is different from the commercial photographer who takes a snap of every child being confirmed (rather like a graduation). This is more about welcome into a community of Christian love.  So what is potentially a negative situation – NO, you can’t take photos in the church – is turned into a positive moment of hospitality and evangelization.

It is too easy to frown at baptism paparazzi, noisy Christmas visitors, and others who do not seem to know the ‘rules’. It is much more constructive to smile and offer families a gift which might draw people into the life and mystery of the community of the Body of Christ.

“Liturgy Lines” are short 500-word essays on liturgical topics written by Elizabeth Harrington, Liturgy Brisbane’s education officer. They have been published every week in The Catholic Leader since 1999.

Copyright © 2017 Elizabeth Harrington, Archdiocese of Brisbane.

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