Liturgy Lines: Ministry of Photographer?

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.



    1. @Chuck Middendorf:
      “First Eucharist” makes it sound like it is the First Mass of a priest or the first time that kids are going to Mass, not the first time that they are receiving Holy Communion. Semantics.

      1. @John Kohanski:
        I don’t see where I said “First Eucharist”.

        Back to the topic of photography.
        I do disagree a bit with Elizabeth’s article. I have always encouraged families to take as many photos/videos as they’d like of baptisms (of course noting it’s not a job for parents or godparents). For a once in a lifetime event, I would want the child to have as many witnesses to the day as possible.

        However, I absolutely would forbid all types of photography at First Communion, except during the opening and closing processions. In the days of selfies and cell phones, 7 year old boys and girls can find a cameras anywhere, and I wouldn’t want them to focus on a camera, versus the reception of communion. Plus, unlike baptism, it’s a repeatable event. When explained to parents, they would always agree.

  1. One parish I served did hire photographers for the Spring’s Big Two. Every family was promised the “moment,” plus given an opportunity to acquire the large group pictures and family portraits. I think the parish footed the bill and provided everything to the parents gratis. I also think the photographer was carefully vetted. As the liturgist in charge, I admired her restraint, taste, and general unobstrusiveness. Families were pitched the notion that wouldn’t it be nice to have somebody do it for you. They bit.

  2. veni sancte spiritus […] in labore requies / in aestu temperies / in fletu solatium

    “Come Holy Spirit” […] “rest during labor / moderation of summer’s heat / in grief, empathy”

    As always, the Golden Sequence offers great insight. Holy Spirit, we pray, may your inestimable octave be restored to the Church. May we again sing this magnificent hymn for eight joyous days!

    Yes, I do find the author’s approach sensible, if only because the sacrament may be celebrated without much interruption. Yet, I do not at all agree with the author that photos are vehicles of catechism. Will the photo provide a place of refuge in the confusion of a person’s soul? Will the photo quell the fire of penitence, or provide more than a phony “I feel your pain”?

    No — as the sequence tells, the Holy Spirit provides the truth. We are to find him only when we turn inside towards a scouring introspection fueled by pentecostal flame.

    Instead of a catechism in an appreciation for and even welcoming of the cleansing passion of studied introspection, instead are given greeters, “turn to your neighbor”, photographic ministers, and congregational paces longer than “Alice’s Restaurant”.

    The reformation of the liturgy, the typography, did not fail us. We were failed when some conflated reformation with a supersubstantial hyperactive extroversion.

  3. As we face the prospect of emptying churches and the vital importance of evangelization, we should not underestimate the impact of taking and sharing photographs. If half of the parents of our 50 first communicants post pictures on Facebook, and each photo is viewed by 200 or more (possibly many more) people, that’s conservatively 5,000 people who make a positive association with our parish. Guidelines and limits are important, but let’s acknowledge the tremendous value of photography for organic evangelization.

    Any time I announce a rule or limitation about photography, I pair it with a positive message. “We ask that you do not take photographs or videos during today’s Mass, but after Mass you are welcome to stay as long as you like for photos.” I’ve even thought about asking people to check in on Facebook or add a hashtag connected to the day’s celebration, but we haven’t gotten that far yet.

    Attendance at our triduum services has been steadily rising over the past few years, which I attribute in part to our use of a professional photographer (parishioner who volunteers his services) to get great photos which we share widely in promoting these services. Having a photographer visibly present during the most sacred moments can be somewhat distracting, but if 1,000 people see the photos and are encouraged to attend next year it’s worth the minor inconvenience.

  4. Cameras have become so ubiquitous that I don’t think they are a major source of distraction anymore. Flash photography (which was distraction) is not used as much any more since modern cameras do quite well, if not better, in “available light” situations.

    We sometimes have a volunteer photographer for parish events and liturgies, but we haven’t yet considered the person to be a “minister.”

  5. Perhaps we Ozzies are a bit too subtle. I had no intention that the taking of photographs at baptisms, etc be promoted/listed/whatever as a liturgical ministry. Maybe I should have put the word ministry in quotation marks. But then again I have seen ‘coffee & donut ministry’ listed on some US parish websites!

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