Pray Tell Poll: Projection Screens?

Which better promotes participation, a projection screen or a printed aid?

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30 comments

  1. A projected screen would have the repellent effect on my participation: I would flee a community that decided to use it without bothering to explain since it would be clear They Don’t Care Anyway. The last place on earth I need another looming glowing visual screen is in church – I would have to put that thing out of my misery. If a church leader is concerned about seeing the top of my head in church, she/he should be more concerned about the back of my head exiting church….

  2. I think the printed aid would be better for a few reasons. I like to have it before everything starts and prepare myself for songs or texts with which I may not be familiar. I also think the printed aid is easier to glance to and from depending upon where the ritual action may be taking place. In a sense, seeing should be as much a part of participation as speaking.

  3. While there is no perfect solution, here are a few thoughts:

    Printed material does not (a) reboot spontaneously, (b) require extra equipment (and ministers!) to function, and/or (c) stop functioning during a brown-out or power interruption. In addition, printed materials do not require large blank walls with uninterrupted sightlines for monitors / projectors (which can significantly alter the architectural aesthetics of the room themselves). Printed materials can be adjusted easily to suit multiple people’s eyesight and to counteract glare / viewing angle issues. Most importantly, if a hymnal malfunctions, it does not interrupt the participation of the whole congregation, whereas with an electronic approach, this could pose a significant concern depending on your equipment, utility company, age of the building, etc.

    The significant downside to printed materials is waste / recycling, especially if materials are printed each week (and/or if different hand-outs are used for different Mass times / services). While hymnals may amortize the cost over a longer period, they do not eliminate this issue, so one has to plan ahead for that expense. However, one would have to plan ahead for equipment maintenance and replacement as well.

    Honestly, I keep looking at the word “participation” and thinking “Participation in what?” Singing? Following the Readings? Following the liturgical action? Reading announcements / the parish calendar? Does “participation” occur homogenously in all circumstances? Is it monolithic?

    My $0.02.

    1. If I remember correctly, when visiting Poland in the late 1980s I was told that, under the Communist government, it was difficult for Catholic publishers to get paper needed to print new hymnals. Hence, the wide-spread practice of projecting hymn texts on screens.

  4. We know how this poll is going to turn out based on who typically reads this blog, but I think the honest responder would look carefully at Paul’s comments and realize they both have flaws, including ones not listed.

    I’d argue, for example, projection screens are better because people are looking up and out (not down); they work better during processions (people aren’t carrying books/worship aids); and the passive Jane-In-The-Pew who won’t pick up a hymnal would still see the words in front of them and maybe just might sing along.

    Also, I think the printed song-sheet/hymnal is a hallmark of mostly-Caucasian communities. African American and Latin Catholic communities were I’ve served don’t have the visceral reaction other communities have to projectors. Maybe these communities couldn’t afford weekly printing or even fancy bound hymnals. There is nothing passive in these communities. Zero.

    With that said, I voted for printed aid. But I’d gladly worship anywhere where 2 or 3 people are gathered in Christ’s name.

    1. @Chuck:

      Thanks for the cross-reference. I had more, but I didn’t want to drone on and get too far into the weeds.

      As your said, part of this will depend on the history of the congregation, its demographics and its background. Part may depend on the building / architecture and whether or not it’s feasible to use projection. All this relates to the nature of the word “participation”. I don’t think it equates to the same thing in all situations–it’s almost a loaded term.

      As someone with experience in the tech / IT sector, a lower-tech approach is often more reliable and stable if more manpower-intensive. Projection may have a “wow” factor that print lacks, but your hymnals are not prone to crash and delete themselves right before Mass begins.

  5. Wish I could smash the ‘no’ button a hundred times. Big, bright, backlit screens distract people in a way that paper worship aids and hymnal pages do not. This isn’t as much of a problem in Protestant praise & worship churches where there isn’t really a liturgical action to be distracted from. But in the context of the Mass, it’s simply too easy for the Holy Sacrifice to lose out on people’s attention to this sort of bright gimmicky technology, compared to a handheld worship aid/hymnal that one can easily put away and disregard if they don’t need them. Even in a “praise & worship” mass setting I’d say they’re completely unnecessary. We use worship booklets for such a mass at my parish and they get the job done. If anything I bet some of our dedicated congregants would go elsewhere if they had to bother with screens.

    If long term cost savings are a concern, I say just get a set of good hymnals, post the numbers on a board or in the bulletin and call it a day.

  6. Each has advantages, and print possibly more. I suspect that in another 20 years, barring the collapse of society into another dark age, futureiPads will be programmable by music directors and worshippers can select whatever font size they wish. I worshipped in Texas once at a parish that projected songs, and the difference from noses in the book was significant.

  7. I have been active in Australian parishes that have used projection screens since the 1990s, when they were fairly primitive beasts running off XT computers, but even then they were mostly reliable. Now they are cheap and efficient and barring blackouts work fine. At my current parish printed aids are provided for the few who require them, but otherwise screens are an unobtrusive part of the liturgical furniture, provide no impediment to participation, no cause for passivity and a lot of the negativity expressed above seems extremely strange to me. The arguments don’t appear to go beyond, “I like what I am used to.” The technology is not gimmicky, it’s almost quaint and old fashioned by now. It is stable, reliable and an accepted part of the world in which we worship.

    Of course either approach is better than a parish I attended during a recent visit to Ireland where there were no hymn books, nor printed materials, nor projected words, which at the very least is a breach of hospitality, and unsurprisingly there was zero participation in the singing from the assembly.

  8. Many of the negative comments here are likely from people who have never seen projection screens used in liturgy or have seen them used poorly. If they are modestly-sized (not dominating the visual plane), conservatively programmed (such as a black or other dark background with plain white text), and used accurately (no typos or mistakes in timing), I don’t see how they are any more distracting than 1000 people flipping through the pages of 1000 books.

    There are churches that use screens obtrusively: live-camera shots of the action, panning over the crowd, blazingly bright colors, funky animations. There are churches that use screens poorly: powerpoint slides with so many fonts, colors and clip art that it looks like a third-grader designed them. And there are churches that use screens quite effectively.

    I have heard about, and heard firsthand, pipe organs played terribly: too slow, too fast, too many wrong notes, too LOUD!!!!! Yet I wouldn’t conclude that all pipe organs must therefore be removed from churches.

  9. You think maybe we should ask the great number of young people who are bailing out of a church they increasingly think is out of it?

  10. I fondly recall a well executed projection screen at the Newman Center in Columbus, Ohio. This was actually before computer projection and slides were used to share song lyrics. The community sang with their heads up, seeing both one another and the words. The text on the screen was simple white on a black screen, over the choir.

    I believe projection can be done well, and when it is, the reward can be great. Heads held high, not bound to a hymnal, words that can be adjusted to local practice, flexibility to reconsider choices right up to the time of the service. They don’t have to be flashy, they can just work.

  11. Geoffrey, Scott, Jack, and Eric are correct.
    Projection provides clear advantages over worship aids, PROVIDED it is done appropriately and the configuration of the worship space can accommodate this option.
    Our parish’s already high level of participation in singing and speaking the parts appropriate to them has grown even more since we started using projection. At Christmas and Easter, we project more of the people’s spoken parts, and numerous visitors and infrequent-attendance parishioners have expressed appreciation for this.
    Plusses include broader and louder participation, easier shifting of focus to encompass both the liturgical action and the projection, no noise from rustling papers, and lower negative environmental impact.
    Negatives include about three or four times a year there is a five-minute scramble before Mass when a tech expert needs to assist a panicky projectionist (but never any of the real or apocryphal horror stories described above), and occasional limited visibility for people in one section of the church if they choose to sit or kneel rather than stand during the Communion procession.

  12. Another down side: people who are used to the projections may constantly be looking at the screens, even when there is nothing on them, perhaps waiting for the next item to pop up like they are afraid of missing something. People are people. They become more of a crutch than paper. Rather than memorize the prayers and responses, the people just read them off the screen, which may increase participation, but does it increase prayerfulness?
    And finally, they compete with the architecture and decoration of the church. No matter how discreet they are sold as, or that you hear how nicely they will blend in, they don’t. They distract rather than enhance. We live in a world full of screens blasting everything from our work, to entertainment, to information, to ordering our food, to who’s at the front door. Can we get a break in church at least?

  13. My experience is that screens work very well in transmitting words for people to sing. They are universal in their access and if they are placed properly where one does not have to turn to look at them, they enhance the participation.

    If used by someone who knows what they are doing, they are extremely effective. I wonder what future Catholic Churches will look like as architects design screen spaces into their walls.

    And please, increase the font size when you place words up there.

    1. And if you’re at that, use appropriate display fonts properly. And if you don’t know what that means, learn before implementing.

      (Times Roman should basically never be used except in things you don’t want people to enjoy reading.)

      You are quite welcome to enjoy my lawn, so long as you don’t misuse or abuse it.

  14. I do see a bit of irony that a discussion of projection technology was started the day after immense flat panel smart tv’s were on sale for a couple hundred dollars. That technology is more current, and possibly easier to incorporate into a worship environment.
    We replaced existing hymn boards at an English Gothic Revival church where I recently served with 50-inch flat panel monitors in a portrait orientation. These were approximately the same size as the old wooden hymn boards. We used a photograph of the stone wall of the church as the background on the monitors and tuned the screens’ color and brightness to blend with the surrounding wall so that the main visual when there were no words on the screens was the thin black bezel. The text on the screen was a serif font in black that faded gently in and out.
    There were a number of advantages to this arrangement.
    We were able to use larger hymn numbers that were easier to read throughout the church, since the number was only on the screen while the song was being sung. Also since we used two hymnals, it was easier to identify which one was being used.
    We were able to put up the words to the psalm response, as even lengthy responses could be fit on the screens.
    If there was a second collection we could post that as the congregation gathered, with a short description of what it was for.
    When the choir sang a Latin piece for preparation, the English translation could be posted while it was being sung.
    And it was all run by the cantor tapping an iPad mini.
    No flashing colors. No follow the bouncing ball.
    Of course it did depend on power. But then so did the lights, sound system and organ.
    Incorporating new technology into a worship space always takes sensitivity and has a learning curve. And it is always initially intrusive. Remember that the grand organs of Notre Dame de Chartres and Paris both cover magnificent pre-existing stained glass windows. But without a willingness to figure out how to incorporate new technology we wouldn’t have the stained glass windows to begin with.

  15. There is another component to this puzzle that I feel may be overlooked in the discussion about technology.

    In the vast majority of cases, a parish will need either trained volunteers or paid ministers to run the equipment during each Mass / service / event. These “projectionists” need to know not only how to use whatever slide program is selected, but also how to troubleshoot issues before, during, and/or after Mass. If the projection minister is absent or sick, then back-up personnel must be available on short notice to pick up the slack. Recruiting ministers who are willing to commit to this can be very difficult, as it includes all those times people don’t want to serve. Some would say, “Then get the kids to do it–they know the technology better than we do!” That may be true, but when sports schedules conflict with Mass or the family decides to travel on short notice or there’s just a “better offer” somewhere else… That’s not including folks who think “someone else will do it”, even when there isn’t anyone available, and therefore don’t find a sub. We are left with a ministry *that has now been rendered essential for Mass* and no ministers.

    A key part of participation is consistency and reliability. If your volunteers (or the technology or the environment etc.) are inconsistent or not reliable (or not available), then participation will be affected, no matter what the technology can provide.

    1. In my experience, the technology is getting easier and easier to use, as well as becoming less and less specialized. Operating a flat panel screen in various ways is becoming a common part of many people’s experience. So this should be less of a factor over time. In our case we were able to operate with existing paid liturgy staff who were already familiar with using iPads, so opening the Keynote app and tapping the screen to change slides was not much of a learning curve.

  16. I didn’t vote, because I don’t really see either one as a key to what I would call participation in the liturgy. I think both tend to cause the user to focus on the thing used; i.e., the screen or the print, and not necessarily the liturgy. I believe you have to be open to understanding the liturgy to truly participate. I wish there were a simple answer, but there isn’t.

  17. Do screens ‘fix’ a problem that doesn’t exist? Or, has there been a hue and cry against hymnals? I’m always the last to know so maybe there has!

    And: does trading having “noses buried in a hymnal” with “eyes fixed on a screen” really represent progress? It’s easy enough to simply lift the book a bit to be able to also maintain a wider view of the proceedings.

    I also wonder if those who don’t need worship aids will be annoyed at the ongoing and unnecessary flickering of screens demanding attention during worship.

    I’m a bit cranky because I look at far too many screens during the day as it is.

    1. Mass attendance and sacramental participation are rapidly declining, parishes and dioceses are hurtling toward bankruptcy, in many places non-denominational churches are growing steadily while the surrounding Catholic parishes are closed one by one. This is not merely a problem, it is a full-on crisis. I’m not suggesting that moving from books to screens will fix everything, but I think now is a perfect time to use the most effective means available to preach the Gospel and engage people in worship.

  18. Screens are all the rage here in Florida. Sometimes, I think we are trying to compete with the Evangelical Mega Church. We use them in my parish quite well. There is no advertising on them, just hymns, Scripture reference and any mass parts that are sung including dialogues. We use notes and words with everything sung. It’s a lot of work, but can be done effectively, especially in a building that was built with screens in mind. The downfall is using volunteers and scheduling them. Or a computer issure (very rare, but it happens). I never used them before I moved to Florida, but have grown to like them. I still think nothing beats a nice hardbound hymnal.

  19. If someone is very familiar with the order of Mass and needs only occasional reference to a hymn number, then hymnals and number boards work fine. But for the growing number of people in the pews who are not familiar with the ritual (candidates/catechumens, those who attend just a few times per year, non-Catholics, non-native English speakers, visitors not familiar with your particular pew book or books) it is quite difficult to follow the order of Mass in a hymnal. Begin with # 195, then turn to page 3, then page 4 or 5 or 6 depending on which penitential act is used, then to # 911 for the Gloria, then flip back and forth between page 8 and 156 for the readings, then to page 9 for the creed… later the Eucharistic Prayer begins on page 14 or 18 or 19 or 21 or 23 or 24…

    It’s fine if you are a cradle Catholic who confidently knows what comes next and what to say and do when. But if your parish is making an effort to attract and retain people who are on the margins of church membership, this is a problem in need of a solution. A detailed order of service in print is one solution, but IMO screens done well are a better solution.

  20. Scott, I hear you. I should have mentioned ‘detailed order of service in print’ along with hymnal. This is what our Church uses.

  21. Seems like we’re talking about a pretty wide range of ways screens might be used:
    1) Screens mainly used to replace hymn boards or printed aids that guide people to particular places in the hymnal
    2) Screens used to display lyrics to songs
    3) Screens used to display lyrics and music to songs
    4) Screens used to display all the people’s parts of the Mass, sung or spoken
    5) Screens that basically broadcast the entire Mass, showing shots of the altar, ambo, music group etc. (like Nativity here in Baltimore)

    For me, I have no objection at all to #1 and, in theory, I could easily live with #3 and #4 (not my aesthetic preference, but also not a ditch I’m willing to die in). I would strongly dislike #2, since I like having the music in front of me. I have experienced #5 on several occasions and find it profoundly alienating and would only frequent a church that did this if there were no other options for Sunday Eucharist.

    I remember back the the late 80s there were already doing #2 at the Paulist Center in Boston. I don’t know if this is still their practice.

  22. I work in a mid-century modern church to which a screen was added in the late 90s (it doesn’t look too out of place because of the design of the building). The screen has been used in various ways and within the past year we started projecting the words to the hymns as well as spoken responses. We still have hymnals in the pews for those who want them, and I have noticed an exponential increase in the quality of singing. People are singing out joyfully. Visitors, especially those who haven’t been inside a church for a while, if ever, have a easier time participating. Those who don’t need the words on the screen don’t use it, but it has definitely led to an increase in participation.

  23. Young (though less young as the years go by…) person here. Not all print nor all projectors are created equally or employed effectively. I cannot stand the pew materials that are printed on cheap paper and thrown out every year. It suggests a temporary, disposable Mass, which is not great imagery. The parish I most frequently attend just tossed them one last time in favor of hard cover books that will have paid for themselves in two and a half years. I’m interested to see how the congregation responds. I’m used to a personal Sunday Missal and perfectly content marking my pages, but I realize that’s more work for a crowd that already mostly sits there passively most of the liturgy.

    Projectors can be done well; they can run announcements before and after the liturgy, which saves on paper and clutter in the long run, and they can accommodate folks who have difficulty reading small print. I’m not big on using projectors exclusively for hymn lyrics; some folks can and will sing the harmonies, and they can’t do that if they don’t have the music in front of them. Also, just as some folks can’t see small print, others can’t read projector screens that well.

    In sum, both of these are tools that can potentially have a proper use to the greater glory of God, but they can also be used poorly and alienate. If I had to pick one or the other, I’d prefer a well made tangible object over an impersonal, intangible screen any day. It relates closely to that real things vs fake things debate in liturgy–oil lamps that look like candles, etc.

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