How can televised (or internet-broadcast) liturgies best promote liturgical participation? This question came up in my Ritual Studies class at Notre Dame this summer. We thought about some of the dimensions of broadcast liturgies, and I’ll share those reflections here.
On the one hand, there are some pretty obvious drawbacks to broadcast liturgies: they are usually timed segments, which means that someone needs to be watching the clock to make sure they don’t end too late or too soon. This takes away from some of the timeless potential of celebration. “Participants” via broadcast may feel like mere spectators, especially if there is voice-over annotation of the liturgy or if viewers are watching while doing some other activity (eating popcorn in boxer shorts, for example). Even more obviously, if there is an embodied component of the liturgy such as communion (or the sharing of the peace), broadcast participants will be unable to engage in these parts of the liturgy. The restriction of liturgical space needed for effective video, too, may make it more difficult for people in the liturgical space to participate. More subtly, liturgical “beauty” may be reduced to film “aesthetics” — I would argue that they are distinct in some ways, although that might be a separate topic.
On the other hand, broadcast liturgies evidently reach a broader audience than is possible with in-person liturgical participants. This includes some who because of illness, distance, alienation, or work schedules, might not be able to attend the liturgy normally. Voice-over annotation might be a very helpful accessibility structure for some who find liturgy confusing or difficult, and might give an additional way of understanding and entering into the liturgy even for the very experienced. People who have experienced broadcast liturgies might then find it easier to fully participate in-person at other occasions. And of course there are some liturgies (such as papal masses) that comparatively few of us would experience without some kind of broadcast.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of broadcast liturgies, in your experience? How can they best be done?