Lex Photographi, Lex Orandi

By Bosco Peters

For an ordination to the priesthood, our NZ Prayer Book instructs assisting priests to, with the bishop, lay hands on the candidate.

Instead of this, at least three Anglican bishops in New Zealand have the assisting priests lay hands on the bishop instead.

The only explanation I have heard so far is that the way the Prayer Book instructs ends up with less attractive photographs – this way there are better sight lines to the candidate for photographs.

Clergy regularly share experiences of the requirements for good photographs affecting services. Weddings, especially, can feel like the setting for pretty photographs. I’ve had experiences of the photographer at a wedding leaping over altar rails. One time, I was addressing a couple and the congregation. I turned around to walk the couple up to the altar for the signing of the wedding register, and I crashed into the photographer. Unbeknown to me, he was behind me with his back to me ignoring the address and using the time to take photographs of the East window.

Pope Francis recently commented:

The priest says ‘lift up your hearts’. He does not say, ‘lift up your cell phones to take pictures.’ It makes me very sad when I celebrate Mass here in the piazza or in the basilica and I see so many cell phones held up. Not only by the faithful, but also by some priests and even bishops! The Mass is not a show.

Let me be clear about my own thoughts: I think it is fine to have a record (video, photographic) of a significant service. It is wonderful to use technology so that those not able to be there might participate via a live feed (eg. a funeral, a wedding,…). This can be done discretely, sensitively, with the primary focus on the worship, the sacraments, the service.

Increasingly, it seems to me, people are experiencing life in and through a screen, and an ever-decreasing size of screen at that. I was in a museum recently, and a man and a woman were going through the museum videoing everything. They were barely looking at anything but pausing at each display – one to record it on her phone (connected to an extra battery in her pocked), the other on a small video camera (he was looking at a screen a fraction of the size of a phone’s screen!) I have no idea what they think they will do with the hours of dizzying videos that they are producing. It is one of the images of hell: we will all be required to watch each person’s life at a continuous-shot, unedited take.

It has got to the point that people are calling for unplugged weddings:

We invite you to be fully present with us during our ceremony. Please turn off all cell phones and cameras and enjoy the moment with us.

Three further points:

I am strongly in favour of technology enhancing worship – I regularly encourage that. But I am strongly against technology governing worship. Worship and administering the sacraments is the goal – not the means of producing photographs for increasing likes!

There needs to be a canonical discussion: we recently changed our Church’s Constitution to allow bishops to authorise services. Regulars on this site will know that I thought flexibility in our Church is sufficient and I was opposed to the change. There is confusion now: if there already is a formulary (technical word for church-wide agreed rite), can a bishop authorise another service to achieve the same end (or can the bishop alter the agreed formulary)? I have been given opinions in both directions. Can a bishop decide to not use the ordinal as agreed? Not lay hands on the head of each candidate? Or, as in the cases described here, have the assisting priests lay hands on the bishop as opposed to the candidate as the ordinal (and Christian tradition) says?

Finally, having the assisting priests lay hands on the bishop, rather than the candidate, sends all the wrong signals. It reinforces a magic mentality of liturgy. It focuses on the bishop. It is super-clericalism. And it diminishes the sense that all of us are ordaining together – the sense that God is ordaining in response to all of us praying the prayer that is led by the bishop. Those taking the photographs – are they really praying at that moment? And the bishops altering the agreed rites in order that photos be taken at that most holy moment – are they equiping, building up, and empowering a worshiping people?

Reprinted with permission from the Liturgy Blog.


  1. I was once bodily pushed off the organ bench by a wedding photographer who then proceeded to climb on it for a better shot. I was actually playing when this happened! The choir men present, who noticed that my accompaniment of the choir had suddenly ceased, stopped singing, seized the photographer, frogmarched him down the stairs of the choir loft and ejected him unceremoniously out of the church door and into the street. We then started the piece again.

    It had already been a memorable wedding. Both choir and I were guesting at a strange church. Halfway through the opening hymn, one of the large front organ pipes came crashing down across the organ console just in front of my nose. Another few inches to one side and I would have ended up in hospital….

  2. Last summer I attended a wedding ceremony at St. Mark Coptic Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio. There were four video cameras, including two on “booms.” There were a couple professional photographers and just about everyone in the assembly had phone cameras. To me, it seemed to add to the raucous and celebratory nature of the event; and the chanting of the choir, rhythm instruments, finger cymbals, shouting, etc., seems enhanced by the unbridled enthusiasm including all of the picture/video taking. The technology did not seem to detract from the event, it seemed to be absorbed by it.

  3. I can recall a wedding over 30 years ago, when the newlyweds came back to the bridal family’s house after the wedding . . . to join the rest of the wedding party and family and close guests watch the video of the wedding. I had a hard time watching, in no small part because I was immediately aware of how watching the video was going to distort and displace my actual experience as the foundation for the memory that I would be building when I went to sleep later that night.

    Memorex is not the same as live. Respect your memory process.

  4. Actually, I wonder if this strange change may be inspired by the Orthodox rite for the consecration of bishops.

    That said, already some years back I noticed a development that is probably influenced by the demands of the media. Whereas in the Extraordinary Form (and a conservative approach to the Ordinary Form) a bishop is always closely surrounded by the assistant priest and deacons so that it can be difficult to see him, it became alaready common for papal Masses outside Rome in the 1980s to build a massive papal throne, far away from anyone else at the top of a stage, in order not to impede any sightlines. I am rather worried about the ecclesiology this implies.

  5. I take pictures professionally at many liturgical events and always manage to remain unseen and unheard. A pastor gave me the supreme compliment once: “I didn’t even know there was a photographer at my installation Mass, until I saw your beautiful photographs.” I bring two cameras, one with an 18-200 mm lens, the other with a 70-300 mm lens. I can take “intimate” close-ups from 30 yards away. Needless to say, I never use flash during a liturgy. I typically use ISO 2500 and some times 3200. Yes, unobtrusive photography during liturgy can be done.

  6. This setup seems rather odd. Most cathedrals I’ve been too (both Catholic and Protestant) have large enough sanctuaries that could easily accommodate a strategically placed photographer or two, even in the midst the small armies of servers and priests that usually accompany ordination ceremonies. To say the least, I question the aesthetic necessity to have the bishop and ordinand switch places.

    On a related note, is there a sacramental implication to having the ordinand lay hands on the bishop instead of vice versa? I’m admittedly not well versed to Anglican nuances in the sacraments, but I do know that at Catholic ordinations a bishop’s neglect to lay hands on the ordinand (as in the aforementioned situation) would result in an invalid ordination, because that is considered the sacramental action. Maybe an Anglican could shed some light on this question.

    1. Yes, the laying on of hands in the Anglican communion is the sacramental action of ordination.

      In this case in New Zealand, all of the priests in attendance laid hands on the bishop instead of directly on the ordinand. Typically at an Anglican ordination of a priest, the priests in attendance lay hands on the ordinands at the same time as the bishop laying hands on them. Similarly, at the ordination of a bishop, all of the co-consecrators lay hands on the ordinand. In practice, while this often looks a lot like a rugby scrum or an American football huddle, it can be a very moving part of the ceremony.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *