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The following guidelines were approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops at its November 1996 plenary meeting. These guidelines are offered as a resource for diocesan bishops and communication and liturgy personnel entrusted with the televising of liturgies.
(Note: This text was updated in January 2014 to conform citations of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM] to the edition found in the Roman Missal, Third Edition, as well as to insert two citations from Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship  that match updated guidelines of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.)
The Church at worship is God's priestly people called together and united with Christ in a sacred work through which God is glorified and we are made holy (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, [SC] #7). In the eucharistic assembly, in the proclamation of the Word, and in the celebration of the sacraments, God is present in our midst. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy reminds us that "all who are made children of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's Supper" (SC, #10).
Yet being a part of the Sunday worshiping assembly is not always possible for all members of the community. Some people have been hospitalized, home-bound, or imprisoned and do not have the opportunity to be physically present with a regular worshiping community. For this reason, many dioceses telecast the Mass and other liturgies as a way of reaching out to those who cannot be physically present for the community's celebration of the eucharist. The televised Mass is never a substitute for the Church's pastoral care for the sick in the form of visits by parish ministers who share the Scriptures and bring Communion, nor is it ever a substitute for the Sunday Mass celebrated within a parish faith community each week. However, televising the Mass is a ministry by which the Church uses modern technology to bring the Lord's healing and comfort to those who cannot physically participate in the liturgical life of the local Church and who often experience a sense of isolation from the parish and its regular forms of prayer and worship. In addition, many regard televised liturgies as a means of evangelization, of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and promoting the Church's worship via modern means of communication (cf. Inter Mirifica, #14).
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy clearly articulated the primary importance of the faithful's "full, conscious, and active participation" which is called for "by the very nature of the Liturgy" and which is their "right and duty" by reason of their baptism (SC, #14). As members of the worshiping assembly, we are called to join the offering of ourselves with the offering of Christ. Thus, our participation in the eucharist involves both internal and external expression including, but not limited to, an attitude of prayer and attention, physical movement, sentiments of praise and adoration, and joining in the sung and recited responses.
Telecasts, by their very nature, attempt to connect people and places that are physically separated. While there may be a tendency for the medium of television, with its inherent lack of physical interaction, to lead people to more passive roles as spectators, some elements of the telecasts can engage the viewers as participants. Although the televised Mass is not a substitute for participation in the actual celebration of the Church's liturgy, it does provide an opportunity for those unable to be physically present 1) to identify with a worshiping community, 2) to hear the Word of God, 3) and to be moved to expressions of praise and thanksgiving.
Diocesan liturgists and communication specialists who work to provide the televising of the Sunday Liturgy offer a special service, often under very difficult conditions. It takes special skills and pastoral sensitivity to produce a televised celebration of the Mass that is liturgically sound, given the limits imposed by the medium itself and the difficulties often associated with the availability of air time and the funding of such broadcasts.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy notes that "Radio and television broadcasts of sacred rites must be marked by discretion and dignity, under the leadership and direction of a competent person appointed for this office by the bishops. This is especially important when the service to be broadcast is the Mass" (SC, #20).
In many instances, the Church does not have complete control over the televising of the liturgy. The Church is a guest in an environment not its own and constraints (length of air time, time of telecast, setting, etc.) are often imposed that are less than ideal. In addition, dioceses and religious groups are finding it very difficult even to be able to purchase air time for a telecast at an hour that is reasonable for viewers who are sick or elderly. For these reasons, a joint Task Force representing the Committee on Communications and the Committee on the Liturgy of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops developed the following considerations to assist bishops and to guide those who are responsible for televising the liturgy.
The first requirement for good telecast liturgies is good liturgical celebration. When the Mass or other liturgies are televised, those responsible for the planning, production, and celebration must make every effort to respect basic liturgical principles, including:
There are a number of models that may be used when the Mass is televised. Each model will be further enhanced if texts for the liturgy to be celebrated -- including scripture readings and music -- are made available to viewers of the televised Mass, and if local parishes arrange for communion to be taken to the viewers of the televised Mass so that their reception of communion coincides with the end of the televised Mass.
A second model is that of taping the Sunday Mass as it takes place in a local community and telecasting it at a later time that same day. This model is less than ideal because the telecast is separated from the actual celebration of the liturgy. However, it respects the nature of the liturgy and the liturgical season when it is celebrated (and telecast) on the actual liturgical day and allows those who watch and pray to identify with an actual community in its worship. This form of telecast is more difficult for dioceses and television stations because of the short time between taping and telecast and the limited number of personnel available on the weekend.
A third model is that of pre-recording the liturgy for broadcast at a later date. While we understand that some dioceses may not be able to use either of the first two models, using the third model will require greater care to be able to overcome the following limitations of this model:
Given the communal nature of liturgical prayer, it may, at times, be preferable to televise some forms of prayer other than the eucharist, such as Morning or Evening Prayer, a Liturgy of the Word, or Scripture services. However, when a liturgy (especially the Sunday Mass) is to be televised, the following guidelines are suggested:
The purpose of these guidelines is to assist the bishops in their role of overseeing both the celebration and the telecast of the church's liturgy. In addition, the principles will be helpful for those most directly involved with the preparation and televising of the Mass. As noted earlier, the telecast of the Sunday Mass offers a unique challenge to liturgists and communication personnel. Limited access to air time, the constraints of time and personnel, and the resources needed for a telecast that is liturgically and technically effective create special difficulties for those who provide this pastoral service. We are grateful to liturgists and communication experts who collaboratively utilize their skills to make effective use of the medium of television to help people connect with the Church's worship.
Much more could be said and greater specificity could be given in these guidelines. The guidelines are intentionally limited, however, to allow as much latitude as possible for the local bishop in overseeing the telecasting of the liturgy. These guidelines are provided for bishops to use as the basis for their important work of overseeing the celebration of the liturgy in their dioceses.
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