10 June 2014

Should photos be taken during the Liturgy?

Living as I do now in a tourist city, certain aspects and habits of tourists are becoming ever more clear to me, aspects and habits I think are quite foolish and even harmful.

Among these is the desire of a tourist to take a picture of someone or of something. So intent are they on taking the picture, that they very often do not actually experience the culture they are in or take in what it is at which they are looking. Too often, tourists do not enter into the experience, but simply hop along from one picture to the next, content to try to enter into their photos later on (which isn't really possible).

Sadly, there seems to be a similar mindset among those who come to the Holy Mass or the celebration of another Sacrament: they want a picture, but they never enter in to the sacred moment. I see this here in the Eternal City and wherever I celebrate the sacred mysteries.

On this topic, Monsignor Charles Pope has a helpful post in which he considers the obsession for photos at liturgies. He says, in part (emphases his),
Pastorally it would seem appropriate to accept that photos are important to people to make reasonable accommodations for photos. For major events  such as weddings, confirmations, First Communions and Easter Vigils, it seems right that we should insist that if photos are desired, a professional be hired. This will help keep things discrete, and permit family and others to more prayerfully experience the sacred moments. Infant Baptisms are a little more “homespun” and it would seem that the pastor should speak with family members about limiting the number of amateur photographers, and be clear about where they should stand.

That said, I have no photos of my Baptism, First Communion or Confirmation. I have survived this (terrible) lack of “the shot” quite well. Frankly, in the days I received these sacraments, photos of the individual moment were simply not done in the parishes I attended. Some parishes did have provisions for pictures in those days. The photo at upper right is of Cardinal O’Boyle at St. Cyprian’s in Washington DC in 1957. But as for me, I do have a photo of me taken on my way to Church for First Communion, but there is no photo of me kneeling at the rail. I am alive and well. There are surely photos of my ordination. But I will add, the Basilica and the Archdiocese were very clear as to the parameters. Only two professional photographers were allowed, (My Uncle was one of them them) and the place where they worked was carefully delineated.

Hence, pastoral provisions are likely necessary in these “visual times”  which allow some photos. Yet as St. Paul says regarding the Liturgy: But let all things be done decently, and according to order (1 Cor 14:40).
Be sure to read the entire piece.


  1. I go back and forth on this question. (The large number of cell phone snapshots I see from priests -- and bishops! -- at large liturgies tells me I'm not the only one.)

    In our social age, when sharing has become easy, ubiquitous, and even expected, there may be some evangelizing value in sharing pictures from the Mass. Doubley so in a culture where religious practice is increasingly the exception rather than then rule. That presumes, of course, that it doesn't hinder participation or distract others.

    I'm not saying I would allow it in all situations all the time, but I think some conversation around this question would be good.

    1. I, too, often go back and forth, but I would say that concelebrating priests and bishops - and deacons not attending in choir - should certainly never take a photo during a Liturgy.

  2. As a hobby photographer this is a tough issue.

    I have never taken pictures during a liturgy or ceremony without the permission of both the pastor and the participants. Also, because of my gear and experience I am able to stay in the back of the church and (hopefully) out of the way.

    Unfortunately, I think my presence gives others the idea that it is 'open season' for photography and so they pull out their phones and small cameras. Then inevitably they have to move forward to get 'the shot' and for many people (me included upon occasion) looking through a camera can lead to blindness to everything outside of the viewfinder.

  3. I do not think everything needs to be documented on film. I like before and after pics. I kind of feel like photos during liturgy is tacky. And I would have felt self-conscious if a professional photographer were snapping away at my first communion. Well- more self conscious as I already was a bit.