06 January 2013

+JMJ+

Punk Catholic Thought of the Year II

Oooh, a sequel!!! And due warning: it's rated NC-13! Just when you thought it was safe to get back into the blog . . . Bwahahahahahahahahahaha!

One of my most beautiful Mass memories is from a time the sanctuary was so crowded that I had to sit behind a statue of St. Martha. My view of the altar was completely blocked, and I was feeling a bit sad that I wouldn't get to gaze at the Host when Father elevated it. As soon as everyone knelt for the Consecration, however, I felt an uncharacteristic urge to turn my head away from the altar, toward one of the glass windows at the side of the church. This was a pre-dawn Mass, so it was still dark outside and the windows acted as mirrors. And that was how I got an excellent, if reverse-image, view of the Consecration.

I've always thought of that as St. Martha's little gift to me that morning . . . and I've had cause to think of it again over the past several months. These days, if I can't get a seat up front at church, I deliberately sit where I know my view is going to be obscured. That's actually a lot trickier than it sounds because it's not one view I have to block, but several.

This is thanks to something very new in the sanctuary of my parish church. And by "new," I mean that Marshall McLuhan was all over it long before I was born. There are currently six flat screen monitors installed on pillars along the main area of the church, for the benefit of those in the congregation who don't have a very good view of the altar (or of the lectern).

I f***ing hate the things.



If you're watching it on a screen, you're not doing it right.

Ironically, the associations helping me write this post came to me through a screen--that of my own PC monitor, while I was watching YouTube clips. (Don't you just love that? =P)

One of those videos, not embedded, is an interview of British guitarist Graham Coxon, who expressed disbelief at all the people who came to his concerts and filmed the sets. He didn't understand why they couldn't "just enjoy the show." The following clip is courtesy of one of those people.


You're second only to Alex James in my heart, Graham!!!

Coxon reminds me of a former friend of mine who couldn't understand why people would spend hours arguing about some obscure (to her) plot point, such as "Who is John Connor's real father?" (That question was answered on this blog, by the way.) But the catch was that she perceived our discussions as something we would do instead of "just enjoying the movie." So she was taken aback when we replied, practically in chours, "What do you think we're doing???"

Discussing a movie, even to the point of heated argument, has become a legitimate way to enjoy that movie. And filming a live concert and uploading it later for others' comments has become a legitimate way to enjoy that concert.

Which reminds me . . . there was one time when I felt so left out of Take That's reunion tour that after a friend brought me the DVD all the way from the UK, I actually recorded some of it on my mobile phone while watching it on my TV. I felt closer to the group--heck, closer to the audience--by that act of capturing Mark Owen's face on a shaky close up in my hand. 


The It Only Takes a Minute Tango Set:
Arguably one of the best show-stoppers they've ever done.


Back in 2006, before the DVD came out, fans like me were completely dependent on clips that other people filmed from the audience. Almost seven years later (Oh, how Jesuit!), such clips are very, very difficult to find--although I'm sure they're still available--because the first 100 videos or so that pop up when you search for "Take That Ultimate Tour" are grabs from the official DVD.

The footage for that DVD was filmed during the Manchester leg of the tour. This means that even those who bought tickets for different venues likely "remember" the Mancunian show the most vividly. It's a little like another 80s SF movie, Total Recall--which, incidentally, went head-to-head with The Terminator in my Arnold Schwarzenegger Movie Smackdown! Watching the former film as a child, I never understood how anyone could conceive of fake memories as a legitimate alternative to actual experience. About two decades later, I see that I am doing exactly that.

Now, how about something else from the 80s to help me make my point?


Well, of course Live Aid had something to do with it . . .
Huge Screens Alert @2:13, @3:21, @4:30 and @6:24!

There were no digital cameras back in 1985, and even those who owned video cameras wouldn't have dreamed of bringing them to either of the two Live Aid venues. Filming the concert was the crew's job, not the audience's--something for professionals, not amateurs. Besides, it would have been a chore.

The salient point, however, is that they had already started taking that chore for granted. Nobody would have bought tickets for the JFK Stadium (in the USA) or Wembley Stadium (in the UK) if they thought they'd have to squint at a tiny stage a whole football field away. They expected there to be a crew . . . and cameras . . . and really big screens. And that they did so, did not at all strike them as odd.

True to its name, Live Aid was also broadcast, as it was taking place, via satellite, to 150 countries. Which meant that people even farther away from the two stages than those at the very back of each stadium could see the performers as well as--if not better than--those in the very front row. And in that sense, there was not much difference between the people who were there and the people who weren't.


Earlier that day and across the Atlantic . . .
Piddling screens @0:24 and a "posterity crew" @1:05

And at the moment, there is not much difference between those who were watching it in 1985 and those who are watching it now. (Come on! Press play! FEEL IT!)

What? Do you think I'm being too simplistic? Have I totally missed the fact that what the television audience (and you and I) got to see were images chosen for us by intermediaries in some director's booth, and therefore a controlled version of reality? If you wonder that, then you totally missed the fact that every time the stadium people turned from the stage to the screens--which you can bet the majority of them did quite often--they, too, watched nothing more than the same controlled reality.

In these digital days, the reality of a concert fragments even more, directly corresponding to the number of recording devices pointed at the performers. I'm not crazy about it, but I can live with it. What I cannot stand is the same thing happening to the Mass.


Yes, it's the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
No, watching this does not fulfill your obligations.


Wrapping it up now, the Punk Catholic Thought of the Decade is that screens in the sanctuary are a bad idea, because they let someone else decide what you should be focussing on and turn you into a passive consumer of a controlled "feed." You may still be looking at the altar, at the celebrant, or at one of the lectors . . . and saying the correct responses at the correct times . . . but you are more distant from them than if you had your view blocked by a thick pillar and a life-sized statue of a saint.

A last note . . . While drafting this post, I asked myself whether I would also do away with the sound systems that make the readings and prayers audible no matter where you are in the church (and sometimes, even if you're outside). And to be honest, I don't know. The only time I heard a Mass in my largish parish church that didn't involve microphones, it was in the middle of a city-wide power failure and Father had had the front pews moved several metres closer to the altar. There's no way to answer that question fairly without regularly assisting at Masses without microphones.

I think this is what we will face in a few decades, if the screens become an accepted part of the architecture: people who cannot imagine what the Mass would be like without them. Doesn't that strike anyone else as wrong?

19 comments:

Jenny said...

Hmmm, interesting thoughts. At my church when we have a huge room full of people they broadcast it on screens for the people in the back. Even if I'm sitting on the back I always squint up front to where the real deal is going on. It does take away from some of the feeling doesn't it?

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I know what you mean! The first few times I had to sit in the back, I tried squinting to the front, too--but having up to six screens waving for my attention made it really, really hard. It takes away from the whole experience, I think.

Michael said...

It is a bad idea, but I won't fill up your com box with all the theological and practical reasons why it is so, because that would lead to a discussion not really suited for this blog, or maybe even Catholic ears. :-)

I know in my circles, this has only cropped up in our western rite churches (those who follow a western liturgy, which for some means celebrating a pre-schism Roman mass). The one time something like this happened in a typical Orthodox setting, it was quickly scuttled by the Bishop.

The microphone issue is interesting, and basically stems from how churches are built today. You can build churches, even really big ones, in such a way that microphones aren't needed.

Modern architecture is almost solely dependent on acoustical helps like microphones and speakers. They usually don't bother me if they are hidden, but distract from the worship experience (at least for me) if they are prominently displayed. After all, I am not in an auditorium (or a Protestant church for that matter), but caught up in the heavenlies.

But what do I know? I don't even like the habit of some priests (in the west) who no longer use candles but small reading lights during the liturgy attached to whatever service book they are using. Along with the practical function of being able to see the text, candles have a distinct liturgical meaning - night time bed style mini reading lamps that clamp on to a book do not.

And moving the pews closer so the people can hear? What the hell are pews doing in a service in the first place? ;-) Like monitors, pews had their genesis in Protestant style worship, albeit (unlike monitors) 4 centuries ago.

I f***ing hate the things.

One of my far out dreams (meaning it will never be realized) is to be in your presence to hear you drop a f-bomb. How hot would that be, LOL!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

To be honest, Michael, when I was drafting this, I thought, "There are only two regular readers who will really understand" . . . And guess who one of them was? ;-)

I have very sketchy knowledge of pre-modern church architecture, so I didn't really want to go into it, but I know what you mean about there already being a way to get over the acoustics issue before microphones were introduced. Which means the use of microphones is not the improvement we often think it is.

And yes, I always remember you whenever I think of pews. =)

DMS said...

That is such an interesting way to view the scene! I will have to try it- it must have been fascinating! Thanks for sharing! Happy New Year! ~ Jess
http://thesecretdmsfilesoffairdaymorrow.blogspot.com

Shaz said...

My local church just got screens. :( Even worse, they took out the stained glass windows and put up nasty white opaque things which are supposed to be more energy efficient. :(

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Jess -- It was certainly something else! =) Thanks for stopping by again!

Shaz -- Oh, no! =( I'm so sorry about that. If my parish administration decided against our stained glass windows, I'd really freak out!

Belfry Bat said...

Papal Basilica, the Basilica for Constantinople in Rome, the Basilica Sancti Petri: construction commenced in 1506, originally completed 1626. There are reasons Solemn Mass is sung: for one, it's the only way for a solo voice to be heard in that kind of space. There are reasons we don't usually build churches that huge. And there are reasons it was never insisted that one must be able to hear, and rather insisted that sometimes the minister does not seek to be heard.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Yeah, what Bat said!

Michael said...

To be honest, Michael, when I was drafting this, I thought, "There are only two regular readers who will really understand" . . . And guess who one of them was? ;-)

You mean there is another reader who is a stick in the mud like me? God help us all :-)

I have very sketchy knowledge of pre-modern church architecture, so I didn't really want to go into it, but I know what you mean about there already being a way to get over the acoustics issue before microphones were introduced. Which means the use of microphones is not the improvement we often think it is.

I was forced to examine the issue when I left Protestantism because Orthodox worship was such a huge contrast to what I had known as an adult. What I took away most of all was the connection between the Temple and the worship/symbolic architecture of the ancient Church. Really fascinating stuff.

I was in a number of large churches in Russia and the Ukraine (some quite old or based on old designs) where, because of how they were built, microphones were unnecessary. It also helps that the Divine Liturgy is always sung/chanted.

Some of the more modern churches (and by modern I mean anything based on designs from roughly the 16th century and beyond) used microphones for the priest (but not necessarily the choir).

And yes, I always remember you whenever I think of pews. =)

So now at least I know you remember me once a year? Every two years? Gotta count for something, eh? LOL!

cyurkanin said...

Belfry Bat: AMEN :)

christopher said...

"Who is John Connor's real father?" That was/is really an argument? I can't imagine what the alternative answer would be, dare I ask?

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Last month, I tried to get someone to go to a Latin Mass with me. She was really turned off at the idea of not being able to understand what the celebrant is saying, and even more repelled when I said that that wasn't a problem inasmuch as we could barely hear him sometimes. =P

It reminded me of the time she learned that priests used to celebrate Mass ad orientem and simply couldn't fathom how the congregation could get anything out of the Mass if they couldn't see the celebrant's face.

So much of what we think we need, we don't really need.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

There's no real answer, just the theory that "before" Kyle Reese was sent back in time, John was fathered by another man. Of course, this implies that John ended up "retroactively aborting" himself. Which is simply not the case.

So I just keep insisting that there was never a 1984 without Kyle.

cyurkanin said...

Agreed. I watched LOST and have no barriers preventing me from understanding what you or anyone says about time travel. WHAT HAPPENED, HAPPENED. :) So there.

Michael said...

Last month, I tried to get someone to go to a Latin Mass with me. She was really turned off at the idea of not being able to understand what the celebrant is saying...

I have to admit this bothers me as well. I'm not turned of by it since I spent several years attending a church whose service was/is in a language I didn't understand fully, but it is less than ideal (imo).

But better that than hanging out with a bunch of relatively recent converts....:-)

My "conversion" occurred when I spent a Saturday evening attending vespers and heard the service for the first time in my own language. Every question I had up to that point was answered not by some ever changing pedagogical method, but in the very act of worshiping God within the context of the Church.

It reminded me of the time she learned that priests used to celebrate Mass ad orientem...

used to? ;-)

...and simply couldn't fathom how the congregation could get anything out of the Mass if they couldn't see the celebrant's face.

Good lord....

On the other hand, when I took my ex-fiance to an Orthodox liturgy, one of the things she asked me about concerned why the priest spent most of his time facing away from the congregation. So I guess if you are not used to that it would appear odd, even for a non-Christian (which my ex-fiance was at the time).

Michael said...

So I just keep insisting that there was never a 1984 without Kyle.

Which reminds me, when are you going to live blog the latest Total Recall? :-)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Ha! You caught my modernism showing with that "used to." LOL!

I wonder what the comments would be if the situation were reversed, and priests facing toward the congregation were extraordinary while ad orientem were the norm. How would people react at the totally alien thought of the priest showing his face all the time???

And would you believe that I haven't even seen the new Total Recall? =O But what did you think of it? =)

Michael said...

I wonder what the comments would be if the situation were reversed, and priests facing toward the congregation were extraordinary while ad orientem were the norm. How would people react at the totally alien thought of the priest showing his face all the time???

Well in my neck of the woods ad orientem is the norm. But if things started to go differently, my guess is that you would have your typical tripartite response: some would be very opposed, some would be in the middle, and some would wonder what all the fuss is about.

On the other hand, such a liturgical innovation would never make it past the bishops.

And would you believe that I haven't even seen the new Total Recall? =O But what did you think of it? =)

It may have been a bad night for me movie wise (this was 2 of 3 on tap for the evening and the first one was really bad) but I was bored. Kate Beckinsale provided a little eye candy but otherwise I just wasn't into it. Arnold has nothing to worry about from Colin Farrell.

On the other hand, I really got into Battlestar Galactica (second reiteration), and watched all 4 seasons in a matter of a few days. Good stuff! Can't believe I missed it the first time around.