Some great observations from Msgr. Charles Pope:
I live just up the street from the U.S. Capitol and it is fascinating to watch the tourists go by on the buses. Many of them are so busy taking a picture of the Capitol (a picture they could easily find in a book or on the Internet) that I wonder if they ever see the Capitol with their own eyes.
The picture is the point.
Actually, I would contend that it is NOT the point. Real life and actual experience are the point. Further, in the Liturgy, the worship and praise of God, the experience of His love, and attentiveness to His Word are the point. Cameras, more often than not, cause us to miss the point. We get the shot but miss the experience. Almost a total loss if you ask me.
At weddings in my parish, we speak to the congregation at the start and urge them to put away all cameras. We assure the worried crowd that John and Mary have engaged the services of a capable professional photographer who will be able to record the moment quite well. “What John and Mary could use most from you now are your prayers for them and your expressed gratitude to God, who is the author of this moment.” Yes, we assure them, now is the time for prayer, worship, and joyful awareness of what God is doing…
…Pastorally it would seem appropriate to accept that photos are important to people and to make reasonable accommodations for them. 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 helps keep things discreet and permits family and others to experience the sacred moments more prayerfully. 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 own Baptism, First Communion, or Confirmation. And yet somehow, I have managed to survive 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. But as for me, though I do have a photo of me when I was on my way to Church for my First Communion, there is no photo of me kneeling at the rail. And 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), and the place where they worked was carefully delineated.
Hence pastoral provisions are likely necessary in these “visual times,” to 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).
A final reiteration: remember, the photo is not the moment. The moment is the moment, and the experience is the experience.
I never cease to be amazed at the number of times I’ve processed down the aisle — to serve First Communions or Confirmations or graduations—and been greeted by a sea of flat boxes: iPads that people are holding up (and effectively hiding behind) to take videos or snapshots of the event. They’ve supplanted smartphones as the portable camera of choice—though you still see a lot of phones held aloft. It’s disorienting and disconcerting. You don’t see people or faces; you see frames and phones. Weird.