Closed-circuit Mass and communion

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: I get it that you think people watching a live-streamed Mass should not suddenly receive communion from a minister who enters the room in real time, but what about closed-circuit? What if people in the basement of the same church where Mass is happening are watching it in real time, singing and responding to what they hear while watching it all on a closed-circuit screen? Could they receive communion from that celebration of the Mass?


A: Pandemic conditions are not ideal. They are not the way we usually live. It’s almost like being in prison: There are certain freedoms you forsake. I understand that people cannot live by the ideal right now. But especially in these times we need to recall the ideal: The Mass is supposed to take place in a sacred space with the full, conscious, active participation of the people in the room.

Now, you could argue that closed circuit in the basement isn’t so different from large churches with video screens attached to pillars that block the view of some worshipers. Or even if sound reinforcement helps people hear at a distance, video reinforcement would help them see at a distance. Once you amplify any sound, even inside the church, you’re hearing a virtual sound, not the real sound, and no one complains about that.

A related situation that the church has addressed is the minister who brings communion to multiple patients in a hospital. You find a liturgy for this near the end of chapter III of Pastoral Care and Anointing of the Sick. The rite begins in a church, a chapel or the first room. The minister leads an antiphon. In each room, the minister greets the people. If time, the minster proclaims a scripture reading—or perhaps does this only at the first station. Then the minister may lead the Lord’s Prayer before saying “Behold the Lamb of God” or something similar, and giving communion. The concluding prayer may be said in the last room, the church or the chapel. All the minister has to do in each hospital room is not much more than say, “The Body of Christ,” and give communion. No patient is physically present for the entire liturgy. No one may even be VIRTUALLY present for the entire liturgy, and yet the church permits this.

This exception ritual exists to accommodate two pastoral needs: the number of people in individual rooms in a large hospital requesting communion on a given day, and the condition of patients who may not be able to endure a longer visit and prayer service. Even so, the way you give communion to patients in a crowded hospital is not the model for Sunday Mass. In fact, the service I just described does not even take place during Mass.

Maybe closed circuit in the basement is better than live-streaming in the parish hall. But parishes should also wonder in the midst of a pandemic if salvaging the integrity of the liturgical act is worth the effort and sacrifice. These are tough calls. They should quicken our prayer that God will guide us through this time of crisis.