Question: Why broadcast Mass on TV? Watching it does not satisfy the obligation. It might also have a bad effect on Mass attendance.
— James Jeson, via email
Answer: To be sure, the sick and those who care for them are not under obligation to attend Mass. Thus the Mass is not televised for the purpose of helping anyone to meet their obligations. Rather it is first an outreach to the sick and homebound. The Mass is a form of prayer, the perfect prayer of Christ and his Church, and to be engaged in it, even if remotely, can be a great blessing for many. There is also a sermon, even if brief, to give instruction and encouragement.
One thing you don’t mention is that it is a departure from the early Church, which maintained the discipline of the secret (disciplina arcanis) when it came to the sacred liturgy. No one could be admitted to the Mass or celebrate the sacred mysteries who was unbaptized. The discipline, while it included the advantage of protecting persecuted Christians, was most rooted in keeping the sacred mysteries from being profaned by a scornful world. Jesus alludes to this when he warns that we should not cast our pearls before swine or throw what is holy to dogs (see Mt 7:6). Pigs only value what they can eat and dogs tear to pieces what they eat. Thus reverence for sacred things and for the sacraments meant that the early Church guarded them from the sight of unbelievers, lest holy things be trampled underfoot or torn to pieces by ridicule or mockery.
The discipline of the secret was, of course, only a discipline, not a dogma. As persecutions ended and Christendom began to flourish, the more open celebration of the liturgies and sacraments became the norm. Today it is part of evangelization to openly demonstrate to the world our prayers and rituals.
As for having a bad effect on Mass attendance, I am unaware of any statistics that might bear that out. Most able-bodied people who skip Mass are not likely to watch it on TV either. They are more likely to be sleeping or out doing what able-bodied do when they prefer or prioritize things other than Sunday Mass.
Question: Many decades ago, we were taught to take the words of the Roman Canon and internalize the words. For example, the words of the Epiclesis, “Make holy these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. ...” By striking my breast, where my heart is located, I offer my heart and beg our heavenly Father to make it holy, that it may become the Body and Blood of our Lord. I have talked to priests about this and they seem nonplussed. Am I saying anything that would be contrary to Church teaching, in your opinion?
— Ed Siering, Muscatine, Iowa
Answer: If you are speaking here analogously, that is fine. Of course, our heart and body do not literally become transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ the way the bread and wine do. Perhaps the confused or befuddled looks you mention of the priests are rooted in a concern for and preference for precision. They are thinking theologically, whereas you are thinking more devotionally. But your basic insight is fine and rooted in the Tradition. St. Augustine says of the Eucharist, “See what you believe ... become what you see” (Sermon 272). Thus, we are to be spiritually transformed into the Christ we receive in holy Communion.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.