Capturing the Liturgy on Film

A positive innovation that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic within my own church community has been the creation and development of a new ministry around recording and sharing of our services for viewing online. The need for this new ministry is obvious and undoubtedly a common change within nearly every active church in the world. For a variety of reasons– which almost all come down to having no one else willing to step forward in such short notice– I have become the sort of head of this ministry within my church under the guidance (as with all things of the local church) of the rector. The experience has brought with it a range of emotion from confusion and frustration to satisfaction and joy. I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to develop a new found passion. The experience has also given me a chance to reflect on the meaning and value of capturing the liturgy on film for the faithful of my parish and friends from all walks of life.

Filmmaking and recording the various services, announcements and home worship packages has become a passion of mine. Which is my own personal positive innovation that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. And it has not only strengthened my relationship with God but also practically with my church and community. It has allowed me to continue a sense of purpose and meaning through my responsibilities to the church and another vector to give back my time and talents. And these are responsibilities which I might add are not isolated to just this new passion, I still remain the head of the servers guild and a member of Parish Council and ever-scrutineer of the Finance Committee. But with the entire life of the church seemingly coming to a halt alongside everything in the world, recording and playing a role in establishing a new media ministry has provided beyond ample work in the giant spans of time which make-up the COVID-19 lockdown. It is a gift from God.

There is a tremendously new perspective that I have gained seeing the liturgy through the lens of my camera. And I am coming more and more to appreciate the requirement of anyone who dares venture into a media ministry around the liturgy to understand the meaning behind the gestures, movements, transitions and moments within the service. And this is not unique to filming the liturgy, this is the general job of the director of photography of any movie or film– to capture the mood and tone of the scene, the moment physically and emotionally happening within the frame of the camera’s eye. In the case of the Mass (my “production”), there is already a director who has set the requirements for each scene during any liturgical filming, and that would be tradition which dictates the meaning and spirit of each aspect of how we worship and pray to God. Thus, I see my role as using every cinematographic tool available to me to capture that meaning and passing it seamlessly to the viewer. It is not merely about capturing the action and moving on, rather, each frame passes with it a story and everything from the lightening and the lens angle to the camera position and the sound must be deployed in unity of effort to convey that meaning, purpose and tone. And the ultimate key is that it must be done seamlessly. The video is meant to feel exactly like the real thing while being aware of the fact that it is not the real thing. This is how people begin to get lost in it, this is how we tell the story of the liturgy will the full force of the cinematographic tools available.

There are aspect of filming the liturgy which have become traditions in and of themselves for me through sheer repetition and force of conveyance. For example, I’ve taken to filming sermons using a 30mm lens, with the camera angled slightly below the pulpit to give a feeling of looking up (just as we do in the service when in church physically) and placing the preacher in the right 1/3 of the frame to leave a space for them to literally project their message into as it moves into the viewer’s heart and mind and to capture (slightly out of focus) the statue of Saint Barnabas, our patron, and, in this instance, shameless branding. Each sermon from every service is filmed in this way. The camera placement, the angle, the position of the preacher all tell a story together that helps to convey the liturgical importance of the sermon. And each sermon is filmed in the same way because together each sermon fulfills the same objective, is sourced from the same authority and is spoken in the same voice from the Spirit. That is the tradition and value of the sermon and the repetitive presentation, the stern, clean lines and look is conveying that meaning to the viewer each and every time they watch the film. I am using the tools available to me in order that in every way I may convey and emphasize the meaning and spirit of this moment in the liturgy.

And there are aspects of the liturgy which continue to allude me as an amateur filmmaker. For example, the Words of Consecration, which hold so much meaning and purpose within the Liturgy of the Eucharist still presents a problem to me in capturing its celestial and miraculous reality. It’s tempting to begin wanting to study computer generated graphics (CGI) and effect the roof of the church tearing open with choirs of angels singing and the joining of the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant that we profess occurs at each celebration of the Mass. But that certainly would not work, even with all of the flash, it would still not convey the significance and more importantly the reality of the miracle which takes place at the hands of the priest. For Christmas Mass this year, which was the only Mass service we have recorded since closing over Christmas, my hand was forced because of time and I filmed purely from the perspective of a person sitting in the pews. It was beautiful and it did the job but it was not seamless. The entirety of the Liturgy of the Word was seamless and the fact the Canon of the Mass did not fit made the whole thing jump out.

There is a natural development which comes with taking on any new passion. A chaotic period where one finds their own place and style within their chosen method of artistic expression. I am still very much in that phase with my photography and videography but I remain absolutely enthralled with filming the liturgy and seeing praise and worship through the lens of a camera. It has been an honour to provide these videos to people who cannot attend services and are feeling physically distanced from the church and our community. However, I remain grateful and in the debt of the church for providing me this chance to film the liturgy and focus on worship from an entirely new perspective.

St. Veronica, you gave Christ a towel on His way to Cavalry which He used to wipe the Precious Blood from His Holy Face. In return for this great act of kindness He left you His most Holy image on the towel. Pray for us to Our Lord that His Holy Face may be imprinted on our hearts so that we may be always be mindful of the Passion and Death of Our lord Jesus Christ, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

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