Liturgy Online & the Papal Mass

I’ve seen a bit of liturgy online this week. Last Sunday I was away from my own community and staying in a place where I had internet access but where there was a (locked) church but no service. What to do on Sunday in order to be part of the community? I settled on going to church online and set about looking for something to watch/attend. In the end, I was surprised how difficult it was to find something. However, I settled on a webcast from one of the bigger Cathedrals in the USA.

Now, I’ve been interested in this for a while, thinking that it might be the kind of thing that we should be doing. However, having experienced it as a user, I’m not so sure. Simply webcasting a big service does not make you feel involved really. Whenever we do radio services from St Mary’s, I’m struck by how much work needs to be done to present it in a slick enough way to make sense to someone who isn’t there. You have to work very hard to make that seem effortless. It may be that simply putting cameras out to webcast a big service is not really the best way of going about it.

I was involved in managing a theology degree programme for the Scottish Churches Open College a few years ago, before its sad and unnecessary demise. There, we used to talk about equidistant learning rather than distance learning. The idea was that whoever took part would receive the same experience wherever they were and that those who were physically most remote from the central organisation would not receive a second rate education but something that was as good and engaging as everyone else. I’ve a feeling that the same kind of thinking needs to be applied to the online liturgy experience. It needs to be part of the discussion about the two interrelated questions, What Shall we do about the Reserved Sacrament Abuses in Scotland? and How Do You Solve a Problem Like Argyll?

Anyway, in similar manner, (ie on my laptop, I got to see the Papal Mass yesterday. Its hard to do a service like that in the open air with 70,000 people. It was fascinating to compare it to the last time a Pope came to the UK. There was an extraordinary fervour that time, especially amongst the young people. Sally Magnusson kept telling us that Pope Benedict would be interrupted by “that famous Bellahouston roar” during the service. You can hear the response during the last visit in a youtube video this video at about 1 minute 5 seconds in though I think that might have been at Murrayfield, I’m not sure.

Well, the current Pope clearly had some liturgical ideas to stop that kind of vulgar response happening again! It did rather feel as though the great stone of liturgical reform had teetered and begun slowly and gently to roll back and safely cover the opening of the tomb once again.


  1. I found the Bellahouston event very moving and there seemed to be a lot of fervour – did you watch it?

    I’m not sure of the relevance of comparing the ‘fervours’ but maybe I missed your point.

  2. Hi Stew – glad to hear that you enjoyed the Bellahouston event. I did watch it, online.

    I was simply drawing attention to the difference between the two papal visits, which no doubt tell us as much about changes in the UK as in the UK Roman Catholic Church since that first visit.

  3. David | Dah•veed says

    JP2 seemed delighted by the roaring response.

    I noticed that your Queen had a rather sour puss in all the photos that I have seen of her welcome to her fellow Head of State. Was that to be interpreted as any form of commentary from the Supreme Governess of the Church of England or is she soured upon all the world of late. Perhaps she needs more prunes in her diet.

    And El Papa looks like he has just been released from his padded room with those crazy, staring eyes and windblown hair.

  4. Peter says

    A reaction to two of the elements of your post, Kelvin

    First, the questions you raise about online liturgy are very similar to the questions I struggled with when I was working in higher education. It’s taken 40 years of trying and we still don’t have a fully satisfactory way of teaching equally to local and remote audiences. Some of the best work is being done in your own city – I could give you some names.

    “a Problem Like Argyll” – depends on where you stand (I hope the locked church was not in Argyll!). If you had been able to join me over the past 3 weeks with faithful congregations (mostly tiny) witnessing in Iona, Ensay and Eoropaidh – as they have done centuries – you too might see it as humbling and encouraging experience. See Bishop Mark’s blog for a flavour. No hope of seeing them online because two don’t even have electricity, let alone broadband!

    • Thanks Peter

      No – last Sunday’s experience was not in Argyll, but somewhere with similar geographic challenges.

      The existance of small vibrant congregations is great. If they didn’t exist there would be no Problem, so its a good Problem to have in some ways! I don’t doubt the existence of the church there. (I’ve had excellent experiences of the church in Argyll and The Isles and, it has to be said, one or two trickier experiences of the church over there on other travels).


  1. […] I want to return to a question that I began to raise a couple of weeks ago regarding liturgy online. […]

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