“Tweeting” at funerals (part 2)

The challenges of the new social media.

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking about those callers I heard on the radio who did not see anything wrong with tweeting at a funeral.  To me it just seems the wrong thing to do.  Yet, some do not.  So I gave it some more thought and I think that it may go right back to the whole nature of the new social media.  Many young people today experience community and interpersonal communication in a much different way than previous generations.  Viral community, typified by numerous “friends” on FaceBook or Myspace that one has never met, communicating via “tweeting” or “texting,” have replaced real communion where one actually sits with others in person.  When faced with a social situation at which one is actually present to others, young people almost always pull out the cellphone and start texting and tweeting.  I see it in my nieces and nephews all  the time. Many young people have to connect because that is the way in which they communicate and enter into community.  Texting, tweeting, and using the smartphone during an event – liturgy, meeting, class, etc., is not that “out of bounds” because that is the way they normally interact with others.  In many instances, they would not consider that “tweeting” at a funeral is wrong because it is just what one does.  It’s almost akin to whispering to someone who is sitting next to you.  They do not intend anything more than that.  They wouldn’t see it as a “big deal.” Yet when it happens, whether it is in the classroom or a family gathering or in a church, whether the person intends it or not, they are sending the message that what is happening here is not as important as what is happening there.  Somehow, we have to convince them that what is happening right now, here in this place, is where their attention needs to be.  Maybe it’s something as simple as asking that all cellphones and internet devices be turned off before the liturgy starts.  Many churches already do this.  Maybe it is necessary for the celebrant to remind the community at the beginning of liturgy that we need to make a conscious effort to focus on the here and now and to turn off all other distractions.  But it is clear that we have to take this real shift in communication and community into account when celebrating the liturgy.  We have to help them participate in the Church’s liturgy.

The challenge of liturgical participation.

Even beyond the challenges posed by the new social media, there are many reasons as to why people can fail to be able to participate well in any liturgy.  Two immediately come to mind from my perspective as someone who has taught liturgical studies: either the liturgy is done so poorly that the persons participating cannot begin to find their way into a meaningful celebration or the person’s own faith life is so undeveloped that they cannot enter into the symbolism and meaning of the ritual.  For the purposes of this discussion, let us assume that the funeral being celebrated is being done so with reverence, care, solemnity, and according to the Rite of Funerals.

 At most Catholic funerals, there are guests, people who do not share our Catholic faith.  There are also “lapsed” Catholics, people who no longer practice their Catholic Faith.  Within the assembly, then, there are people who are going to find participation difficult because the ritual acts and words taking place do not carry any deep meaning for them.  They are in one sense spectators.  Yet, they are spectators at a sacred event, which if it is a well done liturgy, can hopefully touch the good faith or even nascent faith of some in a grace-filled moment.  And we who believe, who call ourselves Catholic, should be ready to respond to that graced moment.

So what exactly is going on at a funeral? “In the face of death, the Church confidently proclaims that God has created each person for eternal life and that Jesus, the Son of God, by his death and resurrection, has broken the chains of sin and death that bound humanity. Christians celebrate the funeral rites to offer worship, praise, and thanksgiving to God for the gift of a life which has now been returned to God, the author of life and the hope of the just.”  [from the Introduction to the Rite of Funerals.]

“And so we join with all the angels and saints in your song of joy: Holy, holy, holy, Lord …” As a liturgy, a funeral Mass is a sacred service within a sacred space.  It is an action of God’s people the Body of Christ and of Christ Himself, the head of the Body.  It is a mystical moment in which the prayers and actions of the heavenly Church of Christ, the angels, and saints is joined with those of the earthly Church of those striving to live saintly lives.  When we celebrate a liturgy, we are part of extraordinary moment of theophany, encounter with God in Word and sacrament.  When we enter into the sacred space of the church building, we bless ourselves with water and the sign of the Cross to remind ourselves of the Sacrament of Baptism by which we were made a part of God’s holy people.  Our participation in the liturgy and the encounter with the holy transforms us more deeply into the Body of Christ, if we orient ourselves by our attention, intention, and participation in the liturgy towards the holy encounter with God that is occurring.  That is why the cellphones, the iPads, and the tablets need to be turned off.  We need to be present to the liturgy, undistracted from what is outside of it.  Tweeting would obviously fall into this category.

Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  When we come to a funeral, we are there to pray and worship.  I’ll say it again, we are there to pray, not to tweet, text, or email.  We are there to worship God in Word and sacrament, not in Apple or Microsoft.  We are there to pray for both the living and the dead, not to be texting our friends.  We pray in the hope of salvation for the one who has died, that they may be found worthy through the goodness of their life of eternal life in heaven.  We do not pray that they have eternal life as if this were an option.  Life after death is a reality  for all.  How that eternity is spent is another question all together.  So, we petition that God, in his mercy, will grant the deceased eternal life with Him, not apart from Him. We pray for the living, especially, the loved ones and friends of the deceased that they may be consoled by the hope of faith and supported by our prayers for them.  Lord, speak to us the word of faith.  So, when you come to church for a funeral, or any liturgy, unless you’re a doctor or nurse on call or someone like that, turn off the cellphone and turn on the prayer.  After all, at the end of your life, who are you really going to need to tweet?



5 Comments. Leave new

Dear Bishop Coyne,
I respectfully disagree and hope for the day that our ambo announcements at the beginning of mass go something like this:

“Before we enter this time of sacred liturgy, we ask that you check your cell phone to make sure it’s on silent mode.

Please know that you are invited to quietly, thoughtfully text or post to social media anything moving or inspiring that you believe will reveal to others the fullness of Christ and your experience here.”

I urge this not only because younger people (N.B., I am 60) form community and build relationships via social media these days, but because being able to take notes is optimal for visual-kinesthetic learners. It does, in fact, help them become more present to what’s going on.

The value of knowing learning style theory is something I underscore in my book, The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today, which came out in 2008 but is now — finally — capturing the attention of those who understand that church communications is a ministry.

As you note, using these technologies with discretion is important. Turning everything OFF makes that quite impossible.

Thank you for the mention for the nurse who is on call,before I enter church I place my pager and smart phone on vibrate. So if you see me with my smart phone at Mass,I’m not tweeting but using apps that contain IRosary,IMissal and my prayers.

The essence of this blog post is that we are called to participate WELL at liturgy. We must each prayerfully reflect on what that means for ourselves.

My wife and I don’t turn off our electronics… we’re both on call 24×7, and we have sons are not quite free of the occasional need for parental support. But the devices are on vibrate, and we will choose an appropriate point to look at them (e.g., never during a scripture reading or the Eucharistic prayer). The world may not be able to wait an hour, but it can surely wait ten minutes.

I see connections between this post and the Ignatius Insight article Bishop Chris linked to on his FB page today. “It has often been remarked that the Christian God is too ‘complicated.’ He requires too much thought of us.” Such thought and effort are the essence of participating WELL at any liturgy. Partly that means being present in the moment, hence cutting the electronic ties as much as possible. To me, it also means singing, speaking prayers clearly, understanding what’s being said in the readings, and maintaining eye contact with the lector and priest/deacon throughout the readings and homily.

Our actions also influence those around us… we all lead by example, and in liturgy, that example is primarily nonverbal. Our inner state is important at liturgy, but liturgy’s uniquely communal nature makes our observable outer state a key part of participating well.

About a month ago, my husband and I got married in a beautiful Catholic Mass. The liturgy, in my biased opinion, was very reverent and beautiful.

We didn’t decorate the church with pew bows, extra flowers, or another other “fluff.” We didn’t “add” to the liturgy with an unity candle, special prayers, or anything else. We simply prayed.

The only thing that made our wedding Mass different than others was our main celebrant was 28 years old (actually younger than the groom!)and we had six other priests concelebrating.

We had devout Catholics, lapsed Catholics, those raised Catholic who no longer consider themselves Catholic, non-Catholics, and every other “label” we can use to describe relationships with God.

Across the board, all our guests told us how beautiful our wedding Mass was, including those that had been away from the church. Had those people been texting, tweeting, or whispering, they would have missed the Mass and perhaps an opportunity to deepen their relationship with Christ.

Thank you, Bishop, for speaking of this issue.

One more round from me. . .

Please, friends, consider the possibility that we really do not know if tweeting, texting, or whispering impedes the sacred.

Reasonably rigorous social science research and first person testimony suggests that people are informed, educated, and inspired in a variety of ways. For example, some find praying the Rosary during Mass a way to deepen their connection. Others look askance at that practice.

What we are discovering as true is this: social media is pushing buttons folks didn’t even know they had installed!