| 17.7°C Dublin

Lights, camera, Communion: Should we be photographing and videoing religious ceremonies?


Siobhan O'Neill with her daughter Robyn try on Communion outfits at home. Photo: Ronan Lang/Feature File

Siobhan O'Neill with her daughter Robyn try on Communion outfits at home. Photo: Ronan Lang/Feature File

Siobhan O'Neill with her daughter Robyn try on Communion outfits at home. Photo: Ronan Lang/Feature File

Remember when First Holy Communions, Christenings and Confirmations were a simple affair?

Dresses did not cost the equivalent of a small car, hotels did not need to be booked months in advance, mums did not need to enlist the help of a professional stylist to look their best on the day, and parents were able to take a few snaps in the church.

But the times, they are a changing. Photos back then were taken on wind-up cameras and we had to take the used rolls off to the photo shop to get them printed, usually waiting a week before we could see if everyone had their eyes open in them!

There was no Facebook or Twitter that enabled instant sharing of pictures with anyone, anywhere in the world, with the click of a button.

As society and social media has changed, so to has the Catholic church. Not only do they now have coeliac-friendly Communion bread and church websites, but priests are also asking parents not to take pictures during religious ceremonies.

Some parents are upset by this and feel they should be allowed to capture the moment when their child makes their way up to the altar to receive their first ever piece of Holy Communion or make their Confirmation. Other parents think we should put the cameras away and do what we are supposed to be doing in church - reflecting and praying.

When it emerged last weekend that a priest had asked parents at a Confirmation to refrain from taking photographs during the ceremony, for child protection reasons, some parents found this intolerable.

Despite the fact there was a DVD being made of the ceremony that parents could buy for €10 afterwards, some parents still wanted to be able to take pictures of their child during the ceremony.

Annette O'Donnell, spokesperson for the Dublin Archdiocese, says: "Widespread taking of photos are, generally speaking, not permitted while a mass is ongoing to respect the solemnity of the occasion.

"The majority of priests ask people to put their phones away before a Confirmation or Communion ceremony as it could be chaotic if everyone was trying to get photos of their child."

O'Donnell explains that photos are allowed in church beforehand and after.

"There were hundreds and thousands of pictures taken in churches in recent weeks. There is general child-protection guidance given out in relation to third parties taking photos/filming of children in group settings and that is: please ask parents' permission before taking photos of their child.

"But during mass, it is expected that the phones would be put away." Having been at a Communion myself last weekend and witnessing the carry-on of some parents, I tend to agree with what the church is saying.

We are not particularly religious in our family but when our children committed to making their First Communions and Confirmations, this meant they had to attend extra classes at school every week for over a year to prepare for it.

The effort they put in made the event very special to them and in turn for us too.

I respect that church is a place for quiet reflection and prayer and whether or not I am actually praying, I feel it's disrespectful for any parent to stand up in the middle of the church with a camcorder or camera to record the children and take multiple pictures.

Aside from the fact they are blocking other parents' views of the ceremony, it is also setting quite a bad example to the children.

Last weekend for example, when the priest kindly asked that parents please refrain from taking any pictures or videos while the ceremony was taking place, some of the parents promptly ignored him and filmed away to their hearts' content.

Inevitably, they would have taken pictures of other people's children within their snaps and this is precisely what the church is trying to stop happening.

Perhaps some of us need to take a bit more time to live in the moment and enjoy some quiet time and where is more appropriate to do that than in a church? After all, being in church is supposed to be an occasion for prayer, not for taking photographs.

But judging from the reaction online to the church's guidelines, this looks like a debate set to rumble on for some time.

Parents, over to you...

Rachel Cooney, a Co Dublin mum-of-one thinks you should be allowed to take pictures in the church but only of your own child. "In my family it's tradition at Christenings to lay the baby on its shawl on the alter for photos," she says. "So I think if it's your own child then yes, you should be able to take photos but not with other people's kids."

Ellen McBride, a mum from Co Louth, does not agree with the church's guidelines. She says: "I'm photo-crazy and love taking loads of photos of my kids to have loads of memories to look back on, so I think it's ridiculous."

Tereza Hughes is a mum-of-one from Dublin and she says: "I love taking photos and my daughter calls me crazy for taking too many. But I do think that we should learn to live in the moment. There is plenty of time after. With digital cameras we now take too many photos and sometimes we don't even have time to go through all of them."

Emma McKeon thinks the church has a point. "Personally I can't stand people taking photos in the middle of weddings or Christening services, very disrespectful, very off-putting for those on the altar," she says. "At weddings it really annoys me seeing people in and out of seats, standing up in front of others, blocking their view, all to get photos, when they should be listening."

Molly Everard, mum of three children aged 6, 3 and 2, lives in Dundalk and says: "If I was told not to take pics I'd do everything in my power to sneak a few. It is my child's special day, so I would like pics to look back on. I imagine next you won't be allowed to take pics at a wedding."

Irish Independent