Catholic parish not allowed to project Scripture readings on screens


The article has quite the title: ‘Copyright laws cause problem for Catholic church plans to modernize‘.

By ‘modernize’, the journalist means add projection screens to the sanctuary. And the title’s saying that ‘copyright laws’ were what ultimately prevented the parish from projecting the Scriptures on their screens also seems to be a bit superficial, at least based on the information provided in the article itself. So what happened?

St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in New Port Richey [Florida] did away with its paper missalettes and in their place, two giant projector screens on either side of the altar.

“It’s a little more modern,” says parishioner Jimmy Barry. “You don’t have all that paper turning and all the noise.”

In the personal experience of this Editor (Brantly Millegan), few Catholics actually use the missalettes to read along as the Scriptures are recited, and instead simply listen. But the parishioner is bringing up a good point: the Catholic Church has allowed the Word of God proclaimed in the liturgy to be mediated by print to the laity, rather than with the spoken word alone (as had been the case since the Church’s earliest times). The Church seems to have embraced print, why not make use of the latest medium? As the priest of the parish points out, other Christian congregations have been using projection screens from some time in their worship spaces:

Father Mike Lydon came up with the idea after seeing similar projectors in other churches. With changes to the Catholic mass, he says he saw it as a way to help people follow along.

It’s noteworthy that this article comes not long after the protestant Christopher Ash wrote a piece for The Gospel Coalition questioning, on theological and practical grounds, the use of screens for distance preaching.

Once the parish got their screens up, they quickly learned they would not be allowed to project the Scripture readings:

The screens quickly went up, but when it came time to find scriptures to project, the church found out they were off limits because they are copyrighted.

“I was really surprised. I had to even get a bible out to look myself to find that,” Father Lydon says.

It’s not the first time he’s dealt with copyrights. Father Lydon says the church pays licensing fees for all the music it now projects, but when he asked the powers above for the same with the scriptures, he got a surprising answer.

But was it just that the Bible translation was copyrighted and whoever owned it wanted to keep the Bible in lock down?

“They just said no,” Father Lydon tells us. “Because the readings are not supposed to be read. They’re supposed to be proclaimed.”

In a letter to the church, the United States Conference of Bishops says projecting the scriptures would be a distraction.

So the USCCB instructed the parish not to project the Scripture readings ultimately for liturgical reasons, not legal. And two liturgical reasons were given, one theological, one practical.

Yet, if the Scriptures are “not supposed to be read” but instead “proclaimed”, why are printed missalettes allowed? And as the priest of the parish pointed out, they too can be distracting. In other words, the reasons given in the article as to why the USCCB rejects the liturgical innovation of using projection screens would also seem to rule out the now-a-few-centuries-old liturgical innovation of allowing the laity to use printed missalettes during Mass.

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  1. Ruth Robertson says:


  2. Joseph McDonald says:

    Too bad Richard John Neuhaus isn’t around (or maybe he is, on the other side of the curtain, chuckling) to enjoy this moment. As he noted in another context, the bishops’ conference owns the copyright to the “tin-ear” version of scripture we Catholics are required to use in the mass. The missalette, published by the Oregon Catholic Press in Portland, and used by perhaps 90 percent of the parishes, necessarily prints only the approved version of the Bible and, accordingly, pays a substantial royalty to the bishops for the “privilege.” Cozy. Now here comes a parish that removes all those royalty paying copies of the missalette and wants, instead to project the words. Sorry.

    That said, the effect of the bishops’ denial is a very good and appropriate one. Now all we have to do is convince that parish to at least put the tabernacle up on the back wall, if they can’t bring themselves to put the altar there.

  3. Matthew Popkes says:

    Good decision, bad reasoning. I think this priest needs to go back to seminary a bit. Screens ruin the liturgical and sacramental space. Missallettes are less obtrusive and can be ‘optional’: as Brantley said, few use them. Most still listen.

  4. “…why are printed missalettes aloud?”

    They have to be, for the Gospel to be proclaimed. They’re allowed because they’re aloud.

  5. The Bishops were wise to say screens are a distraction. Missalettes are optional, and only necessary for some less common situations. The last time I used one was at a Good Friday service chanted in Latin. I could barely follow along as it was in the missalette, but was glad to have it. But that is my fault for being disabled by not knowing Latin in a Church whose language is Latin. In that sense, I am disabled. But a screen implies everyone is disabled and can not understand the words being spoken, a very bad assumption. And even if it were so, the screen visually draws the corporate eyes of the people away from the focus of the liturgy at that moment, which should be the book of the Gospels and the altar.

    I just wish the bishops were as worried about the dozens of other distractions that have no place at mass and would speak up about them. Such as the blank wall in the Catholic church pictured above. Uh… where is Jesus in the tabernacle? Where is a crucifix? And I can just hear “On Eagles Wings” playing by looking at the picture. These oldies need to get out of the 70’s and get with the Tradition, which is ever new yet ever old. Their church just looks old and tired.

    • Actually David, the is a very large crucifix (about 15ft tall) just above where the picture cuts off. The church is a modern church, even though it’s 30 years old. I’ve been going to this church for over 10 years. If you’d like to see more about this church, please check out our website at
      “As the parishioner enters the Main Sanctuary, the concept is to direct all attention to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The sanctuary’s half-round form has a seating capacity of 999 parishioners who are focused directly toward the figure of Christ. The Risen Christ is hand carved of bass wood, centered within a circle of stained glass depicting the four elements of the world, surrounded by hand carved wooden angels, and an onlooking crowd of His earthly family and friends. The sanctuary furnishings and trim work are of red oak. The Altar furnishings are made of Perlotta marble and brass.”

  6. David and Matt, Good points about the missalettes being optional. They’re there if you need them (can’t hear, etc), but they’re not imposed on you. Big screens in the sanctuary are imposed on everything and will draw your eyes to them and away from the more important things going on.

  7. Well until I have the $90 Daily/SundayMissal ripped from my hands or the Archbishop expressly forbids them, I plan to use it at every Mass as I am in the habit of doing. Why? Because for one thing, I have caught more than one “mistake” in the proclamations by following along. Two, one of the good habits I developed as a Protestant Christian, one I did not have when originally Catholic, was to be absolutely attentive during the readings–we were taught to “bring our Bible” to church and there was good reason for it. Two methods of “hearing,” one by reading and the other by listening, happening simultaneously, have been proven to make each of us more likely to retain what we have heard or read. And in our very literate society it is shameful when we do not even read the Word of God while so many have little or no opportunity to do so.

    I would love to do an experiment sometime and interview those leaving Mass, finding out who remembers what was even said during the Mass readings. I would bet that more than half of those who do not use a Missal or Missalette would have no idea. I would further bet that more than half who do read along will at least be able to tell me one or two points or highlights from the Scripture reading.That is why Protestants feel we do not “know the Bible.” We often don’t. We halfway hear it or perhaps tune it out while it is being read, and then never read it again, either before, during or after Mass. And many do this Sunday after Sunday.

    But I agree that a screen is a poor substitute for a Missal–and yet another way of “dumbing down” the Mass. Buy a Missal folks! And then read it either before or during the Mass so you will actually retain the readings of the day. Then, hard part, apply them to our lives. That is the most important of course. But it is hard to apply something we never “got” in the first place. Faith builds upon reason.

  8. On a more humorous note, take another look at the picture…the man on the right side of the photo seems to be getting a tremendous amount of good from those screens, no? NO! HEHE.

    And to build on my “dumbing down” comment, it takes a bit more work and motivation to look something up in a Missal than to just stare blankly at a screen. So who are the screens less “distracting” for? Certainly not the parishioners. We are fast losing the art of discipline and wonder why we do not know our Faith these days. We candy-coat it and hand it out with little or no thought needed on the parts of the people, and then are amazed when they are “pro choice” Catholics who are not sure who the Pope is. Making things too easy for people is just as wrong as making things too difficult. Both are stumbling blocks.

  9. George DeFrehn says:

    I truly believe that if Jesus were in the flesh today, He would use all the communication tools available, including video screens. We have many parishioners who are hard of hearing or who cannot read the small fonts in the missals. The hymns being sung from a video makes sense for those people…and the readings too, for those who are “sight” challenged. We now live in the 21st century…not the 20th or 19th. If you want to use your missal great…and you should…but for the rest of us who are open to the Spirit using that which the Lord provides, including technology…let us use that, too. Amen.

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