Attending Mass on TV: Real Presence and Real Absence

Attending Mass on TV: Real Presence and Real Absence

Many people cannot attend a Catholic Mass in person and rely on televised or computer Masses to meet their spiritual need of being at Mass. Some question whether or not they are in the ‘real presence’ of Jesus when they are only observers of a Mass being held miles away and perhaps even at a different time. Is televised Mass, or watching Mass on a computer, as valid as attending Mass in person as a participant? Are observers of a televised Mass really experiencing the ‘real presence’ of Christ, just as those who are in the church?

The central core of every Mass is the consecration, when Jesus literally and physically comes in the form of bread and wine. This is a fundamental tenet of Catholic faith. It is an unexplainable mystery. When people realize that Jesus is really and truly present on the altar at the moment of consecration, they also become aware that something profound has happened. Those present at the Mass become immersed in the mystery. The encounter with Jesus is personal yet shared. This moment is then fulfilled through reception of the Eucharist (receiving communion).

This moment does not happen during a televised Mass, although it can be observed in those present.

Does that mean, then, that those who watch TV Masses cannot experience Jesus?

When the Second Vatican Council was in session, television was still in its infancy. People could listen to Mass on the radio and there were a few who had a television set and had access to televised Masses. In the section on the Sacred Liturgy in the Vatican II documents, there is a very brief section on “The Different Modes of Christ’s Presence.” (pp. 109 of the second edition, item 9 in Chapter I) Four modes are listed: 1) “He is always present in the body of the faithful gathered in his name.” 2) He is “present in his Word for it is he who speaks when Scriptures are read.” 3) He is “present in the person of the minister” and 4) he is “present in the Eucharist.” When people physically attend Mass, all four modes of presence are available.

(I use the word ‘Eucharist’ to refer to either to the consecrated host or ‘holy communion.” Today, many refer to the entire Mass as Eucharist.)

So how is Christ present to shut-ins who watch televised Mass? Primarily in the Word. The Epistles and Gospels are read, a homily is given, the psalm is sung or read, and there are the prayers of the Mass itself. Second, there is an expanded notion of the “body of the faithful” at televised Mass. Here, if it is your intention, the body of the faithful includes all who are watching the Mass on TV in their own homes or hospitals as well as those who are actually present in the Church at the Mass. The Priest will offer the intentions, at the beginning of Mass, for all those watching on TV as well as for those physically present. Third, the televised Mass focuses upon the Priest who is saying Mass. His homily and piety in offering the Mass brings Christ into the home. What is missing is the fourth form of the “real presence” of Christ. Christ in the Eucharist. Shut-ins cannot participate in the communion of the faithful during Mass but they may be fortunate enough to receive communion at home at another time.

Televised Mass may seem somewhat artificial or distant but it does have value. And it is far better than no Mass at all.

How do people prepare for a televised Mass at home? With the same reverence and respect as Mass deserves in church. It is true, you can “come as you are” and not have to shower, shave, dress or comb your hair. Although this would be nice, it is not necessary. It is important however to clear the decks so to speak. Do all the things that need to be done before Mass so you can focus on the Mass. Don’t bring coffee or breakfast to Televised Mass any more than you would bring it into a church. Remember to turn off all your phones. Your attention should be on the Mass and not distracted.
To the degree possible participate in the Mass. Give the required responses out loud. Sing the hymns. Don’t just think them. Pray with all the people who are in the Church. In this way, you will feel more of a part of the body of the faithful in more than just intent. Make the Mass your prayer too.

To the degree possible, participate in the Mass as much as you can. Prepare for Mass and make a thanksgiving for Mass after it ends just as you would in church. Mass is a prayer. A very special prayer. We need to remember to treat it that way.

Attending Mass in person, in a church, with others, is special. Something that doesn’t happen anywhere else or at any other time. But if you can’t get to church, do try to watch Mass on television. If not physically joined with those present at the Mass, you are joined mentally, emotionally and spiritually. You can and will experience the real presence of Jesus.