Best Practices and Suggestions

for Livestream Masses and Online Worship

Part One: Preliminary Framework

& Preparation Questions

Ricky Manalo, CSP

Version: April 22, 2020

This site is devoted to my thoughts and suggestions on livestream and online worship. At this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a sudden and significant increase of available livestream Masses and other forms of worship: e.g., Liturgy of the Hours, artistic and musical offerings, spiritual and scriptural reflections, etc. Some worship communities have been using various media tools for years as a form of outreach ministry, particularly to those who are homebound, and/or for evangelization purposes. However, for the overwhelming majority of communities, these forms of worship are new.  
This site is divided into two parts. Part One (below) offers some preparation questions, basic principles, and suggestions. Part Two (yet to be completed) provides examples of best practices for the different parts of livestream masses. As a starting point, there are two types of livestream worship models: the interactive model and the liturgy-as-is model. I'll present more details and distinctions about these two models below. For now, this website is more concerned about the former model of livestream masses, the interactive model.
On March 22, 2020, at 12:36pm, I posted in Facebook some introductory comments and suggestions for livestream worship. I received many responses and suggestions. Eventually, I hope to include many of those suggestions in this site. I also have discovered other resources for online worship, spanning different denominations and worship traditions. My particular site will focus on Roman Catholic worship as this is my own religious tradition. But if I find the suggestions from these other sites and resources to be worthwhile, useful, and if they meet my goals, I'll include them as well, along with the appropriate references. 
It goes without saying that many of the suggestions that I offer below are dependent upon a variety factors, from the quality of  the media and technology tools that you have (not to mention the tools that the online participants have themselves) to the skill levels of all those involved "behind the camera," "before the camera," and "at home." In the end, consider ways of adapting my insights and suggestions to your own worship context.
Lastly, I would never share or seek publication of my writing until I felt a draft form has  gone through a thorough editorial process.  But given our present context (not to mention that Holy Week is set to begin this weekend), I decided to offer what I have now.  As such, this site will evolve day by day and over time as new information and suggestions are brought to my attention. The date of the latest version of this site is displayed at the top.

Comments & Suggestions?

I welcome all helpful comments and suggestions.  You could get in touch with me through this link:

WHO

Who are your online participants? What are the demographics of your worshiping community?
  • What are their levels of media and technology fluencies (skills)?  Do online participants have the necessary skills, access, and tools for online worship and, if not, how might you provide them with these?
  • Are your online participants aware of other participants? 

    • Are they able to see, hear, or read the comments of others who are online?

    • Do they see and hear the voice or voices of assembly members outside of the clergy "online"?

    • Best Practice Example: During the livestream masses at Newman Hall-Holy Spirit Catholic Parish, Berkeley, CA, specifically during the Prayers of the Faithful, a small pop-up window simultaneously displays the faces of online participants/parishioners who are seen praying along. 

    

Prayers of the Faithful starting time: 51:06
Who are the ministers "in front of the camera"?
  • In addition to clergy, are there lay ministers involved?  If so, to what capacity and to what extent?

WHAT

Some livestream liturgies offer and promote more online interactions and “at home” participation than others, depending on available resources, tools and the media and technology skills of the producers.  At one extreme end, there is the viewing of the “liturgy-as-is” model, and at the other end, there is a more dynamic “interactive model.”  Most online liturgies are located somewhere in-between these two poles. This website is more concerned about the former model of livestream masses, the interactive model.

  • A “liturgy-as-is” model at the extreme end might involve a stationary camera or cameras with no immediate promotion, distribution, or access to prayer texts, music, etc. Papal Masses are examples of this model.  Worship aids may be available for such liturgies, but information on how to obtain such aids are not easy to locate and obtain.

  • An “interactive liturgy” might be more intentionally interactive by inviting online participants to engage in different forms, degrees, and levels of worship participation.  Examples may include:
  • praying and singing along with accompanying text and music aids that are displayed onscreen (or with clear instructions on how to obtain these aids);

  • inviting online participants to perform ritual actions, gestures and other bodily postures;

  • allowing and inviting comments by online participants while the liturgy is simultaneously occurring.

Sidebar on Online Commenting During Livestream

Livestream liturgies demonstrate the fluid interactions that exists between the temporal and spatial boundaries, between designated or official worship spaces (e.g., a church building) and the everyday worship locations of online participants (e.g. home, office, car, etc.). Simultaneous commenting allows online participants to “enter into” the liturgy at any given moment. As such, there are some interpretive pros and cons of this form of worship, depending on ones perspective.

Pros
  • Commenting provides online participants a sense of “participating from afar” by offering the content of their thoughts, feelings, wishes, and intentions. For example, during the Prayers of the Faithful, online participants could be invited to text their petitions in the sidebar.

  • Commenting provides a “third space” for participants to encounter God, interact with other worship members of the online community, while still participating during the liturgy.   

  • Commenting provides media and technology ministers (“those behind the camera”) immediate feedback if the visual or sound qualities of the broadcast become weaker or non-existent. 

Cons
  • Some may find that the activity of simultaneous commenting is distracting to the ritual and ceremonial focal point(s) during the liturgy.

  • Because livestream commenting is a third space of worship and allows more freedom for online participants to voice their thoughts, feelings, wishes, and intentions, such activities may be viewed as a threat to authority and established official prescriptions.

WHERE

The Worship Site "Before the Camera"
  •  The chapel or church building might not be the best place due to technical or acoustical reasons.  
  • Depending on the quality of your sound system, “[s]maller rooms and carpets [may be] better to reduce echo." In other spaces, no carpets provide better acoustics.  Seek feedback from online participants.

  • “Avoid rooms with distracting background noises.”

  • “Ensure the space has adequate WiFi or cellular reception.” If possible, the use of ethernet is actually better for quality and assurance reasons.

  • At this time of COVID-19 do all ministers set an example of maintaining distance from one another? 

Positioning the Camera
  • "Avoid placing any light sources directly behind you, including windows."

  • "Unless you have a microphone connected to the camera, it is better to have the camera closer."

  • If you are using a phone, "[u]se an inexpensive tripod and camera mount . . . It works better than 'propping up' the phone on the altar."

  • If you are using a phone, "[f]rame yourself in the phone so people can see both the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist."

  • If you have multiple cameras, consider positioning your cameras in order to more easily focus on the particular parts and flow of the liturgy.  

"[T]he liturgies that worked well had an actual tech/camera person who moved the focus to where it was at each point in the liturgy (at a minimum, on the presider, on the lectern, on the cantor, on the altar). Liturgy on video needs adjustment in many parish church arrangements."
Lizette Larson-Miller: Facebook post on March 22, 3:44pm
  • Best Practice Example: Multiple Cameras
    • Palm Sunday, St. Paul the Apostle Church​, NY (April 5, 2020)10am Mass
  • The Prayers of the Faithful.  Starting time: 43:34
The Worship Locations of Online Participants
  • Tips for Creating a Worship Space "At Home"
Create a space that is conducive for better worship and consider adapting some of the principles that could be found in the document Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture, and Worship by the U.S. Bishops
  • Be aware of the liturgical season during which the liturgy is taking place. How might your worship space reflect this season, the solemnity, and/or the feast day?
  • Consider utilizing the colors that celebrate the liturgical seasons:
  • Violet/Purple: Advent, Lent

  • White: Christmas and Easter Seasons; Holy Thursday; nuptial masses and baptism; funerals

  • Green: Ordinary Time

  • Rose: Gaudate Sunday (3rd Sunday of Advent); Laetare Sunday (4th Sunday of Lent)

  • Red: Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Pentecost

  • Check out this great website from St. Clare of Assisi Catholic Church in O'Fallon, IL 

Hybrid Models for Locations: Onsite Worship Sites Combined with Other Locations

  • In addition to the various locations of the online participants, some communities offer additional sites and locations for other worship activities while the liturgy is taking place.​

    • Best Practice Example: During the livestream Mass at St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica, CA, at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word, the children with accompanying parent(s) are invited to click on a separate link for The Children’s Liturgy of the Word.  This "portal" (their term) includes readings and activities specifically geared for them.

       

Other Sites for Livestream Mass Beyond Local Parish
  • Obviously not every local worship community /parish is able to use livestream as a media tool.  There are number of options available.
    • Consider your cathedral and other local diocesan parishes as a starting point (tip from Lizette Larson-Miller, Facebook post: March 22, 2020)
    • Of course one of the advantages of livestream mass is the option to "go beyond" your local diocese.  Check out these websites:

WHEN

What is the liturgical season and how does the principle of progressive solemnity inform the production of the liturgy in a digital world (e.g., sights, sounds, movements, etc.)?

Is the liturgy being livestreamed or is it being recorded for future viewings or both?  

 

What is your operative timeframe during livestream masses?

  • Some prefer shorter timeframes: e.g., shorter homilies, scriptural proclamations are condensed, fewer verses during the singing of songs, etc.  Reasons vary.  For example:

    • a perceived intolerance for lengthy ritual moments, given that the  digital medium or platform is less engaging and sensing than live/in-person liturgies;

    • the experience of having inadequate technology and media tools that may result in poor visual and sound qualities.  "The sooner this ends, the better."

  • Others prefer longer (yet still engaging and quality) liturgies: 

    • longer homilies/Liturgy of the Word/scriptural focus; since online worship does not engage bodily participation, there may be a tendency to accent more cognitive or meditative practices;

    • online worshippers who are not able to gather physically miss ("long for)" such gatherings have a higher time tolerance; short timeframes might not "be enough” to meet those needs;

    • recorded liturgies provide the opportunity for online participants to return to the recordings at a future date and thus “space out” the viewing of the worship event "throughout the day" of through a sequence of days;

    • others argue that, in the end, the question of timeframe is ultimately a cultural and contextual interpretation and judgment; thus, longer liturgies allow them to pick and choose, skip ahead, rewind, etc. those portions that meet their particular worship/spirituality needs. 

Inserting "Past" Liturgical Parts of the Mass During "Present" Livestream Masses
  • In some livestream masses I have watched I noticed the insertion of video clips that were taken from past liturgical celebrations.  There may have been pastoral reasons for doing this, not the least may have been the lack of time to prepare the livestream properly, especially during this time of COVID-19! In one example, the livestream mass even displayed the year that it was recorded on the screen.
  • In general, this is not very good liturgical theology.  Liturgy is about "now" and "today."  Liturgy is a PRESENT actuation, a liv-ING prayer. Words such as "now" and "today" are among the most important words we could ever speak, pray aloud, or sing during our liturgies:
    • "Now is the acceptable time."​
    • "Jesus Christ is risen today!" (We do not sing "Jesus Christ was risen 2,000 years ago!")
    • "Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord." (We do not sing "2,000 years ago was born our Savior, Christ the Lord.")
    • The sequence of "THIS is the night!" throughout the Exultet. (We do not sing "2,000 years ago was the night!").
  • The displaying of past liturgical components of the mass takes us out of "kairos time" and into "chronos time." Liturgy, in the end, is about kairos time. 
  • Also, in the words of a friend of mine (who shall be nameless): "They've already taken away our common SPACE to gather, and now they're taking away our common TIME."
  • Having stated this, there are livestream masses that use previously recordings of lectors and/or cantors, but such videos are usually recorded sometime within the immediate timeframe of the production, within a few days before. There are also pastoral reasons for doing this: e.g., the lay ministers who record these videos "at home" are not allowed to be "onsite" due to the COVID-19 regulation of keeping distance. Thus, these moments do not take us away from kairos time.
  • Again, there may be genuine pastoral reasons for inserting past liturgy clips within present and "live"-stream liturgies. So there are no judgments here. I'm simply stating that this is not the best practice, as far as liturgical theology is concerned.

HOW

44 Terms to Know if You Create Live Videos
Here's a useful glossary if you are unfamiliar with livestream videos and would like to learn more about it.
How to Set Up a Basic Livestream Platform in YouTube
From NPM Livestream here is a very helpful YouTube video by Craig Colson and Mark Watson.  They talk about and demonstrate:
  • how to set up a YouTube account for livestream [5:30];
  • some tips on tripod and action camera advantages [6:45]
  • ethernet connection vs. WIFI [7:22];
  • some camera options & how to set up video and audio components for [7:50]:
    • The GoPro Hero 8 Black
    • The Black Magic Pocket Cinema 4K
    • The Black Magic ATEM MINI Live Production Switcher
    • YouTube OBS Studio 
How to Set Up a Facebook Livestream
There are plenty of YouTube tutorials for how to livestream via Facebook. Here are a couple of options that I found particularly helpful:

Planning and Preparing Livestream Masses

 

  • In addition to liturgical experts (e.g., clergy, liturgy and/or music directors, etc.,), do you have media and technology experts or access to further skill learning?

  • Are these media and technology experts part of the planning and preparation processes that lead up the liturgy?  How might their input affect the textual, musical, artistic, homiletic, etc. decisions and content?

Producing Livestream Masses
Here's a very useful and informative YouTube video that was created by Daniel Houze, the producer of the livestream masses of St. Monica Catholic Church, Santa Monica, CA. Their masses are one of the best models out there. Obviously, there is a lot of time and energy that go into such productions. But no matter what your scale and available resources may be, we could still learn something from the professionals and apply it to our own context.

How is the media and technology tools that are being employed capable of meeting your liturgical goals, such as the full, active, and conscious participation for both onsite and online participants?

  

For online participants, how are you viewing and participating in the liturgy?

  • How is the media and technology tools being employed in order to meet your own/family/community worship goals? 

  • What is the quality (visual and sound) of these tools and do you need to upgrade them?

  • What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of the online platforms (e.g., parish website, Facebook, YouTube, etc.)?

  • If you allow simultaneous comments during the liturgy, how will you be doing this?  Consider having a designated host to monitor, regulate, and answer questions.

 

Hybrid Models for Recordings: Livestream Combined with Previously Recorded Segments (for the Upcoming Livestream Mass)

  • Some worship communities have hybrid models in which previously recorded parts of the Mass are inserted during the live broadcast. This allows for better quality control of those segments.

  • In situations when lay ministers are not able to be present during the livestream (e.g., COVID-19), this model allows those ministers to exercise their ministry by recording their segments beforehand.​​

  • Best Practice Example 1
    • Best Practice Example: April 5, 2020, St. Paul the Apostle Church, NY, 5:30pm Mass
    • Communion Meditation Song, From an Upper Room (Joseph Martin)
    • An example of a "multi-screen video" in which each of the 10 musicians have their own separate window, recorded from their "homes" which visually connects with online participants.

    • The music director, Joey Chancey, is not only conducting the choir, but he’s facing us, the online participants, and thus, engaging us to participate.

    • The text font is very clear: black background, white bold font, not cursive or italicized.

    • The instrumentalist is also seen.

    • Paulist seminarian, Dan Macalinao, produced this video on his iPad using the app "Lumafusion." 

    • Link below, song starts at 1:01:39
  • A Best Practice Example 2:

    • March 22, 2020, St. Monica Catholic Church, 5:30pm Mass.  

    • Opening Song, "Into the Desert" (Curtis Stephan/Sarah Hart) features another multi-screen video created by the students of St. Monica H.S.

    • Each phrase of the verses is sung solo by a different choir member with his/her full face shown.  But during the Refrain, all faces are shown.  

    • The text to the song is displayed at the bottom of the screen. 

    • Link below, song starts at 00:22

© 2020 by Ricky Manalo, CSP.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.

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