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Lex Photographi, Lex Orandi

Wedding Photo

Photography composition rules
drive worship practice

For an ordination to the priesthood, our NZ Prayer Book instructs assisting priests to, with the bishop, lay hands on the candidate.

Instead of this, at least three Anglican bishops in New Zealand have the assisting priests lay hands on the bishop instead.

The only explanation I have heard so far is that the way the Prayer Book instructs ends up with less attractive photographs – this way there are better sight lines to the candidate for photographs.

Clergy regularly share experiences of the requirements for good photographs affecting services. Weddings, especially, can feel like the setting for pretty photographs. I’ve had experiences of the photographer at a wedding leaping over altar rails. One time, I was addressing a couple and the congregation. I turned around to walk the couple up to the altar for the signing of the wedding register, and I crashed into the photographer. Unbeknown to me, he was behind me with his back to me ignoring the address and using the time to take photographs of the East window.

Pope Francis recently commented:

The priest says ‘lift up your hearts’. He does not say, ‘lift up your cell phones to take pictures.’ It makes me very sad when I celebrate Mass here in the piazza or in the basilica and I see so many cell phones held up. Not only by the faithful, but also by some priests and even bishops! The Mass is not a show.

Let me be clear about my own thoughts: I think it is fine to have a record (video, photographic) of a significant service. It is wonderful to use technology so that those not able to be there might participate via a live feed (eg. a funeral, a wedding,…). This can be done discretely, sensitively, with the primary focus on the worship, the sacraments, the service.

Increasingly, it seems to me, people are experiencing life in and through a screen, and an ever-decreasing size of screen at that. I was in a museum recently, and a man and a woman were going through the museum videoing everything. They were barely looking at anything but pausing at each display – one to record it on her phone (connected to an extra battery in her pocked), the other on a small video camera (he was looking at a screen a fraction of the size of a phone’s screen!) I have no idea what they think they will do with the hours of dizzying videos that they are producing. It is one of the images of hell: we will all be required to watch each person’s life at a continuous-shot, unedited take.

It has got to the point that people are calling for unplugged weddings:

We invite you to be fully present with us during our ceremony. Please turn off all cell phones and cameras and enjoy the moment with us.

Three further points:

I am strongly in favour of technology enhancing worship – I regularly encourage that. But I am strongly against technology governing worship. Worship and administering the sacraments is the goal – not the means of producing photographs for increasing likes!

There needs to be a canonical discussion: we recently changed our Church’s Constitution to allow bishops to authorise services. Regulars on this site will know that I thought flexibility in our Church is sufficient and I was opposed to the change. There is confusion now: if there already is a formulary (technical word for church-wide agreed rite), can a bishop authorise another service to achieve the same end (or can the bishop alter the agreed formulary)? I have been given opinions in both directions. Can a bishop decide to not use the ordinal as agreed? Not lay hands on the head of each candidate? Or, as in the cases described here, have the assisting priests lay hands on the bishop as opposed to the candidate as the ordinal (and Christian tradition) says?

Finally, having the assisting priests lay hands on the bishop, rather than the candidate, sends all the wrong signals. It reinforces a magic mentality of liturgy. It focuses on the bishop. It is super-clericalism. And it diminishes the sense that all of us are ordaining together – the sense that God is ordaining in response to all of us praying the prayer that is led by the bishop. Those taking the photographs – are they really praying at that moment? And the bishops altering the agreed rites in order that photos be taken at that most holy moment – are they equiping, building up, and empowering a worshiping people?

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4 thoughts on “Lex Photographi, Lex Orandi”

  1. For an ordination to the priesthood, our NZ Prayer Book instructs assisting priests to, with the bishop, lay hands on the candidate.

    Instead of this, at least three Anglican bishops in New Zealand have the assisting priests lay hands on the bishop instead.

    Latter-day Saints lay on hands for everything from birth to death; blessing & naming a newborn, lay priesthood ordination, anointing & blessing the sick or dying, setting someone apart for a calling to a ministry, etc. If only a few, everyone lays both hands on the person. If a lot of folks are laying on hands, then only the officiant lays on both hands and the others lay on their right hand and their left hand on the shoulder of the person to their left. I have seen so many laying on hands that they made an inner and an outer circle where those in the outer circle lay their right hand on the shoulder of a person in the inner circle and their left hand on the person to their left.


    1. Thanks, David. Roman Catholics (in ordination) lay on hands (in silence) one by one. The practice is not driven by photogenic considerations. Blessings.

    2. Daniel Berry, NYC

      wow…a charismatic daisy-chain!

      I think I understand the underlying ecclesiology, tho: after all, the bishop ostensibly serves at the leave of the people–as do all ordained persons, which is why the officiating bishop asks the people’s approval before proceeding. The Orthodox have done this, time out of mind.

  2. The most powerful moment of my ordination (and slightly suffocating) was when the priests surrounded me for the laying on of hands. It was for me the moment my call became real, that I had committed myself and was bound into it. A daisy chain behind the bishop would have nowhere near the impact.
    In the Canadian ordinal (1985 BAS), after the laying on of hands itself is quite short, and followed by a lengthy prayer by the bishop “with hands extended over the ordinand(s)”. In my current diocese the assisting priests take a step or two back, but that could easily be choreographed (a parting of the red-stoled sea) to provide a photo-op.

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