Intervention: Sacraments and the Mass Media
Father Michael F. Hull
Almost forty years ago, the Second Vatican Council foresaw the importance of the mass media in its decree Inter mirifica and in the subsequent establishment of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication by Pope Paul VI. Concomitantly, the Church referred to herself as "the sacrament of salvation" in Lumen gentium. Aware of the critical nature of the mass media as a means of fulfilling the Lordís command in Matthew 28:19 and attentive to her sacramental nature, the Church now finds herself with manifold instruments to proclaim the Good News in the third millennium.
The seven sacraments, signs instituted by Christ that effect what they signify, are the principal liturgical rites of the Church. They are "by the Church" insofar as they mediate grace to the world. But the sacraments are also "for the Church" insofar as they demonstrate the fruits of the Passion (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologia, III, q. 60, a. 3) and strengthen the faith (Sacrosanctum concilium, n. 59). The mass media provides the avenue for the Church to manifest her mission of sanctification to all peoples as well as the means to edify her own children.
Without doubt, the technological advances of the mass media in the last forty years have been breathtaking. They have expanded beyond radio, film, and television to include computers, satellite transmission, and the Internet. They have also expanded their range: technology once available only to a few developed nations is now to be found in every sector of the globe. In ways hardly conceived of just a short time ago, the Church now has access to an unheralded plethora of communications media. Where once the Church might have had to vie for "air time," and thus form her message accordingly, new resources offer the possibility of illuminating the Churchís sacramental character and individual sacraments through the unlimited channels of the Internet.
To use the idiom of the day, the mass media allow the Church to sanctify a "global village." Contemporary technology is the tool whereby the ancient mysteria might be made known to and more deeply appreciated in the four corners of the earth. The mass media offer opportunities the Church cannot afford to miss. As St. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 1:23, we preach Christ and Christ crucified, and the hallmarks of that preaching are the sacraments: the seven efficacious signs and symbols of life in Christ. The sacraments are the harbingers of salvation to the world. It is the obligation of the Church to utilize the means of the mass media in order to reveal Godís salvific will for man. Fortunately, the Church is vigilant in this duty: two pertinent examples may be seen in this series of video conferences sponsored by the Congregation of the Clergy and the Holy Fatherís use of the Internet just a few days ago.
As with St. Lukeís effort to write an orderly account of the truth for Theophilis (Luke 1:4), so the Church must present an orderly account of the truth for her members and for the world. The current tools of the mass media, especially the Internet, present a grace filled moment for the Church to represent herself as the sacrament of salvation, to go out to all the world and tell the Good News.