New cathedral cameras will bring special liturgies to all in archdiocese

SEATTLE – A year before the pandemic sent parishes scrambling to livestream Masses, St. James Cathedral began discussing the idea of installing cameras so special liturgies could be viewed by people around the archdiocese.

“Then the pandemic really lit the fire under us,” said Corinna Laughlin, the cathedral’s pastoral assistant for liturgy and liturgy consultant to the archdiocese. “We were immediately pushed into livestreaming … thrown into the deep end of the pool.”

That has worked well enough, with people around the archdiocese joining the Sunday and weekday Masses that are livestreamed on Vimeo and Facebook via a cellphone placed in front of the altar. But the four professional-grade cameras installed August 12 will allow a richer livestream experience of the liturgy, bringing “beautiful color and sound and light and movement,” Laughlin said. “That’s the goal.”

The cameras, three installed around the altar area with different angles to take in the whole cathedral and the fourth just under the choir loft, will be remotely controlled. The operator can switch cameras, choosing the best angle for each point in the liturgy, Laughlin explained.

The staff aims to quickly learn the software and system, with the goal of switching the livestream to the new cameras August 23.

“It’s a bit intimidating right now to look at that, but I think we’re going to get the hang of it,” Laughlin said. Then they’ll get a team of volunteers to learn the system and help out; already one volunteer has committed to handle the Sunday Masses, she said.

During the last five months, the cathedral staff has found that livestreaming Sunday and weekday Masses allows people “from every corner of the archdiocese” to feel connected to the cathedral.

“It’s great that they can hear the archbishop preach,” Laughlin said, noting that in normal times, Catholics might get to hear Archbishop Paul D. Etienne preach perhaps once a year during parish visits. “That’s kind of a silver lining,” she said.

The new camera system has another silver lining: St. James parishioners will be able to attend Masses that are being livestreamed, up to 200 people per Mass, Laughlin said. With the cellphone setup, they couldn’t use the cathedral sound system to make the Mass audible for in-person worshippers without sacrificing the sound quality on the livestream. The new system will allow good-quality sound for both those inside the cathedral and those watching the livestream, Laughlin said.

The cost of the new equipment and installation is being shared between St. James and the Archdiocese of Seattle’s Communications department, Laughlin said. The archdiocese will benefit from being able to share and archive archdiocesan events, and St. James will benefit from being able to livestream parish events, she explained. “It will be a real game-changer for us,” Laughlin said.

Besides the traditional Christmas Eve Mass, which in past years has been broadcast on a local TV station, the new equipment will be used to livestream special liturgies throughout the year — ordinations, the Chrism Mass, cultural Masses like Simbang Gabi and more.

“In the long run it will [cost] a lot less per year [than] for the Christmas broadcast,” Laughlin said. “It will save money and it will be more flexible.”

St. James could offer livestreaming for parishioners’ weddings and funerals, Laughlin said, noting that during the pandemic they already have livestreamed two weddings and two funerals. And instead of sending audio recordings of Sunday Mass to homebound parishioners, watching the livestream “will be a much more engaging way to pray with the community,” she said.

“To me it’s very exciting because in this moment it means we can have people at all our Masses, instead of having to do dedicated livestream liturgies where it’s just a handful” of people, Laughlin said. “For us it will be a big step back toward normal.”

Jean Parietti

Jean Parietti is the local news editor for NWCatholic.org and features editor for Northwest Catholic magazine. You can reach her at jean.parietti@seattlearch.org.
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Jean Parietti es editora local para el sitio web NWCatholic.org y destacada editora de la revista Noroeste Católico/Northwest Catholic. Pueden contactarle en: jean.parietti@seattlearch.org.