St James Cathedral - Seattle, WA

Monday, January 14, 2013

Going High Tech for Holy Mass

The term "hands free" will never enter your mind if you've got two small toddlers with you in church.  If I'm not holding the squirmy one, I'm holding the other who's restless and ready to fall asleep.  Because of this, being able to use a hymnal or a misalette during the liturgy can be a rare occurrence for me.  This became especially evident when the changes in the Mass were introduced.  I even thought about buying a new daily missal to help learn the responses, but I wasn't sure if my kids would give me a chance to use it! 

So a few weeks ago, I found a free app for my smartphone that contained the commonly used texts and responses in the liturgy- the Confiteor, Gloria, Creed, etc.  I thought this would be really helpful since I'm not able to use the reference pages in the hymnal or reach one of the worship aids in the pew while holding a small child.  One Sunday as I held my daughter when the Nicene Creed started, an idea came to me.  While holding her with one arm, I could use my free hand to look at my smartphone and I could finally recite the Creed without stumbling over the words!  

Well, what I thought was divine inspiration quickly became something else.  Towards the end the Creed, I realized how out of place this must have looked and quickly put the phone away.  Sure, I was legitimately using my smartphone as a worship aid, thumbing through the text of the Nicene Creed.  But to the people around me, I'm sure it looked like I was reading e-mail, checking Facebook, or playing Words with Friends.  My wife's what-are-you-doing glance definitely confirmed my suspicion.

A Catholic radio show host tells another interesting story about mobile devices in the liturgy.  He was attending a wedding at a parish he had never been to before.  As the bridesmaids lined up at the door of the church, a well-dressed man began slowly walking down the center aisle, carrying an iPad prominently above his head- the same way a deacon carries the Book of the Gospels in the entrance procession.  No one was really sure what was happening.  Was this some type of e-Gospel book? Was this the beginning of the procession?  If so, should he stand up? As the guy walked by, he realized what was going on- it was just the wedding photographer taking a video recording of the center aisle decorated so nicely.

It's no surprise anymore seeing people use smartphones, tablets, and other similar devices in public.  (In fact, it's more of a surprise someone to find someone without one.)  But in church, we're not there yet and I'm not sure why.  Already popular are the Divine Office App, the eBreviary, and other similar programs for those who want to pray the Liturgy of the Hours using a mobile device.  My parish deacon will tell you he actually prefers the electronic version of the Breviary- it's more portable, easier to read, and the pictures are nicer!

It's easy to envision future generations of Catholics incorporating these devices into the Mass.  Imagine the ambo or pulpit with a touchscreen, complete with an eLectionary and a Prayers of the Faithful app.  Instead of a thick, heavy Roman Missal for the celebrant, a thin, lightweight tablet with a cover that matches the color of the Mass.  It could even receive automatic updates with the latest liturgical revisions and new prayers for recently canonized saints.  For the faithful, the parish would have Wi-Fi capability and charging stations in the pews next to the hymnals. (Okay, I think I'm getting a little carried away now, but there's already an app called the iMissal...What's next?)

We may not be ready for all this now, however anything that enhances genuine participation in the liturgy is a good thing.  It would be interesting if the Congregation for Divine Worship or the USCCB issues norms or similar documents for guidance.  If that's going to be the case, how do you say mobile device in Latin?

Originally published in Saint Meinrad's Echoes of the Bell Tower.  


  1. So I've already received this from a reader:

    "excuses, excuses, excuses. If one hand can hold an ipod,...etc. so that same hand can also hold same size card or smaller with all the necessary responses for mass. Many, do not have a child in one hand, and still are not holding a missal or the pamphlet provided to follow the mass. One has to pray with all the senses as necessary/available. From Verbum Domini of the Holy Father Benedict XVI :"a communal reading of the Scripture is extremely important,..... the previledge place of reading of sacred Scripture is the liturgy....." Get a missal. I pray the Lord's Prayer 50 X/day, and when Iam at mass, I also read as I pray the Lord's prayer. A touch of a finger : from the Creed to facebook, or an internet game, can be distracting for many and for children, who should have their hands together in prayer and not holding anything electronic."

    I think she was a little harsh myself. What do you think?

  2. I agree with the previous respondent. I have 3 small children and the printed version is no more difficult to hold then a phone, while holding a child. We need to learn to unplug at sometime. We do not need the blue back light guiding us each day. We need to connect with each other rather then technology. You are addicted, like most others to your smart phone. Stop making excuses and rationalizing why you need it everywhere. It is okay to put it down, especially while around your children!

    1. Anonymous: If it matters to you, here's what I replied to the respondent, and now to you.

      "If one hand can hold an ipod..." Actually, I disagree. My parish has the Creed available in two formats: (1) The Gather Hymnal which sizes/weighs as much as a hardcover textbook so it's really hard to manipulate it with one hand while holding a child with the other arm, and (2) a 8.5 x 11inch pew card which my 20 month old child is happy to grab and destroy so I have to keep them away. Just so you know, my phone is only 4.5 x 2.35in and weighs 4 ounces, it literally fits in the palm of my hand. If she grabs at it, I can move it to my waste; doing so with a pew card or dropping a hymnal is pretty distracting. So yes, using the phone as a worship aid is praying with all the senses as necessary/available; although if you read the article, you'll see I tried it and stopped. But thanks for your comment, as harsh and dismissive as it was."

  3. well I am young I don't have children nut here in my church is pretty hard to found material like that so I usually download them from Internet and put it in my phone

    I don't use it at mass because of the prejudices of people, but when I teach catequesis or pray alone or with a small group its a great tool and i think that the bad things is that you're giving a bad example to people who are in mass and they think that you are reading a message or something

  4. I'm a mother of 5 and my time in the pews is difficult. Any response cards in the crying room are torn. And kids make walls with the hymnals. Where I see the best investment in technology are the screens near the altar with hymns and long responses like the creed (turned off otherwise). You have a great article here that made me laugh and ponder what the churches future with technology holds. No need for anonymous commenters to scoff. While many need to "unplug" we need to appreciate that there are people who can benefit from today's faith apps. Improper judgement of another is not an advancement of any kind.

  5. My take: It's not really about being ready (or not) for technology, which I am a big fan of, btw. It's a matter of things in their proper places. A breviary or a missal are things dedicated to a sacred purpose: prayer and worship. Smartphones or tablets are used for all kinds of mundane and profane things, even if they also have really nice Catholic apps on them. I have all sorts of Catholic apps on my iPhone and iPad. But I don't use them at Mass. Before Mass, after Mass, during Holy Hour, sure. But not during Mass.

    So, you see, it's really not about judging someone or getting with the times. It's about realizing that once we step through the church doors we are in another time and space, we are in sacred time and space. We leave the ordinary world behind us. Even the architecture of the space used to remind us of this. Sadly, many church buildings no longer do so. But we know it, even if it is only a dim memory. But we do know it. Personally, I don't even like to use a missal at Mass. I don't like flipping through the pages. I like to look over the readings before Mass and then pay attention during Mass. For me, I get more out of it that way, and I can put more into it, too.

    That's my take on the matter, anyway. For what it's worth. :)

    Lee :)


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