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.