Busted Halo

Paulist seminarian Tom Gibbons reflects on his formation experience and his life as a seminarian right now. Along the way, some questions will be will be answered, and a lot more will come up.

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January 7th, 2011

iPads in Liturgy?


While I adore the parish at which I am serving this year, I sometimes wonder if it is run by Quakers rather than Catholics.  Because at the beginning of Daily Masses at my Church, only the priest seems to have an assigned role.

Of course roles are much more defined during the Sunday services, but for whatever reason the role of lector and Eucharistic minister at my church is left to whomever the Spirit moves during the week; daily Masses are usually characterized by the assembled faithful giving each other looks that communicate after the Opening Prayer is finished, “Are you going to do it? Do you want me to go up?  Are you sure?”

Partially because I like to read and also partially because I am the seminarian, I usually walk up if other people have not suggested (verbally or non-verbally) that they would like to read.  Except this past Monday another wrench was thrown into the service after I approached the altar; when I walked up to the lectern, the book was not put out.

And it’s not as if this was necessarily a national disaster—the 5:20 evening crowd tends to be a laid-back bunch who don’t freak out at liturgical emergencies—but at that moment I had a decision to make… because hanging off my right belt loop was my trusty iPhone.

A few months ago I bought through the iTunes Store Universalis, an app that allows you to view the prayers and the liturgical readings for the entire Roman Catholic calendar right on your iPhone.  Before I invested in this neat little app, I used to have to carry my very thick, very heavy Book of Christian Payer whenever I traveled; now all of the prayers I ever need can be found in my own little 32 gigabytes of heaven.  Also included: the daily readings for Mass.

Now, the presiding priest is a very good friend of mine.  He is also more of a tech-head than I am.  I give him a look and reach for my phone.  Through the unspoken communication that can only take place between two people whose lives have both been touched by Steve Jobs, I know that he knows what I am thinking.  And I know that he is intrigued by the idea himself.  He raises an eyebrow… but then shakes his head and goes into the sacristy to get the actual Lectionary.

ipad_heroI suppose he was right – I am not slated to take the “Liturgy and Presiding” class until next semester, so I have no real way of knowing the validity of an iPhone Mass for sure.  But with the new release of the Apple iPad and the popularity of the Amazon Kindle, we might have some new questions on how to proceed as a Church.  After all, if these types of technologies are poised to replace the technology of the “book,” do we as a church evolve along with the new technology?  I mean, it’s not like I saw a lot of books being used in the Star Wars movies and the Jedi seemed to defend the Republic just fine… until the last movie that is, maybe I should rethink my argument.

I know where the Quakers would land on this question, but what do you think?  I know that there is a danger of some young priest someday concluding the Gospel reading with, “The Blog of the Lord,” but is that a chance worth taking?  And this is not just a conversation for just Catholics; most if not all religious traditions have some form of holy texts… just how necessary is paper for them to be holy?  Leave some comments and let the eDebate begin!

Originally published February 3, 2010.

The Author : Fr. Tom Gibbons
Since 2009, Tom Gibbons, CSP, has shared insights on faith, pop culture, and seminary life in the Kicking and Screaming blog here at Busted Halo. On May 19, 2012, Tom was ordained a Paulist priest at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York City. He will begin serving St. Peter's Catholic Church in Toronto, Canada beginning in July 2012.
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  • Michael T. Barrett

    Just last week we had an incident during a communion service and the lector could not find the book for the readings.

    I pulled out my iPhone, loaded the app with the readings for the day and offered it for their use.

    The service went on as scheduled, no harm no foul. I was glad I had it with me.

  • Phil Fox Rose

    The Vatican seems to be all for it! Joey Pontanilla, a listener over on the Facebook fan page for the radio show just shared this from USA Today Faith & Reason http://bit.ly/93wSjk

    “An Italian priest has developed an iPad application that will let priests celebrate Mass with an iPad on the altar instead of the regular Roman missal.

    The Rev. Paolo Padrini, a consultant with the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said Friday that the free application will be launched in July in English, French, Spanish, Italian and Latin.”

  • Gavin

    I am all for the e-version and the ipad. Think of the millions of trees that will need to be cut down to print the revised version of the new eucharist. Thwe big disadvantage of course is that the Book of the Gospels is ceremoniously processed to the altar [and sometimes incensed] this could cause some difficulties with an ipad!

  • Joan Seymour

    What an interesting discussion! Like Frank, I don’t believe holinesss is the issue. For me, it’s a matter of gravitas. Of course the book isn’t the Word – but it is an important sign, and an iPod doesn’t carry the symbolic richness of the lectionary. It’s more akin to the printed sheet that some lectors in my parish take up to the lectern (aargh)! Finally, while I think this app would be fine for personal prayer, the Liturgy is essentially communal, something that’s hard to convey via the iPod, which tends to isolate each individual rather than unite them. I do think these issues are worth discussing, and I love the passion with which this one is discussed. Tom Gibbons, how about discussing this with the congregation after Mass, perhaps over a cup of coffee, and see what comes up from them!

  • Chris

    In the first century most believers could not read or write. They mistrusted written word, preferring the oral tradition. We just have to get used to the electronic format.
    After all it’s What is going on in your head that counts, not what your holding in your hand.

  • Frank

    I think the debate about the “holiness” of some objects or about the Word vs. the book is misplaced. In some ways you are all right. Fr. Larry, for whom I have much respect as a priest and fellow tech geek, is right that the physical book plays an important role as a symbol – one that an iPad would have a tough time pulling off. But that’s just it: we cannot forget that, at one level, what we do at Mass and the *stuff* we do it with are all part of a carefully choreographed performance, complete with scripted lines, rehearsed blocking,evocative dress, appropriate props and a killer soundtrack. There is a reason we don’t use coffee mugs or plastic cups for the wine – it would feel anachronistic, out of place. When we “do” Mass, we’re going for a certain holy/ancient/otherworldy/timeless vibe. To pull that off we need all the right props & backdrops. A fancy, shiny, gold-plated book fits right in. By comparison, an electronic device just wouldn’t convey the same thing (right now). Objectively, however, it doesn’t mean the iPod in my pocket is any less holy than the Book of Gospels on the altar or the newsprint disposable missalette at the lectern. We give the Book of Gospels its sacred meaning by casting it in a special role in our Eucharistic drama. I’m ok with that. But I’m not ok when we try to retro fit theological reasons onto what are simply cultural or psychological phenomena or even spiritual preferences. We like our Mass staged the way it is – and it is staged the way that it is for some really good reasons ‚Ä쬆but we have to recognize that it too is a product of natural cultural and social dynamics. So while it isn‚Äôt idolatrous to pay special attention to the details of translations or “props” – even revel in them, if that‚Äôs your thing, we run the risk of missing the Playwright’s intent or the Star of the Show when we insist on handing out elevated roles for supporting characters and their props.

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