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.

Father Tom Gibbons was ordained a Paulist priest in 2012. Prior to becoming a priest, he spent time as a Jesuit Volunteer in Phoenix, AZ, working with immigrants in El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. He's also worked as a graphic designer and web developer, serving nonprofits like Success For All Foundation, Baltimore City Head Start, and Catholic Relief Services. He previously wrote a blog entitled “Kicking and Screaming” for Busted Halo. After serving as a deacon at Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., Father Tom was sent to St. Peter’s Church in Toronto, where he first served as Associate Pastor and then as the Parish Administrator. In 2016, he produced a documentary on the founder of the Paulist Fathers, entitled “Isaac Hecker and the Journey of Catholic America” – featuring celebrity voices of Martin Sheen, Matt McCoy, and Bob Gunton. Father Tom is currently at work on a new documentary investigating the complicated legacy of the Catholic Church in California with the film “Junipero Serra: Statue of Limitations,” scheduled for release in 2022. In addition to his work as Vice President of Paulist Productions, Father Tom also performs pastoral work at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church and Transfiguration Catholic Church in Los Angeles, CA.