To Tech Or Not To Tech – In Mass

In modern society, we have undergone several eras of technology. With the advent of computers, we experienced the ability to program this “machine” to perform mundane tasks of the everyday work experience.

The advancement of the archaic computers made them not only faster and “smarter”, but more and more mobile. Think back when we got our first home computers, talk about a large leap into the future for families! We felt like we were the Jetsons! Then, we began to see more and more that mobile solutions were the wave of the future. We saw car phones, pagers, and finally cell phones emerging into regular everyday life.

Here we are today in the year 2011, with the internet, email, text messaging and a phone call literally right in our pocket. We can now transmit a message to our aunt in New York or uncle in California at the speed of the Internet. We can now, in the heat of a debate over our faith, look up that scripture verse that defends the stance of the Church in no time flat with the modern 4G technology.

More and more, the ever increasing speed of the Internet allows us to collect data in larger and more streamlined quantities without having to run over to the bulky and stationary home pc. We have the power of the Internet in our pockets these days. The are historic times we live in, in that, the barriers of time and space are being shattered.

Cell phones, no that’s smartphones these days, are no longer just a commodity to experience wire-free calls,  but now one of the biggest sources of Internet usage. In my household (before I went crazy during lent…read more about that by clicking here), we would rarely use the home computer except in the occasions that I had to run something through Photoshop or network our devices. Slowly, the home pc became solely used by my kids for school or play.

Nowadays, there are even apps to try and make our lives more convenient, efficient and balanced with a whole tidal wave of productivity apps. There are even apps that make it possible to get that prayer in from the Divine Office or to review the Mass readings for the day. Apps like iMissal, iBreviary, Divine Office, and The Magnificat are excellent apps (which I will review each in depth shortly) for this integration of the liturgical life of the Church into the everyday. Also, some say that the clergy needs an updated method of delivering the prayers at the Mass, and with the creation of these apps, priests are now able to give Mass from an iPad. More and more, laity and even priests and religious are getting in their breviary and daily readings by use of apps like these.

Now this brings me to a crossroads. With so much integration between technology and faith, I ask the question – What about the use of these technological mediums such as smartphones and tablets such as the iPad during Mass? Some of you probably said to yourself “Okay, here we go”, but I beg you, hear me out.

The use of such mediums is, say some, the perfect opportunity to better engage and modernize worship with contemporary society. Others are critics, stating that this technology has no business on the altars or in the pews. Should we sacrifice the old books and replace it with new, state of the art technology? Are the techy’s pushing for this just so hypnotized by technology that they want it in every crevice of life? Or, are those critics that oppose the use of this technology just prudes that hold on to the past and like to relish the smell and feel of old books? This is a question that I sincerely ask, being that I have, in fact, used my Android smartphone with the iMissal app in order to follow along the Mass without having to use a book as well as prayers before and after communion without taking a second book. Was I wrong, or is it simply a matter of the personal preference of the lay person and parish priest?

On this matter, I’ll have to take both sides. I would like to use my iPad or smartphone to follow along with the mass, but on the other hand I think it might be distracting to some. I think, maybe for now, I’ll leave the iPad at home and the smartphone turned off until this matter becomes clear. With the wave of technology making mobile solutions more prevalent, soon the Church will have to instruct the laity and clergy on this matter.

What do you think?

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Author:John Sena

I am a husband and father of 4 young children that we homeschool. I am a totally avid technology nerd with special interests in smartphones, tablet pc's, laptops, desktops, wireless technologies, and the integration of technology into the "New Evangelization" through different internet-based mediums, as well as any new technology coming out that allows an individual to simplify the daily noise of everyday life. I have experience and knowledge in graphic design, web design/developing, internet marketing, technological repair, cell phones, and have interests in basically anything else technology based. I work in the aviation field and am a die-hard Catholic that does not waver on Church teaching and will never waver on the stance of the Church. I believe firmly in the family as the fundamental structure of the Church and in the need for the socialization of fellow Catholics in communal celebrations that integrate the rich liturgical life and structure of the Church into the day to day of the laity.
  • Scot Lunsford

     I have to say that I too have contemplated some of the same questions you present and there are numerous reasons I choose to leave my mobile devices out of my prayer and the times I go to mass. Granted as an app developer, I find it really hard to go just about anywhere without my mobile device entourage tagging along, so that gives you some context.

    Two things that struck me and I’ll leave it to the readers to unpack, but the first was when I was looking up some scripture a friend sent me. I used Bible for Android and the scripture really spoke to me. Now when God speaks strongly to me deeply through Scripture, I like to reverently venerate the scripture with a kiss. Ehhh… naturally something about venerating your phone is not the same as venerating a printed version of sacred Scripture. Needless to say I did not kiss the phone screen on which I just read the words. The second is very similar: as I read your article, I pictured a priest venerating the Gospel by kissing an iPad or a XOOM tablet being held high during the entrance procession. And the symbolism is just too strong in the wrong direction for me. “The heralding of the god of technology” so to speak. There is something about a physical copy of Scripture that is very different than that same Scripture embedded in the flash memory of a device and displayed on a bunch of pixels. A printed book somehow becomes Scripture in a way that a mobile device just can’t. A book, whether it be a Bible or a missal once it is printed and set aside as sacred performs that single function to become that piece of Scripture. Yet a mobile device has many other functions, and that in some way keeps it from becoming everything that a book can be.

    I CAN see priests using iPads for their homily notes and I would LOVE to receive my bulletin through an iPad app instead of physical printouts. So there’s definitely material suited for it, just a matter of judgment I think–certainly not a one size fits all imho.

    Anyhow, just my thoughts on one side of the issue. Totally see a use for the many apps available to Catholics. It’s amazing to be able to brief over the daily mass readings during a breakfast conversation or pull up a prayer to St. Joseph as you just happen to stumble upon an amazing statue after an impromptu visit to the Basilica or do some on the spot apologetics. 

    Keep up the good blogs!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the feedback! I agree wholeheartedly. There was actually an
      app created by an Italian priest I’m sure you’ve heard of that gave
      the prayers, but not the Gospel readings on an iPad. The topic was
      about the book of prayers, not the Gospels, but I still have to agree
      to leave the technology outside of mass. Regarding the use by the
      laity, I’ve felt weird the couple I’ve used my phone to follow along
      with the readings, and choose to use a printed copy. There is an
      essence of the paper book that leads usninto the antiquity of the
      Church that transcends time and space.

      Thanks for the good stuff and keep up the “good fight of faith”! 

  • Craig

    Technology is great and offers many benefits…even spiritual ones…but I’m not onboard for their use during the Liturgy.

    The image of a Priest processing with an iPad above his head just “feels” wrong. Also, what if the battery runs out, or it freezes up, or…well, you get the idea. Sometimes simpler is better.

    • Anonymous

      Yep, I totally agree. That would be totally weird. This is a subject I felt that needed to be discussed amongst us Catholic techy’s. People will turn to us for direction, so I felt it fitting to put this out there for discussion. Thanks Craig! 

  • Christine Maentz

    I’m the wife of a geek – technology runs through his veins. Not sure if he can say a complete sentence without mentioning “coolest ap”… We have all the latest & the greatest!  Recently I was in Ottawa & wanted to pray the Rosary while waiting for Mass to start so I pulled out my Iphone & put in my earplugs & prayed quietly…  I got many dirty looks & I understand why.  Folks had no clue if I was praying or listening to the latest tune.  Too awkward to continue to use my Iphone.  As for following the Mass with our Ipad (or Xoom), that’s where I draw the line.  The Mass is proclaimed to us & we shouldn’t be reading along anyway – we should be listening & participating. My 2 cents.

    • Anonymous

      Good point….exactly – we should be listening to the mass being proclaimed, I agree. Thanks for that point!

    • Scot Lunsford

      The first time I saw someone using an iPad in mass, I knew exactly what they were doing, but it still felt weird to me. And I think they felt weird too. I guess the question is: is this something that is so new it’s still socially unacceptable, or is this something that will never be accepted with good reason. I’m leaning towards the latter myself. 

  • Craig

     A friend of mine uses his Android for prayers and reflections during his weekly Eucharistic Adoration hour. That seems totally OK to me.

  • Alex Weber

    The thought of “moderniz(ing) worship with contemporary society” makes my skin crawl.  Mass is not supposed to be relevant (in the normal sense of the word).  It is “other than”.  It is transcendent and immutable.  I believe that a large part of the crisis the Church finds itself in today is that it’s people tried really hard to “modernize worship” for the last 40 years and in our efforts to become relevant we have become irrelevant to many.  No we are stuck with music that sounds like it was written by Peter, Paul, and Mary, vestments that look like that they where sown by Crayola, iconography that makes Jesus and the 12 apostles look like space aliens, and…well…you get the drift.  All of this was do with the intention of “enculturation”.  But what happens when our attitude of worship abandons the ancient for the contemporary?  Just my thoughts:)

  • Caroline Cerveny, SSJ

    I was surprised once when a priest who was saying Mass for a group invited all of us to bring our cell phones to Mass with us.  Of course, they were off for most of the Mass!  However, right at the end of the homily, Fr. asked us to hold our cell phones in our hand and then he blessed our cell phones.  (Note – the homily was about being involved in evangelization in our parishes with technology.) Then he asked us to think of a person we would like to text and to share something we would like to share from the homily we had just heard.  For a few minutes, as one looked around, you could see all with a cell phone deeply involved in sharing something from the homily via their texting services.  Then he invited us to complete our messages, turn off our phones, and to once again to focus on the Mass as we continued to pray.

    I believe we are at a point where we are truly in transition.  Some will say – No!  And others will be  involved with trying and exploring the possibilities.  Before we say NO, I trust that we will approach this topic with an “open mind.”  After all – we have new tools that we’ve never had before.  To say “NO” before we have explored, is NOT being open to the Spirit.  Let’s see where the Spirit will lead us.

    What was interesting in this message texting is that several folks engaged in wonderful conversations throughout the day and during the week that were simply initiated by the message they had “texted” to their friends.  It truly became a conversation starter and a way to evangelize and share faith with another person!  I would say – that is ALL good! 

  • Brad

     My wife scolded me one Sunday morning before Mass as I was looking down at my iPod Touch to “Put that thing away.”  I pivoted the screen towards her and showed I was praying the Rosary. I get messed up with the Mysteries.  Anyway, I typically pull out my phone before Mass begins to read the upcoming readings for the day and then away it goes once the Mass begins.  It’s more of a preparation thing for me.  I personally don’t even care for Missals to be out during Mass as for me it’s a time to pay attention fully and reflect.  But I also don’t feel others should do as I do.  It’s what I prefer to stay focused.  

    So I think if someone is using a digital Missal during a Mass compared to someone that is using print, it really makes no difference.  Now Angry Birds or Facebooking during Mass . . . not cool.  Great post and topic.

  • Alex Weber

    I work as an Admin. Assitant in the Office of Sacred Worship and ran across an article in the USCCB Newletter about this very topic.  It’s not available in the archives yet (March-April 2011), but it will be eventually ( The USCCB is put out by the Committe on Divine Worship. They wrote concerning using an e-reader or ipad during the liturgy,
    “On a practical level, such devices are not fool proof and can occasionally freeze up, requiring a restart.  On a deeper level, we treat objects admitted for liturgical use with respect and understand that once given over to liturgical use, the are used solely for that purpose.  To use an iPad, for example, in place of a printed Missal, what happens after its use in the Mass?  Is that same iPad later used to check e-mail, browse the Internet, play games, or watch streaming video?  Liturgical books also have a physical form that points to the “substance” of prayer and worship.  Liturgical texts are not “disposable”, and yet downloadable texts that can be printed and then discarded, or digital formats that can be deleted, would seem to indicate otherwise.”  

    The USCCB goes on to speak about the problematic implication of copyright laws.  I particularly like a statement in the articles last paragraph,

    “Technology can serve the Liturgy well, but we must be cautious not put the Liturgy at the service of technology.”

    I am personally OK with technology that makes the Liturgy more accessible (e.g. lightbulbs, a microphone, reading glasses), but not OK with technology that is supposed to make the Liturgy more convenient (an e-reader Lectionary is up there with a debit card collection tray in my humble opinion).  Are books really that difficult to use?  Just how streamline do we really need to get?

  • Sam

    I know many priests who use the iPad as lectionary, but never at big public Masses.

  • Dcn Steve

    The Vatican has approved an app for the new missal for use in the Liturgy. I think it will be a great tool for priests that have to travel. Placing the iPad into a nice cover so that it is not seen can be a nice, respectful way to use the iPad during liturgy. (I have actually thought that hollowing out the soon to be outdated sacramentary to hold an iPad would make a nice cover). Instead of looking at technology as having a negative impact on Liturgy, look at what impact Liturgy could have on technology. It would hopefully bring us to new awareness of what we do with our technology. Bringing Liturgy into the everyday lives of the faithful can be a great evangelization tool. Technology for the sake of technology in Liturgy should be avoided, but technology used as part of the Liturgy in a reverent and prayerful way should be explored.

  • Clare Long

    I’ve thought about this, as I now need two Mass books until Collin’s New Missal is finally released (due last November, now expected April!)

    I don’t like the idea of using my phone in Mass at all… and it’s too small to be sensible for me to try and read it. I do, however, take my Kindle to Mass. I don’t have the 3G version, so I don’t have internet connectivity, which is a bonus. I do have the readings of the day and the Order of Mass thanks to Universalis. I have a leather cover, so it’s not obviously a gadget, but if I’m sat near someone who may misunderstand, I sometimes don’t use. I don’t want to distract others with it, and that’s something I’m very careful about. (I’m 26 and generally the youngest person at this particular Mass, as most families attend the Cathedral Mass, rather than the parish vigil at the local Convent I attend),