I know this story has been out for a couple of weeks, but I am just getting around to comment on it.
(AP) ROME (AP) – An Italian priest has developed an 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 the free application will be launched in July in English, French, Spanish, Italian and Latin.
Two years ago, Padrini developed the iBreviary, an application that brought the book of daily prayers used by priests onto iPhones. To date, some 200,000 people have downloaded the application, he said.
The iPad application is similar but also contains the complete missal – containing all that is said and sung during Mass throughout the liturgical year. Upgrades are expected to feature audio as well as commentaries and suggestions for homilies as well as musical accompaniment, he said.
“Paper books will never disappear,” he said in a phone interview from his home parish in Tortona, in Italy’s northern Piemonte region. But at the same time “we shouldn’t be scandalized that on altars there are these instruments in support of prayer.”
Padrini, 36, said he expected priests who have to travel a lot for work would find the application most useful, noting that he recently had to celebrate Mass in a small parish where the missal was “a small book, a bit dirty, old.”
“If I had had my iPad with me, it would’ve been better than this old, tiny book,” he said
I had used Father Padrini’s iBreviary app and then iBreviary Pro for the Liturgy of the Hours on my iPod Touch since it was first released. Though I started to use Universalis instead since it is formatted for the iPad and iBreviary Pro does not yet have a full screen version for the iPad.
Much of the coverage of this story you will not be surprised was not exactly accurate. Headlines like coming to an Altar near you were prevalent and they made it seem this had full Vatican approval.
He stressed that the iPad application, like the iBreviary, was launched at his own instigation and with his own money and is not an official Vatican initiative. Vatican officials have previously praised the iBreviary as a novel way of evangelizing. [Source]
This does present some interesting questions though. The intersection of technology and the Mass is nothing new. We forget about how the printing press changed liturgical books used in the Mass in going from hand-written volumes to ones created via the mechanical printing press. In modern times the use of wireless microphones and sound equipment has become quite prevalent – though not everybody is happy about that technological transition either.
The Vatican has gotten involved at an official level before when it came to using technology during the liturgy or in our churches for that matter. After the invention of the electric light the question came up about using an electrical lamp for the sanctuary to indicate the presence of Christ in the Tabernacle. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), No. 316, states: “In accordance with traditional custom, near the tabernacle a special lamp, fueled by oil or wax, should be kept alight to indicate and honor the presence of Christ.”
I once went to a parish with electric votive lamps where you inserted coins for a lamp to light for a certain period of time. Surely someone thought this was great way to reduce insurance premiums but it was unbelievably tacky looking – seemed more like a machine from an amusement park. Asking someone to turn on a candle for you is just not the same.
(This example looks much better than the one I saw – but still tacky)
The invention of the telephone brought questions about using a telephone for confessions. In modern times the same question was asked about confession over the internet and was answered in the negative for really the same reasons phone confessions would not be valid.
In a Church with sacraments and the sacramental view of things the types of materials used at Mass are not insignificant questions. The type of material used for the chalices should be made of solid and noble material that is not easily breakable or corruptible, is another example of how the Church takes seriously these questions.
So we come down to is should an iPad with the Roman Missal be used on the altar? Now as a self-professed geek who is a lover of both technology and theology, and Apple and Jesus fanboy I have mixed feelings about this. Technically I know of no liturgical law that would prevent an iPad or any other similar device from being used for this purpose as the Roman Missal used in Mass. The question would be more of a prudent one for now. I would expect though that this might be a question answered by the Vatican sometime in the future, though they are notoriously slow in answering questions of this type. I can certainly see why some priests would appreciate and electronic version of the Roman Missal. It would be much harder to loose your place and in fact easier to find the correct section each day. I love electronic versions of the Liturgy of the Hours because it makes it so easy to read the LOTH without having to thumb through a bunch of ribboned book marks. Liturgy of the Hour apps replaced my four-volume set of the LOTH and I would not like to have to go back to the old way. I can spend more time praying/reading the LOTH instead time spent getting to the right page.
As St. Paul said that just because something is lawful it does not mean that it should be done. That there are other things to take into account such as the reaction of people to an electronic device used for the Roman Missal. Would people be scandalized by and iPad Roman Missal? Surely there would be some who would be. Or it could just be something that people get use to and just think odd at first. For my part I would not be scandalized by such use, even so I think that if such devices are used I think that they should be adapted materially for use.
An iPad is a rather striking looking device and quite pleasing aesthetically, yet the aluminum case would look out of place in the sacred liturgy. An elegant and specially manufactured case for liturgical use might be a good idea. A leather case such as the above would be a good place to start.
As an iPad user I have found the iPad to have amazing battery life of ten hours or more on a charge. An iPad used just as a Roman Missal would have an even longer battery life. So with ten hours or more it could even be used by a someone such as Padre Pio who was know for long Masses. Of course it would introduce technological problems. While the iPad hardly ever crashes – it of course could do so during Mass. Or the device could just die. So for practical purposes you would have to have a backup iPad that the Altar boy could grab in such an emergency. Altar boys would much prefer holding the iPad in front of the priest than the much heavier Roman Missal. The font size can be changed to adapt to priests with macular degeneration.
The paper copy Roman Missal of course will never crash or need to be rebooted. The only power it needs is enough light to be able to read it. The paper copy has no fancy features and can not download a new version – but it is rock solid with proven Gutenberg technology.
I think Steve Jobs with his liking for black shirts really missed his calling. Here is an imagined Father Steve Jobs presenting the iRomanMissal. A Father Steve Jobs would be pretty awesome if he hated sin as much as Adobe’s Flash. Though I would be annoyed if he said “Just one more thing” before the closing prayer.
Now there is another question about people using devices such as phones/tablets during the Mass. I have used my iPod Touch in confession before. No not because I needed to be able to remember a long list of sins – well okay I do, but for the act of conviction which I always seem to be forgetting. I have been tempted to use my iPod Touch for the Latin when used in Mass – which would be better than the printed out version I have used. I am just not humble enough to use the device at Mass without worrying that somebody will be thinking I am checking my email or something. I have also been tempted to bring my iPad to Adoration for spiritual reading, but also have not for the same reasons. Maybe one day.