QUAERITUR: reading Liturgy of Hours on iPhone during Adoration

From a reader:

I purchased an iPhone this weekend, and have downloaded the ibreviary so far it works great. I was wondering if it would be appropriate to use my ibreviary during adoration. I typically will bring along one of the four volume set of my Liturgy of the Hours and my phone (I am scheduled for 3am and am alone the phone is for safety), but now it seems I could just bring my iPhone. It just feels a little uncouth to be reading from an iPhone during adoration as opposed to a book. So what do you think is it OK or uncivilized?


I am glad you are enjoying the use of the iPhone app iBreviary.  You must be using some language other than Latin.  Latin is never updated, though it is given as an option.

I don’t think the means by which you read your texts makes too much difference, so long as the instrument (whether book, or scroll, or screen, clay tablet, or phone, etc.) doesn’t become the true focus of your attention.  I think some people turn their books into objects of veneration, nearly to the point of bibliomancy [or bibliolatry].  This is easier to fall into with the beautiful old editions of the Breviarium Romanum than it is with the generally poorly bound editions of the Liturgy of the Hours.   But consider as well that something people today seem to have turned their smart phones into their oracles.  [portatiliolatry?]

Furthermore, there is not only your own approach to the phone, but also how others might interpret what you are doing.  I was recently wait for some folks at a church.  I parked myself in a corner of a pew at at the back while they took care of business decorating the sanctuary.  While waiting I read my office on my iPhone.  As my party approached one made the observation that at least had the chance to read my e-mail.  These phones are not associated with prayer, even in pious company.  The first reaction that people have is that you are doing something quite removed from the sacred.  If you will be alone in the chapel, that won’t be a problem, of course.

I have in the past joked that one day we would see Gospel processions with liturgical laptops equipped with covers of the liturgical color of the day.  I have quipped that one day we might find monks praying in their dark chapels with their faces illuminated by their hand held devices.

We are no longer readers of wax tablets, or scrolls, or parchment, or vellum.  Technology of the delivered word is changing.   Young people seem to read screens of all kinds more willingly than books.  Newspapers are dying and books sales are down.  Kindle and other readers are on the rise.

But connotions change slowly.  The content you read on a phone or reader may be the same as that which you find in a book, but holding the book and holding the gadget are perceived as different activities.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. An American Mother says:

    Yep, I mentioned this on the Kindle page. I’ve gotten some funny looks, but I always offer to share my “book”.

    And if you’re KNEELING while reading the prayers from your iPhone, it’s less likely that even the censorious old lady in the next pew over will think evil of you.

    I would have to carry a backpack to have all the material that’s on iPieta.

  2. An American Mother says:

    I will say that I approached the Confessional once and found the priest checking his Blackberry . . . but why should he not spend his time wisely. Sometimes there’s quite a wait between penitents. When I made my First Confession, I asked our rector if I should schedule an appointment because it was going to be 47 years’ worth. He shifted his cigar from one side to the other and deadpanned (you have to imagine the Irish accent) “Ah, no, just come at the usual time. There are very few sinners in this parish!”

  3. JohnE says:

    It looks like the iPod Touch may run the same apps that the iPhone has access to? Catholic Answers is giving a 64gb iPod Touch, a “Pope Benedict Pack”, and “The Last Secret of Fatima” along with a $75/month donation commitment (http://shop.catholic.com/product.php?productid=16667) According to the Amazon site, it sounds like it can be used to read Kindle books, although the way it’s worded it sounds like you may still need to own a Kindle too — not quite sure about that. (http://www.amazon.com/Apple-touch-Generation-NEWEST-MODEL/dp/B002M3SOCE/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1262702018&sr=1-3)

  4. Charivari Rob says:

    “I typically will bring along … and my phone (I am scheduled for 3am and am alone the phone is for safety)…”

    Slightly off-topic, but since the person mentioned safety –

    Having your mobile phone along is a good idea for safety. Some people don’t have them, though, and even for those who do, batteries and signal coverage are not always reliable. I would recommend talking to the pastor/rector (or whoever it is who is responsible for the church/chapel) and discuss the installation of a land line phone or some sort of “panic button” in an appropriate place. A little bit of an expense, yes, but a pittance compared to the cost (monetary and otherwise) of some accident/emergency/incident that could be avoided or blunted.

  5. Father S. says:

    I do not have an iPod simply because I tend to misplace things. As a priest, however, I can never misplace my breviary because, as we hear from time to time, “the road to Hell is paved in four volumes.” I think that it is good to embrace new technologies which make it more convenient to fulfill our obligations. I am in a rather large parish and am constantly on the go. As such, I find it incredibly valuable to be able to read the Divine Office online. I use http://www.universalis.com for English and http://www.liturgiadelashoras.com.ar/ for Spanish. With both one has to be aware of differences in the liturgical calendar. For Latin, I do not like to use online sources. I prefer to read my Latin breviary in my sitting chair in the morning. Perhaps it comes from past days of study, but I like to be able to hold the text in front of me. I use the current Latin breviary, not the old one. This is simply because I do not have an old one.

    I wish that more priests knew about the online breviary. So many priests tell me that they just do not have time to pray it. That is a silly excuse, but I wonder that if they could just click to it they would be more likely to make it habitual.

    As a priest, I think that it is good to have multiple copies of a few books. It is good to have a few copies of the “Pastoral Care of the Sick,” of the “Collectio Rituum,” of the “Roman Ritual” and of the breviary. It is too easy to fall into excuses of having left it hither, thither and yon. In my office (the room, not he book), my sitting room and my bedroom, there is always one nearby.

  6. Rouxfus says:

    This isn’t exactly on topic, [You are right. It isn’t. And I have added a note in the main entry.] but the connotation of the word ‘bibliomancy’ in the context that it is used seems to indicate a negative meaning to the word.

    St. Francis used what I reckon is a form of bibliomancy – praying that the Lord God would speak to him on a matter of import through his Word. Then three times he opened the bible to a ‘random’ page and read, and the readings settled the matter. I can’t recall the specific issue.

    St. Augustine used bibliomancy when he heard the child’s voice crying tolle lege “take up and read” and he picked up the scripture nearest to hand and read, from Romans 13 – and it was the occasion of his conversion to the true faith at long last.

    Certainly the use of the bible for divination – to tell the future is prohibited by the teachings and laws of our faith. But is bibliomancy a bad thing when one uses it, in reverent prayer, as a way to discern God’s will?

  7. I think the word Father Z wanted was “bibliolatry”.

    There is a word for the practice of opening the Bible and taking the first passage you see as guidance, but it’s not coming to mind. Not “bibliomancy”…. Anyway, the practice is pious if you do it piously, as a way to help discern God’s will. It’s impious if you do it as magic, demanding that God become your little divinatory servant.

    Back to the main topic… Maybe people could make or find special “bookcovers” for their phones, Kindles, etc. when using them for special purposes. Anti-static, of course.

  8. Tim Ferguson says:

    One could take an outdated book destined for a rubish heap (like a copy of Glory and Praise), cut an iPod-shaped hole out of several pages, and place one’s iPod inside for use in chapels where curious minds might be unduly distracted or scandalized by someone thumbing through one’s ibreviary.

  9. An American Mother says:

    Tim, that would be worse. It would be far more scandalous to be reading Glory and Praise . . . !

    I would think a pretty embroidered cover on any old book would be better, or an old recycled plain leather cover.

    I used to do this in law school, with an old outdated copy of Prosser on Torts.

  10. Tom in NY says:

    Videlicet http://www.officiumdivinum.org; Breviarum Romanum, Officium Parvum BVM, Officum Defunctorum, Martyrologium Romanum et Rubricas Generales Breviarii et Missalis (cum tabellis) continet.
    Salutationes omnibus.

  11. Tom says:

    As someone who largely rediscovered his faith through reading a free translation of the Imitation of Christ on a Palm Pilot years ago, this question has particular relevance.

    The iPhone in particular has a lot of great Catholic apps (iPieta in particular), not to mention applications like Stanza that give free and easy access to millions of books at the tap of a screen.

    So, count me among the ones who braves the questioning glances to use these tools as an aid to prayer. I do try to be as discreet as possible though, and I keep the screen brightness turned all the way down to avoid distracting others.

    These tools are not going away, and as long as they are not a distraction to others (or yourself), i don’t see why they shouldn’t be used.

  12. Re: embroidery, knitting, etc. of covers —

    You’ll want to make them out of anti-static yarn! Isn’t it great that there is such a thing?


    That said, a small leather “bookcover” would probably be less likely to cause static troubles, and would probably look cute, too. With all the crazy Bible accessories in this world, I bet you could already get one from somewhere — and without eviscerating any pre-existing book to do so!

  13. I seek, I find. Apparently there are leather goods places online that make tooled leather Kindle covers with little clasps. Which makes sense; it’s not anything more difficult than a giant leather checkbook cover would be.

  14. Alphonsus Rodriguez says:

    “Newspapers are dying and books sales are down. Kindle and other readers are on the rise.” Indeed. But let’s put this in perspective. According to the the Association of American Publishers, book sales for 2008 totaled $24,255,025. Of this total, sales of ebooks accounted for $113,220. Overall, total book sales were down %2.8. Sale of ebooks were up %68. Perhaps this trend will continue until print books vanish. Perhaps not. The real question is, given the decline of literacy among college graduates (see the NEA’s report, “To Read or Not to Read”) in whatever format the written word is transmitted, will anyone be able to read it? But that, I suppose, would be really “off topic.”

  15. An American Mother says:

    There’s really no substitute for the feel of a good book, and turning over the pages.

    I use the computer a lot for legal research (and have for 30 years), but if you are dealing with a knotty problem, there’s no substitute for spreading out the law books in piles on the library table with post-it notes and legal pads. Cascading tabs can only cover so much, and you can’t turn over 2-3 pages looking for something you saw a moment ago.

  16. Alphonsus Rodriguez says:

    Perhaps I should clarify that the dollar amounts indicated in my earlier post are in millions, so you can add three zeros to the end of each.

  17. Henry Edwards says:

    This is easier to fall into with the beautiful old editions of the Breviarium Romanum than it is with the generally poorly bound editions of the Liturgy of the Hours.

    Actually, if you buy from http://www.paxbook.com a single

    Liturgia Horarum Tegumentum e corio factum
    Superb Quality Leather Case as perfect protection for the valuable Liturgia Horarum
    Price: US$ 38.10

    and transfer it from one of your four $87.60 volumes of the Liturgia Horarum to the next as the liturgical seasons progress, you may find it easier to imagine these vinyl-covered volumes are well-bound — if not to actually fall in love with them.

    Hmm … I wondered whether anyone has ever actually bought the 4-volume leather-bound set at the outrageous Paxbook price of $196.30 per volume.

  18. Henry: That’s all very nice. But the Vatican Press volumes really are poorly bound. The bindings tend to crack. Also, the layout of the pages, the type face, etc… just not great. I have the fancier volumes, btw., which I inherited. The gold finish on the pages is… well.. just okay. They don’t make books like the used to.

  19. tzard says:

    I also wondered about the strange looks from people thinking you’re checking your Email, or worse yet, surfing or playing games.

    But as for a cut-out book, might it not look strange that the glow from the device comes out of the book? Perhaps you can get a book on “Nuclear Physics” to explain the glow…. ;)

  20. An American Mother says:

    “It’s an ‘Itty Bitty Book Light’. I swear!”

  21. diezba says:

    I faced this same problem just this past Saturday. I was in line for the Confessional. When I arrived, the line didn’t seem too long; I took my place as fifth or sixth in line. I started praying the Rosary, as I usually do before Confession. Usually, I make it to about the third or fourth mystery by the time it’s my turn, even with that many folks in line. On this day, however, I made it all the way through the Rosary, and I had only made it to fourth place in line. Apparently, New Year’s Eve in Nashville means trouble for Nashvillian Catholics.

    At any rate, I decided that this would be an opportune moment to pray Evening Prayer I, so I pulled out my BlackBerry and clicked on the bookmark for Universalis (universalis.com, in case you haven’t checked it out). I got quite a few looks from other folks in line while I was navigating my browser to the website. Once I crossed myself and began to pray (moving my lips and barely making audible whispers — enough to be heard but not enough to make out the words) the looks stopped. I chose to pray outloud for two reasons: (1) my attention wanders too easily when I try to pray “mentally”; (2) I didn’t want to scandalize people waiting in the confessional line by giving them a chance to think that I was playing around on the internet or checking my email.

    I think this situation is similar: using a handheld to pull up the Liturgy of the Hours or any other prayers is only a bad idea if it’s going to distract you or scandalize others. Using the gestures of Catholic prayer (crossing oneself appropriately, bowing at the Gloria Patri, and bowing one’s head at the Holy Name) helps neutralize both of these problems.

    As some have already pointed out: the medium upon which one reads the prayer doesn’t matter (in private devotions); it’s the prayers — and the heart — of the pray-er that matter.

  22. Paul says:


    Thank you for the careful consideration you gave my question, your response is invaluable. I am currently using the English.

    Being very interested in history and the history of the written word (I must confess to being a bibliophile) I should have thought back to the days when the Word was delivered on scrolls and not bound in a book. Technology changes and how we receive the Word of God will change too. Maybe we are pioneers; maybe Father is right one day we might see liturgical Kindles and monks praying from their iPhone.

    Does anyone know if there is a APP for the Rosary in Latin?

    Charivari Rob

    To put you at ease, there is a phone close to the chapel and if needed. However a couple of years back a tornado came while my wife was at adoration, I was only able to reach her by cell phone. Since then we have both carried our phones to adoration, and have been lucky not to need them again.

  23. Dr. Eric says:

    I asked the question before whether or not there would be a monitor with a touch screen at the altar some day for priests in the future. The priest told me that it wouldn’t happen as a book is for lack of a better word essential to the Mass or at least in the ordinary course of events.

  24. Just a cautionary note – If I’m looking at stuff I’ve downloaded on my mobile, or if I’m taking photos on my phone camera, I always make sure I have turned off all incoming calls and texts… not to mention the sound!

  25. There is a website for this. I can’t remember the exact name but if you google for liturgiahorarum2 you should be able to find it. The entire breviary, well the newer one, is available. There is the complicated version that works with Firefox but not Internet Explorer (no complaint from me on that) but there is also the simplified version. I use my normal phone with only limited internet ability to look at the simplified version when I am on the go and don’t have my volumes with me. It is pretty silly looking and feeling sometimes to be in Church all by my self praying from a phone but you do what you have to do. My phone is certainly not anything close to being as complicated as an iphone so to __olotry comes into play for me I don’t think.

    As to the Bibliolotry thing, I would suppose that would be a protestant problem. After all, they Believe IN the Bible and adore it in place of God while Catholic believe the Bible is true but save our Believing IN for God Alone as it should be.

    As an American, and one who lives abroad no less, I am often quite embarrassed by conservatives. I myself am often thought of as more conservative then a Republican from South Mississippi but it really bothers me the way some “conservatives” go on and on about the American constitution and even Glen Beck now is calling it a Divinely inspired document and wants to add it to the Bible after the Book of John’s Revelation. The constitution is important because it is the law but like any law it can be changed and replaced. God didn’t give us the constitution and I just bet if America wanted to, we could all come together and draft a much better document to serve our needs than what we currently have.

    Think about this, if America binned the old constitution (which is our second one anyway) and ratified a new one, we could put the protection of human life in it directly and make abortion completely illegal. They will never let us do that with the one we have now.

  26. Tom in NY–a correction: the site is divinumofficium.com

    I pray Vespers and Compline from this site most nights as I prefer the older form of the Office but do not own a copy of the previous Office in its entirety. (I tend to pray Vespers for Sundays and feasts from an old Latin-French Missal.) In addition, I use both real and virtual chant books on evenings when I want to chant all or part of the Office. One thing that I like about Divinum Officium is that the background is rather parchment-like, a mottled grey/tan/peach (at least on my monitor)–rather the shade of the pages of my 1937 Liber!–which provides a well-contrasting but not glaring background for the text. I also like the side-by-side translation of the Latin (to English or Magyar) which can be turned off.

  27. Paul says:

    “Glen Beck now is calling it a Divinely inspired document and wants to add it to the Bible after the Book of John’s Revelation.”

    Off topic yes but…

    I have listened to Glenn Beck since he first came to our radio stations in 2001 (in the past two years three hours a day)and have never heard him advocate for putting the Constitution in the Bible. I am curious where this come from?

  28. KarenLH says:


    I have iRosary on my iPod touch and find it to be very nicely put together. It has the prayers in English, Spanish, French, and Latin.

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