QUAERITUR: use of iPhone, hand-held for liturgical readings

From a reader:

One sees the Magnificat missalettes in the hands of lots of folks at daily Mass nowadays. With its beautifully presented (briefer) morning/evening/night prayers from which many (like me) have gone on to the LOH or DO, plus the daily and Sunday Mass readings, and Order of Mass including the Gloria-Credo-Sanctus etc. in Latin and English, it’s arguably one of the more wholesome phenomena of the whole Novus Ordo era.

NOW HERE’S THE QUESTION: At $20/yr download versus $40/yr for the print version, this would pay for a $100 iPhone in 5 years. And in the meantime one could use it not only for morning, evening, night prayer … But also to follow the Gloria, Creed, EP, etc. at daily and Sunday Mass. And since the Magnificat includes the readings, if and when you’re the lector . . .

Would it be liturgically acceptable to can carry your iPhone up to the ambo and proclaim the first reading and responsorial psalm directly from it, rather than from the bulky and inconvenient lectionary.


I have from time to time jokingly prophesied the "liturgical laptop", covered with the color of the day and solemnly carried and incensed, etc., monks in choir stalls in a dark church singing their office over glowing screens.

This will probably one day come.  But it hasn’t come yet.

I don’t think the connotation of the screen versus the book has shifted enough so that such a use wouldn’t be … wrong.

Also, I am not sure why a lectionary is inconvenient if it is already on the ambo.

That said, last night during a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form, in a very traditionally constructed church just off super modern Time Square in Manhattan, during my sermon I used my iPhone to be able to reference a prayer to St. Joseph, because I could find it any other way.  There were no books available with the text of the prayer I wanted.  I looked it up ahead of time, course, and copied it to my note pad.  But – vested in my Roman vestments – I did read from it, during the sermon.

But the readings themselves? 

Not yet, I think.

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  1. Re: bulky and inconvenient

    I suspect the “inconvenient” problem is the whole dealie involved with having only one ambo, instead of having a gospel lectern and an epistle lectern, each with their book resting securely upon them. It sure looks inconvenient to have to close the lectionary, stuff it on top of whatever else is hidden in the ambo cubby, and then hurry to get out of the way before the deacon or priest can get there with the gospel book and open it up on top of the ambo. Lectionaries sure seem to get more beat up than they did in my childhood, when they had their own lectern and could stay there all week.

  2. chonak says:

    Electronic devices, like loose-leaf lectionaries, are easily revised. In contrast, the bound lectionary, the codex, is a form of media approaching 2000 years of use, and thus a symbol of permanence.

  3. RichR says:

    I wonder if the iPad will change people’s ideas on this. It can’t help but think of Star Trek: The Next Generation scenes where Picard is handling a thin, iPad-like tablet that has important Enterprise data on it. I forsee a time when the church will have eTablets in the pews which are simply receivers for the appropriate texts sent out by the church server. It would send readings, hymns, meditations, and directions to the bathroom. That way, hymnals would go, missalettes would go, and multiple types of liturgies would flow very easily…….unless, of course, ICEL tries to hold onto copyright licenses…LOL!!!

    The problem, now, is that most will look at you on your iPhone and think you’re playing games.

  4. revs96 says:

    Using electronic devices would put the liturgy more in touch with the world, ie less set apart, ie less sacred. As widespread as technology is, it is not widespread enough to completely replace paper and ink books yet. So while we have ministries like EWTN, WDTPRS, and iPadre (who has the most technologically advanced parish in the Diocese of Providence), technology is not developed enough to completely replace print books…and yes, iPadre uses paper and ink books, including an old worn 1962 Altar Missal.

  5. Tom in NY says:

    On one hand, our “elder brothers in faith” still use scrolls, hand-copied by scribes who count the letters, as well as books. On the other hand, lay and clerical scholars cut and paste references from the Scripture as they prepare their studies.
    Si in ecclesia telphona sonet, tibi Jesum vocare doceat.
    Verba Dei in saecula manet, sed forma verborum?

    Salutationes omnibus.

  6. Random Friar says:

    Also, certain rubrics would seem strange… imagine the deacon bringing up an iPhone or iPad to the bishop/pope so that he could kiss it. How does one process in with an iPhone?

  7. Tom in NY says:

    Erratum: telphona, doceat. Corrigendum:
    “Si in ecclesia telephona sonet, tibi Jesum vocare oporteat.”
    Pensandum ante transmittendum.
    Patientiae gratias ago.

  8. LarryPGH says:

    Something tells me that similar gasps of scandalized astonishment accompanied the first mass-printed Bibles (after all, haven’t we *always* used the meticulously hand-copied texts of the holy monks?); but, the Church, in her wisdom, has allowed for the use of technology where appropriate and commendable.

    I, too, have wondered about potential uses of the iPad in a liturgical setting. Imagine this, if you will: a distributed client/server app that resides at the parish. When you walk in, your iPad’s WiFi communicates with the parish server, downloading readings, daily prayers, Mass prayers, etc for today and the next few (7?) days; in addition, the week’s bulletin, the diocesan newspaper, and all kinds of parish info can be downloaded. (Are you in the choir? The choir master has prepared the music for next week’s rehearsal, and it’s automatically downloaded, too.) (Oh–and who says that the ICEL doesn’t develop this app, or sell a license to its texts to the developer who does?)

    In the entrance procession, we see a beautiful Lectionary being processed (yet, it seems somewhat thin? Hmm…); at the time of the readings, there’s no page shuffling, and after the Gospel, the priest/deacon/bishop kisses it as usual. (I just checked the new Ordo — it says that the *book* is kissed, not its pages.) If the iPad with the readings is placed within an appropriately-constructed holder that looks just like today’s Lectionary, what’s the problem? You’d likely want to kiss the inside cover, which might contain an appropriate prayer. Of course, the prayers of the faithful would be in the iPad Lectionary, just a convenient tap away…

    (Also, I don’t know if you’d want a separate device, but it’s obvious that the Sacramentary / Roman Missal could be on an iPad, as well.)

    The parish wouldn’t be in the business of giving away these iPads to its congregation (although I can envision a fund-raiser style “premium”: with a $300 donation to the parish, receive an iPad (once the price of the entry-level iPad comes down to $200 or $250, of course)).

    Of course, the problem of people playing games, or surfing the web, at inappropriate times is something that would move from the classroom to the pews, but that concern aside… it’s an interesting concept!

  9. Henry Edwards says:

    Random Friar: How does one process in with an iPhone?

    Hint: It only requires one hand (not both) to hold an iPhone aloft.

  10. Henry Edwards says:

    LarryPGH: The parish wouldn’t be in the business of giving away these iPads to its congregation

    But it might lend or loan them for use, one Mass at a time. Think … checkout booth in the narthex.

    On the other hand, thinking of our EF Mass where a certain number of our $3 missalettes “walk out” each Sunday — and we chalk it up to our New Evangelization –one might feel differently about $300 iPads.

  11. LarryPGH says:


    I thought of that, but I wouldn’t want to be a pastor in charge of maintaining an inventory of iPads!

    Oh — my “what if” is a scenario without a killer app. So, try this on for size: at the time of the collection, there’s no need to deal in cash — with the proper set-up, a bank transfer is made from the parishioners’ accounts to the parish’s account. If this takes off, the risks inherent in keeping collection cash at the parish, including counting, securing, etc, all goes away. (Wonder if this would decrease a parish’s insurance costs, thus having a nice short ROI?)

    A couple other thoughts: the readings and other docs could be sent to a parishioner’s iPhone or iPod Touch, of course; but for adults, the iPad makes more sense. Also, the way to get around the web surfing issue is to only give away WiFi-enabled units (i.e., no 3G); in addition, the WiFi that’s provided only gives connectivity to the parish PC which is serving up the documents, with the exception, of course, of the bank applet!

  12. Tom in NY says:

    Tempus in quo signum fidelibus et URL et numeros hymnorum monstrabit venit. Nunc, instrumenta informatica parvi pretii expectamus.

    Salutationes omnibus.

  13. wolfeken says:


    I don’t even think photocopies are acceptable in the sanctuary. If you can’t get an original source, then at least place it in a respectable binder.

    Introducing a computer into the sanctuary smacks of cheap Protestant behavior. Of course it would be easier, but so would a scrolling red electronic sign that tells people when to sit, stand and kneel.

    We need to have some dignity, even if it means carrying a long candle lighter into the sanctuary when it would be much easier to use a cigarette lighter. Or placing envelopes in the collection basket instead of an usher walking around with a credit card swiper.

  14. Romuleus says:

    I have a Palm T/X. On the device, I have the EF Missale Romanum, the EF Breviarium Romanum, a Latin-English Version of the EF Roman Breviary (on days when I’m too lazy to use the Latin only version), the complete Liturgia Horarum, and I am in the process of creating a PDF (unless someone can direct me to an online version) of the new (2004) Martyrologium Romanum. All are in Dataviz Documents-to-Go or Plucker (an e-book reader).
    Advantages include: No torn/worn pages; the screen is backlit (great for the Easter Vigil Mass or a dark church); I don’t have to juggle several bulky liturgical books at Mass (the device is approximately 5.5” X 3.5” X 0.5”); with the leather cover that Palm provides that opens like a missalette, it doesn’t look much different than the old 4-volume leatherette Breviaries.
    I take the device with me to Mass because I can pray Prime (with the new Martyrology) before Mass, pray the Missale Romanum during Mass, and pray Terce after Mass without carrying around two to three bulky liturgical books.
    If someone is offended with me using this device at Mass, maybe they should be paying more attention to HIM on the altar instead of me in the pew.

  15. Doc Angelicus says:

    I can see one day e-ambos, with the place where the book would go being a touch screen, with everything that needs to be read (including the homily), just a click or two away — more or less, an iMac built into the surface. There are many advantages to such technology. And I can also envision hand-held eMissals and eHymnals, but I would greatly prefer personal ones rather than have them provided by the parish. In these senses, it would just be an evolution of the medium in which the words are preserved and accessed.

    That said, I defend the book. The fact of it being a book has symbolic value, it is not subject to power outages or corruption of data or hardware malfunctions, etc. It is also a more human artifact in some way. The words in the book are more physically present. When a priest (or deacon) kisses the Gospels, he kisses actual physical words, not merely squiggles of ink on a page, but real words of real ink on a real page. The e-version is more ephemeral, the words are not enduringly there, and they cannot be kissed by the priest. The screen is glass, the words are somewhere below the surface, and although they are a material phenomenon of sorts, they aren’t really physical. The kissing of the Gospel is diminished in its symbolic value by its reduction from a real veneration of real words to a symbolic veneration of ephemeral words.

  16. Doc Angelicus says:

    A well-made, hand-held missal can last half a century, and if cared for properly, without worn or torn pages. I had one from the 1940s in excellent condition, until I used it under extreme cold conditions of an unheated European church and the cover and binding cracked. While a computer or computer device may continue to run for 10 years or more, they are rare and most cannot last that long; moreover, working and being actually serviceable are two different things. I will have my new EF missal WAY longer than I will have my new iMac.

    Yes, an eBook of some kind holds more data all at once, I suppose, and that can be convenient.

    And I am totally not against that sort of thing.

    ….still, it must be observed… if someone needs all that literature to pray, perhaps he should try just talking to HIM instead of doing all that reading…

  17. Re: “….if someone needs all that literature to pray, perhaps he should try just talking to HIM instead of doing all that reading….”

    All the faithful are encouraged to pray the Office/Liturgy of the Hours, and priests have to. Bringing hand missals to church is encouraged. Bringing the Bible to church is encouraged. It would seem that the Church is all for people bringing literature to church to pray.

    Of course, it’s true that there’s only so far that reading can take you, even lectio divina or the liturgical prayers of the Church. But doing all of that reading type of prayer in church before or after Mass is certainly not excessive for a layperson — just a fairly high normal.

  18. Romuleus says:

    Regarding Doc Angelicus: “…still, it must be observed… if someone needs all that literature to pray, perhaps he should try just talking to HIM instead of doing all that reading…”
    Concerning this “literature”: The Breviarium Romanum (BR) is the “Prayer of the Church” in the EF. The Liturgia Horarum (LH) is the “Prayer of the Church” in the OF. All clergy and religious are obligated to pray one of these forms; the laity is strongly encouraged to do this also. The Martyrologium Romanum is an important component to Prime in the BR in the EF and to Lauds in the LH in the OF.
    I’m just sayin’.

  19. Henry Edwards says:

    Doc: “The e-version is more ephemeral, the words are not enduringly there”

    Hmm … With the original ICEL translations, for instance, is this good or bad?

  20. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    I’m the slightly overweight middle aged lady with the light blue i-Phone out during Mass. not texting, not playing a game just using the downloaded BR I have installed on it. It also has three versions of the Stations of the Cross, Two different Rosaries, and many, many prayers. In addition to a current Lectionary and Missal.

  21. lofstrr says:

    Books don’t crash.

  22. kat says:

    Books also can’t be changed in an instant; words being changed; sites being hijacked, etc.

    No thank you. I’m old-fashioned, and hope I can stay that way for years to come. I’m a “traditionalist” for more than one reason! LOL

  23. Charivari Rob says:

    LarryPGH – “So, try this on for size: at the time of the collection…”

    There’s already something similar in place. Lots of parishes have set up options for PayPal or other authorized regular direct-debit functions for their registered parisioners. I visited one parish last year that had this in place to such a degree that they didn’t even pass a basket during Mass – I had to go find the head usher or the pastor after Mass to make an offering.

    Back closer to the original subject…

    I agree (for the most part) with the comments that have been made here about the durability, comparitive economy, lack of crashing, and the integrity/security (immutability?) of the content, along with the je ne sais quoi (gravitas, perhaps?) of the (beautifully) printed and bound Word.

    At the same time, however, I believe there is room for “high tech”, especially when it fills a real need. Two examples come quickly to mind (which I may have mentioned in some older thread)

    A lay reader in our parish is blind. She proofreads her assigned readings at home (as all good readers should) and has an inconspicuous portable computer with her at the ambo, cued up to the file, a near-invisible ear bud – and reads it out to the congregation.

    A priest in a neighboring parish has lost a great deal of his eyesight. He brings a small device (maybe about 8.5″ x 5.5″ x 1.5″) with him to the altar. In essence, it’s a high-powered magnifier and light, which he places on the appropriate text in the Missal.

  24. GJMama says:

    As my parish priest reminds us far often then he would like:

    “Cell phones are NEVER allowed inside the House of God.”

    I think this is an excellent rule.

  25. uptoncp says:

    There’s a definite risk in reading from anything portable and electronic: “And he said to them, ‘I’m sorry, my battery has just died.'”

  26. Cincinnati Priest says:

    My objection to using the iPhone / PDA etc. would be that a lectionary / evangeliary has a dedicated, sacred, and single use.

    The iPhone is associated with multiple other (secular) uses that are not sacred (game-playing, music and entertainment, etc.)

    Far too much blurring of the sacred and secular, IMHO.

    Also, because of its small size, there is no opportunity to make it visibly beautiful to the Congregation. The liturgy is (significanly) about beauty, not merely functionality.

    One can create a beautiful cover (for example, gilt or silver with traditional images of the four evangelists) so that when evangeliary is elevated, it is visible to congregation.

    If did this for a PDA, only the one holding it could see it.

    Not to mention that there may be unintended consequences: what if the iPhone rings loudly while at the ambo?

    Bad idea.

    In principle, however, having a single-use touch-screen built into the ambo might not have all of these same problematic issues.

  27. LarryPGH says:

    Cincinnati Priest,

    That’s why I’m suggesting the iPad over the iPhone. Its size is more book-like, and can be held in a binder so as to appear like a more “traditional” Lectionary.

    Your argument about secular uses is a bit of a red herring, though, I’m afraid. Chalices *can* be used for secular purposes, as can purificators, etc, etc. What sets an item apart isn’t its form, per se, but the blessing that sets it aside for sacred use, no? In that way, then, a “secular” e-reader could easily be set aside for liturgical use, as well.

    btw — I have an iPhone whose contract with AT&T has expired; I now use it as if it were an iPod Touch. I can promise you… it *never* rings at inappropriate times! ;^)

  28. I think I agree with the general opinion here. I think we need to keep the ink and paper books, at least for now. I don’t entirely mind the idea of electronics being used, but I think it would have too much secular connotation, and the sense of permanency is lost. Perhaps it’s not an all bad idea for people in the pews to use them, though. The only issue would be making sure that that’s actually what they’re doing, and not playing. Parish-supplied and configured units might help solve that issue. Then it’s just a matter of cost and security.

    In our parish, father uses his PDA for his sermons fairly often, and that does seem to make sense, but I don’t think things that are actually part of the Mass should be digitized, at least not the stuff being used in the Sanctuary.

  29. dcs says:

    The day I see a priest at the altar or pulpit with an iPad is the day I start praying for an EMP.

  30. Doc Angelicus says:

    I didn’t intend to disparage the use of various published devotionals, least of all Sacred Scripture or the Divine Office, at church before and/or after Mass. An electronic device is the only way to have an abundance of such materials on hand conveniently, of course.

    I like the devotionals included in my missal. They’re about all I have realistic opportunity to do, in light of the fact that I have small children vying for my attention at Mass.

    Sometimes, though, a person can (and perhaps should) keep the book closed (or iPad off) and just contemplate the mystery, not only of the Sacrament and it’s surrounding rituals, but also the fact that “he” is a recipient of them… the words of others, especially those recommended by the Church, are excellent for forming the heart, but the heart, especially as it becomes ever more perfectly formed, ought also to speak for itself once in a while. This kind of praying is also recommended by the Church. Or that’s how I see it, anyway.

  31. rinkevichjm says:

    Have you tried the divineoffice.org podcast and app. The app/web site contains the LOTH for the day and the podcasts are wonderful to listen to especially the hymns. There’s no reason for Magnificat version of the lectionary as the USCCB already has the NAB readings on their web site. And the 2002 Roman Missal is online too. Maybe EWTN should deliver the daily Mass by video podcast. Not as good as going to Mass but it better than nothing.

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