QUAERITUR: Held-held devices in church or during Adoration of the Bl. Sacrament

From a reader:

With technology: iPads, iPods, iphones, Kindles, etc. I have noticed people listening to, I presume, music in the adoration chapel. Being humans, this sensual stimulation can bring us into deeper prayer.. is this appropriate to do during adoration? (Spiritual or Religious music, of course.)

Perhaps they are listening to “white noise” in order to block out the snoring from across the chapel?

I don’t have a problem with the use of these things in a context where people “get them”.

Incontrovertible truth based on person anecdote:

I was reading my Office on my iPhone in a church in Manhattan one day and a self-appointed nose-thruster-in-er took it upon herself to harangue me about how people shouldn’t “play with their phones” in church. She was … of a certain age, an age that suggested that perhaps she still had a hand-cranked wall-phone and called her fridge the “ice box”.

Nevertheless, the experience with Mrs. Butinski drove home to me that there is a generation gap of sensitivity about these electronic things. A lot of people of a certain age see all these things as “toys”, and therefore not appropriate for church.  They don’t get that you can read Scripture, say your office, read of list of intention or people for whom you pray and their needs, etc.

You are not the only one in the chapel. Remember that other people are there to pray and, even if it is none of their business what you use, your use of these things can be a distraction to them.

And, let’s not fool ourselves, there is a temptation to leave of prayer during Adoration for the lure of the little palatiri at whose fascinating flicker we willingly gaze.

Be prudent.

That said… it is actually possible not to use these things for a hour and still manage to pray and adore the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament!  Edgy and retro, I know.  But, take it from me, it still works!


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. labianchi says:

    I now have a missal, stations book, and my bible installed on my electronica. I none the less fear entering a church with my iPad, wishing to avoid the scorn of brethren of my congregation.

  2. AnAmericanMother says:

    I would submit that the iPad is much less likely to be misinterpreted than an iPhone.

    Anybody who gets close enough to hassle you about your handheld device will easily be able to see that you are reading your Office, or your Bible, or checking the Gospel for the day. In order to see what you’re doing on the iPhone, they have to get within throttling distance . . . even with that “brawling in church” stuff, it could happen . . .

    Of course, the iPad helps keep me honest because anybody can also see if you’re playing Solitaire or Angry Birds. Not that I would do that . . . :-D and not that I have much of an innings at the iPad given my techno-geek husband. Maybe if we get the new one . . . :-D

  3. Mary Jane says:

    I have used Liber Pro on the iPad to sing the Propers for Mass. I think it would be hard for someone to mistake what I’m doing with the iPad in that situation because it’s obvious that I’m holding the iPad, scrolling, focusing hard on what I’m looking at and, well, singing. :)

  4. mamajen says:

    I don’t think it’s something that I would choose to do, but there are certainly many, many ways in which a person could use a tech device legitimately in the adoration chapel. Maybe they are listening to Father Z’s Podcazt!

    For me, personally, I think bringing along a tech gadget would be a distraction. Our chapel does have an ample selection of books, but even if I am reading something religious I sometimes wonder if I am focusing enough attention on the real reason I am there. After all, I can read any time. Of course situations vary, so I shall remember not to jump to any conclusions should I see anyone fiddling with a tech gadget in the chapel!

  5. APX says:

    I saw a guy using his Kindle during daily Mass the other day and I didn’t see anyone throw a nutty. I’ve also seen people doing stations of the cross with their iPhone in the church before Mass.

    I confess, I used my iPhone in the adoration chapel the other day despite the “please turn all cell phones off” sign as I grew weary of my Missal and I wanted to try something new. Personally, I found it less distracting than the books people use. My iPhone doesn’t make a “shweoo” sound whenever I turn the page.

    I was wondering about this though after I had done so.

    That being said, I have scorned at one guy using his iphone prior to Mass, but I based my assumptions on previous behavior I witnessed in the confession line once.

  6. acardnal says:

    I have mixed views on electronic devices in church or before the Blessed Sacrament.

    If one is reading scripture or the Office or some devotional fine. It is no different than having a spiritual book with you, which is what St. Teresa of Avila suggested bringing to prayer. But I can see where this can be distracting to some adorers, too, so perhaps those with electronic devices can sit in the back.

    Others I have seen with ear buds. Again, if they are listening to Gregorian chant, sacred polyphony or even a retreat meditation, fine, I suppose. But please keep the volume down and, again, think about sitting in the rear of the church so as not to be a distraction. Personally, I think having no electronics and no ear buds is preferred. Leaving one’s mind open to hearing the Word speak instead of busying one’s mind with stuff. Perhaps I am an Unreconstructed, Ossified Manualist.

  7. wmeyer says:

    On my Kindle, I have multiple translations of the Bible, and copies of the Catechisms: current, Baltimore, and Trent. Until I got my new Missal, I was accustomed to carry the Kindle with me, and to review the readings before Mass. I can understand those who might take exception to the iPad, or even the iPhone, but the Kindle, lacking any screen lighting, is pretty unobtrusive. I did wonder, though, whether anyone would see the screen saver and wonder why I had a picture of Virginia Woolf, or Ralph Ellison, or John Steinbeck… though actually, in my uber-liberal parish, that would probably elicit less comment than the image of St. Jerome.

  8. acardnal says:

    The real nuisance in church and adoration is when those phones ring – and with all those goofy ring tones! I have actually seen more than one person answer the phone and carry on a conversation in the main body of the church! Please, please, please remember to silence them. I wish all churches had signs up about that. And if there are announcements before Mass, that should be one of the announcements. Whew! Glad I got that out.

  9. MargaretC says:

    ‘…a self-appointed nose-thruster-in-er took it upon herself to harangue me about how people shouldn’t “play with their phones” in church.’

    I probably would have appologized and explained that I was reading a meditation on the sin of rash judgement… :)

    That said, I think those of us who carry our spiritual reading in electronic form need to be sensitive to the fact that back lit screens can be very distracting to others, especially to those engaged in prayer. Beyond that, I don’t see much difference between reading on a screen and reading in a codex book.

  10. LouiseA says:

    It is often too hard for me to resist taking a peak at the new text message and email alerts when I look at my phone during Holy Hour in order to check the time. Wearing a wrist-watch just seems so obsolete and uncomfortable, but I do need to wear one in church so I can leave my phone in the car. As Fr. Z writes: “Let’s not fool ourselves… there is a temptation to leave of prayer during Adoration for the lure of the little palatiri at whose fascinating flicker we willingly gaze.”

  11. Mom2301 says:

    I am hearing impaired and the readings for daily mass are not in the missal. In order to follow along with the readings I use my iphone. We have a small parish and those who know me know that I would be the LAST person to spend my time at mass reading emails or texting. That being said I was quite self conscious about doing this as I don’t really want to attract attention during mass. I use it only when necessary and sparingly. So far it has been helpful for me and to my knowledge, not a distraction to others.

  12. Marie Teresa says:

    iPod apps that I might use at Adoration:

    Divine Office
    Preparation for Total Consecration to Mary, by St. Louis de Montfort
    Confessions of St. Augustine
    The Better Part
    Mea Culpa (examination of conscience)

    Yes, the app for Fr. Z’s blog is also on my iPod but unlikely to be used at Adoration!

    Unless someone creates a disturbance, how would you ever notice him using a hand-held device?

  13. tioedong says:

    I say my daily rosary (Eucharistic rosary) by using my mp3 player, and often listen to the daily office podcast that way too. I am old, and my eyes tire easily.
    Also, e books can be read on iphones or small tablet computers:
    many Classic Catholic books can be found on line, and Librivox has many good Catholic audiobooks for those of us who are visually challenged.

  14. robtbrown says:

    I’ve been using a Kindle at mass for more than a year and a half, reading the old Office because I’m too cheap to pay the $30 a year for the Latin new office. I started with the first Kindle, but then I would have to download the office before I left for mass–or stop in a WiFi parking lot. Anyway, about a year ago I bought the 3G Kindle, so now I can download in the Church. And I’ve resisted the temptation to read a Sherlock Holmes story during mass.

    My cell phone is little else than next generation orange juice can and string technology, so there is no chance of reading the office on it (never have it with me anyway). I do think that if I were ever reprimanded for digitally reading the Office, I would invite them to the back of the church and show them what I was doing.

  15. Tina in Ashburn says:

    When I use my iPhone to read certain prayers, I try to be as unobtrusive as possible, keeping the device close to me and lowered a bit. I love using that instead of lugging books into church. Fortunately, checking email or anything else never enters my mind. I think of the iPhone or iPad as a prayer book in that venue.

    I have fantasized about shutting out noise in church by putting on earphones to create white noise, so I can remain recollected. Now you all have given me the idea of listening to sacred music off of my device. Yea, with earphones on, I better sit in the back for that. Not sure that music really helps though, I really need utter silence and stillness. Beautiful music is too absorbing for me to ‘hear’ that small voice. How I long for the Cone of Silence [for you Get Smart fans], can’t all parishes have one of those under which we can run and sit? Why is silence after Mass and during Benediction, [sheesh even during Mass] among everything else, so impossible?

    An advisory on iPhones [don’t know how other mobile phones work]: if you leave your iPhone on to use during Mass or some observance/service, know that when on vibrate mode any alarms you have set will go off!! Turn down the volume all the way, turn off the alarms in advance, download a silent ringtone, as ways to mitigate that infernal interruption.

  16. Terentia says:

    I, too, am one of those who use my iPhone for Stations or the Divine Office while at adoration but as my scheduled hour is at 2AM, I seldom have to worry about disturbing others. I’m leaving for the chapel in about 20 min and will keep you, Fr Z, and your readers in my prayers.

  17. pinoytraddie says:

    I Once saw A Priest use An Palm Pilot in Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.(and that was last year)

    also I used a Phone to play in a low volume a Prayer Before Confession.

  18. acardnal says:

    Hey, here’s a challenge: leave the phone in the car and kneel in silence before the Almighty.

  19. I use my android phone for the reading in Mass. The parish does provide a pamphlet with the English but sometimes it is not the right year or week so I just use my phone and the staff at the parish don’t have to do any more work just to make me happy. Plus with my phone I can read either English or Latin. No one has ever given me a problem and I can even show off the readings to the kids who are drawn to see what I am looking at.
    One problem I do have my phone is that it keeps me awake during the closing announcements. They are done I’m Japanese and I usually take that as an opportunity to close my eyes, “meditate” , and that Christ for allowing me to be Catholic. Somehow I can’t ever seem so keep that up for the hour and fifteen minutes that our announcements run (literally, from 9:45 to 11:10 or there abouts) and I often fall asleep because I have no idea what is being said,I’m just waiting to say Deo Grastias, and go get a cup of coffee. Recently the bishop came to visit and the announcements didn’t end until well after noon. However, I don’t sleep anymore, now I often pull out my phone to read some prayers, or the bible, and I admit, check my email, read wdtprs, check the news or even watch Michel voris on youtube.

  20. For several years I’ve said the Liturgy of the Hours privately in Latin. But, lacking formal training in Latin, I still benefit from glancing at an English translation as a crutch. The best way I’ve found is a Kindle with Universalis downloaded. It’s page-sized, and can be held alongside the Latin like a parallel English page. I also have the RSV and Douay-Rheims downloaded to occasionally compare which matches best the New Vulgate Latin of the Liturgia Horarum. Finally, my Kindle also has the Proper of Saints and the Proper of Seasons from Roman Missal 3/e for me to look at the new translations of the collect (of the daily Mass, which is the closing prayer for the Office).

  21. JacobWall says:

    I agree 100% that these gadgets have good and valid uses, but …

    Fr. Z, you say “A lot of people of a certain age see all these things as “toys”, and therefore not appropriate for church.” From my experience, over 50% of the time they’re right.

    The people who read (and write!) this blog are the kind of people who would bring an iPad or Kindle to mass to read prayers, etc. But I think it’s fair to say this is the minority. If my impression is right, the majority of people who bring a gadget into church will be checking e-mails, facebook, text messaging, etc. With iPhones, I’ve seen a number of people even answer calls, without leaving! (I remember that video Fr. Z posted a while back …)

    Fr. Z, I like your balanced advice of using these devices but with prudence and respect for other people.

    What I would add is that we do need people checking up on each other too. While the “people of a certain age” don’t understand that there are useful purposes, those of us who do understand this should keep each other accountable for how we’re using these things in church. If you see someone you know well using an iPhone in church, it can help a good deal to find an appropriate way to ask about it. [I see it differently. Unless a person is talking loudly into her phone or playing music, etc., truly disturbing others, in my eyes a person who does that runs the risk of being a nosy, eavesdropping buttinsky and a meddling snoop.] While I don’t use any of these devices, I know it would a lure for me to start looking at other stuff. Knowing that someone is checking up on how I use it would be appreciated.

    I also feel those who use devices like these properly should be willing to explain to others; this way they’re also promoting something good.

  22. Mary Jane says:

    @ JacobWall, who said “What I would add is that we do need people checking up on each other too…those of us who do understand this should keep each other accountable for how we’re using these things in church. If you see someone you know well using an iPhone in church, it can help a good deal to find an appropriate way to ask about it.”

    I disagree. Folks shouldn’t pay attention to what other people are doing in church as long as they’re not disrupting the peace or doing something obviously illegal. Here’s another example: modesty. We definitely don’t need “modesty police” running around telling people their skirts are too short or their tops too low. Let the priest handle that. Similarly, let the priest check up on his flock and make sure they’re using iDevices for the right reasons. If you have a friend whom you can ask to help hold you accountable that’s one thing, but random people coming up to others asking what they’re doing…na…just not good.

  23. NoraLee9 says:

    I was reprimanded for “looking” at my phone in St. Patrick’s Cathedral by one of the ushers. I was in the Lady Chapel in mid-afternoon. He apologized a left me in peace when I showed him that I was reading None in the Breviary.

  24. RichardC says:

    I had to google ‘palatiri ‘. Still not sure what it is.

  25. Disc-Thrower says:

    I got told off twice by the overzealous sacristan for reading post communion prayers off my ipod touch in Ireland. Funny, it never happened to me back home in Singapore. I am alright with people who use these things to read prayers in church, as I have often done; especially since I am a student who can’t afford the books, I still feel there is nothing like having an open prayer book in your hands and being able to feel the pages.

  26. susanleeann says:

    1. at times when i am in the adoration chapel alone, i turn on my iphone find the definition of a word i have found while reading a book or the Bible unfamiliar to me.
    2. but in any event i have thought i might be causing scandal by reading the office, a Bible app i have installed or listening to hymns or even the spoken prayers on the iPieta app (if you don’t have it it is worth it, check it out)
    3. i may have said before — if St Paul was alive today he would be a most active blogger!

  27. Ellen says:

    My kindle is in a holder that opens like a book. I have the Bible, some commentaries, the rosary and about a dozen Catholic books on it. I take it everywhere and that includes church. Our pastor and assistant are very tech-savvy and I haven’t been given The Look by anyone. I just got my first smartphone (Android) and am thinking about downloading some MP3 on it and listening to them before Mass to drown out the chatter of the little old ladies who will INSIST on talking.

  28. acardnal says:

    Question for readers: if I get a Kindle, what are some good apps to get and where can I get them? For example, I have been unable to locate a Kindle edition of the Liturgy of the Hours (USA). Is the RSVCE available for Kindle and where can I get it? Any suggestions?

  29. acardnal says:

    Oh, I forgot about the Daily and Sunday missal. Are there Kindle editions available?

  30. wmeyer says:

    acardnal: The Ignatius Study Bible (NT) is available for Kindle, as is the Ignatius Bible (OT & NT, RSVCE). So is the Catechism. As to apps, do get Calibre (free) to manage the not-Kindle-specific volumes you keep on the Kindle, and to convert from other doc forms to MOBI for Kindle. If you would like discussion on this, feel free to e-mail meyer dot wil at gmail dot com.

  31. ipadre says:

    You can’t judge an iPad by it’s cover!

  32. acardnal says:

    Thanks, wmeyer.

  33. robtbrown says:

    acardnal says:

    Hey, here’s a challenge: leave the phone in the car and kneel in silence before the Almighty.

    Reading and silence are not mutually exclusive.

  34. paxchristi says:

    Initially I felt shy and awkward about using my iPad in the Adoration Chapel, but then I came to realize it is what I use at home for prayer time. I have collected novenas, special prayers and prayer intentions pasted into my lined yellow Notes app. As well, there are downloaded spiritual books I read. I have not yet been tempted to graze elsewhere; if I were, I hope I would not bring the iPad in again. One thing I have been wondering about, though: our revamped, glass-walled adoration chapel is now crazy noisy (long sad story), and I’ve thought about downloading Gregorian chant and listening on my earphones to block out the noise. Others would suggest we just “suck it up, buttercup,” and offer up the disturbances, but this is supposed to be a weekly peaceful hour of renewal.

  35. There’s something about electronic devices that lacks dignity. It’s like printing a prayer book in broadpage newspaper format. Ever noticed how liturgical books are made to be beautiful? There’s a reason for that. Electronic devices aren’t wrong in theory, but in practice we can do so much better.

  36. I know of a church where they have installed flat-screen monitors all along the pews so people can follow the liturgy. At best, it’s a distraction. At worst, it’s inappropriate and undignified.

  37. Angie Mcs says:

    There seem to be definite pros and cons to using these devices in church. For some people with special physical needs, they are a helpful tool in understanding and following along. I don’t believe anyone here wants to disturb others with their IPads, phones, or whatever. But it is such a temptation to veer off course and to enter a realm where one might no longer be in the moment. Yes, there are those “little old ladies” and others who need to chat and they are distracting, but one can start distracting oneself- who has emailed me or what is a my favorite team doing, just a moment’s check. Similar to Paxchristi, I have started filling a small, blank journal. It has an beautiful angel on its cover, and I write my thoughts in it, or put in especially beautiful moving pictures I have clipped out from wherever I have found them, as well as favorite prayers, for my own use or those meant for special people, or passages in Latin which I’d like to memorize. After mass, I often scribble down special ideas from the homily that day. This little book is filling up! It is a touching, comforting resource and as one poster here said, there is nothing like a book. When it is full, I will ask Father to bless it and start another one! I love my IPad but this book is special to me in a unique way. Having said that, unless someone is making noise or being disruptive with their devices, I am not going to be looking at them and making any judgements. It really is their own business, and I have enough to focus on that needs work- my own self.

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