A bishop nixes iPads, apps, for liturgy

I have written about this here and here.

From CathNews New Zealand:

NZ Bishops: No liturgical use of Roman Missal iPad Apps

The Roman Missal apps for iPad may not be used in the liturgy.

The New Zealand Bishops have told their priests that only the official printed copy of the Roman Missal may be used at Mass and at the Church’s other liturgies. They say that the Roman Missal apps for iPad and the use of other tablets, mobile phones and e-readers are excellent for study purposes, but their use in the Church’s litugry is inappropriate.

A letter sent to priests and signed by all the Bishops of New Zealand says that that all religions have books which are reserved which are reserved for the rituals and activities at the heart of the faith, and the Roman Missal is one such book.

“The Missal is reserved for use during the Church’s liturgy. iPads and other electronic devices have a variety of uses, e.g. for the playing of games, using the internet, watching videos and checking mail. This alone makes their use in the liturgy inappropriate,” they say.


WDTPRS agrees…mostly.  I think most reasonable people would also agree that, in a pinch, an iPad could substitute, again – in a pinch, if it were of question of not being able to have Mass at all.  But how often would something like that happen?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Perhaps here is a good example of necessity for an iPad app:
    I am currently spending the summer in Ukraine to study the Russian language. The Dominican Priory in which I am residing has graciously offered to allow me to use their house chapel to say a ‘private’ Mass in English. The problem – their only English language missals are the old translation that are no longer authorized for use in Catholic Liturgies. The Conventual Mass is during my language lessons so attending, much less concelebrating (the Liturgy is in Ukrainian, which poses its own problems), is not possible. My only recourse is an iPad app.

  2. Eriugena says:

    Wouldn’t this be a great way of SANCTIFYING the internet? Don’t the Bishops of Kiwiland want to sanctify things?

  3. Bryan Boyle says:

    Even though I’m a dyed-in-the-wool techie, and have most of the current crop of toys like this…I’m in agreement. You don’t sanctify or make things holy by using mundane objects in a sacramental setting. The iPad, like all things, is mundane and can be used for good, neutral, or evil purposes. There is no mistaking what the purpose of the MR is. Now, I don’t have dog in this hunt, but, I can see where the bishops have exercised prudence in this decision.

    That being said, if the decision was to not celebrate the Sacrifice because you didn’t have a bound, physical copy of the MR but you did on your i-whatever…in a private setting…is it more pleasing to the Creator that the perfect offering is made based on the text you read off a screen or off a beautifully bound manuscript? I’m glad I a lay person…;)

  4. AnnAsher says:

    I agree with you Fr Z and the good Bishop. Even though the altar arrangement for iTLM made me smile :)

  5. APX says:

    Having seen the new lectionary, and watched the lady at church try to lift it off the altar, only to appear to be carrying a large brick, I can’t help but wonder if for traveling purposes, there might be room to allow something a little more transportable.

  6. jesusthroughmary says:

    Fr. Thomas –

    Yet another example of why the Church should never have built this liturgical Tower of Babel.

  7. jesusthroughmary says:

    APX –

    Is it sexist for me to suggest that it is a book designed to be used by grown men, not little old ladies? [I am not sure what this is about. If you are talking about strength, kids carry missals.]

  8. frjim4321 says:

    I would think exceptions could be made in extreme circumstances such as military chaplains and priests wanting to celebrate mass during a backpacking vacation or something like that. For mass in a church it seems a bit banal to use an electronic device – tantamount to using recorded music. Not to mention electronic candles, bells, organs and the like.

  9. atraturris says:

    I have used an Ipad for mass but only when I do a mass at the Nursing home, or something along those lines where it is outside of a church. I only use it for the readings of the day rather than dragging out the large Lectionary. Everything else I use the Magnificat Chapel edition of the Roman Missal.

  10. acardnal says:

    Fr. Thomas: Suggestion: next time you travel, why not bring a hand missal with the NO/OF liturgy in English/Latin and use that? My parish priest uses a hand missal when visiting nursing homes.

  11. acardnal says:

    OR . . . if you want to celebrate the EF/TLM, while traveling or outside of a church, bring a small hand missal like the one I use at Mass published by Angelus Press or Baronius. There’s really no need for an iPad, etc., at Holy Mass.

  12. Fr. Thomas says:

    @robtbrown Not sure how a webpage is any different than an app though. Also, though I have an appreciation of the Extraordinary Form, it is not a Liturgy I am comfortable offering. As a priest, I prefer offering either the Ordinary Form or the Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, or the Presanctified Gifts.

    @acardnal I had been expecting the approved texts to be available for me at the priory, else I would have packed a hand missal. I do keep one in my Mass kit. So in my particular circumstance I had two options: 1) Use unapproved texts or 2) Use the approved texts on my iPad (which neither my bishop nor abbot have made any pronouncements against, of which I am aware).

    All in all, I have to admit I do like this particular app because it provides everything I need for the Holy Sacrifice, as well as the Divine Office. It saves a lot of room in the suitcase.

  13. Pedantic Classicist says:


    Well, considering the fact that books are just a type of technology (just way older), there’s obviously no substantial difference. I am far from being a techie, but I do wish some book fetishists would realize this sometime. Anyway, all the same, Fr. Z’s caution seems like a good idea (tradition and convention are our friends, after all), but it does remind me of a question I’ve been having lately when going to Mass with a rather old priest. Would it make sense to have an ipad on the altar for an elderly priest with poor eyesight, if someone made an app to BLOW UP (and scroll as well) the text to a good size? What do you all think?

    Hmmm, the Bishops’ point about reserving items for sacred use only is really good, btw.

  14. wolfeken says:

    Dignity. This is about the dignity of the Mass, the dignity of the Church and the dignity of the parish.

    Just like phony candles, which are also easier. But tacky, like an electronic missal. Some things are worth a little extra time and care. Objects inside a church should qualify for that category.

    P.S. for the laity, it will never change that you look like your checking your email if you use an electronic device in church as a missal. Sorry, but that fact is not going away.

  15. acardnal says:

    This subject was discussed in a previous post by Fr. Z a few weeks ago. So, readers are reminded that the missals and other sacred objects used at Holy Mass are blessed, not to be used for other purposes but set aside for ONLY holy ends. The use of sacred items and articles used during Mass are regulated by the Church. Have the iPads and iPhones in question been blessed? Are they used for other secular purposes? Are their audible alarms and alerts turned off? What if the battery dies during Mass or the software freezes up?

  16. Matt R says:

    The Bishops are spot on the mark here. However, I do recall reading about the NZ version of the Missal, and that it is sub-optimal. That should be changed if it is indeed the case.

  17. rtjl says:

    A tablet computer was just what the doctor ordered for the Exultet at the Easter vigil this year. The deacon at our parish often struggles with being able to read the Exultet in the low lighting of the Easter Vigil. Making the Exultet available to him on a tablet was a perfect solution to this problem. A tablet was placed on the ambo ahead of time and was hidden from the view of the congregation. The lighting of screen was set low enough that it did not provide distracting visible light while still easily providing enough light to make the text visible to the deacon. Using the tablet was well practiced in advance and the Deacon found that, for once, he had no trouble reading and singing the Exultet.

    The point about blessings is well taken. A tablet used for these purposes probably should be blessed and set aside and used only for these purposes.

  18. robtbrown says:

    Fr Thomas says,

    @robtbrown Not sure how a webpage is any different than an app though. Also, though I have an appreciation of the Extraordinary Form, it is not a Liturgy I am comfortable offering.

    I’ve never been comfortable with vernacular, versus populum celebration.

  19. Hidden One says:

    I think that the New Zealand rule makes sense (however inconvenient) and that if an electronic device is to be used for Mass (elsewhere) it makes sense to have it blessed and set aside for strictly liturgical use. I think one has to be very careful when introducing electronic gadgets to the liturgical matters. Beyond that, on a personal note, as a layperson who is distracted even by watches worn by priests celebrating Mass, I do not think I would like to see an electronic gadget rather than a missal, even an ugly one.

    I’d still prefer an “iPad Mass” to no Mass where licit, but it is distinctly not my preference. (A discrete e-reader or whatnot on the ambo with the text or bullet points of the priest’s homily – or perhaps even the text of the Exsultet, as mentioned above – would obviously be less problematic, from my perspective.)

  20. Charivari Rob says:

    How often?

    I’d say that the case of a priest who is blind (or significantly impaired eyesight) would be a legitimate circumstance.

    One of our neighboring priests has lost some of his eyesight, but still has enough that a piece of adaptive tech (a magnifier/light, but something more than a magnifying glass) that enables him to use the printed book.

    For some, however, that isn’t an alternative.

    The alternatives would be
    – Braille Missal (huge amount of shelf space)
    – Electronic format (tablet, etc…) – might be able to address concern by installing on a base model tablet and lock out communication, reserve it for that purpose.
    – Use the text-scan-to-speech reader function available on some smart phones and tablets, use it with printed book.

  21. FrJLP says:

    I am a visually handicapped priest. My particular impairment has required the use of mono-focal intraocular lenses, which means that my eyes do not self-focus. Depending on a particular font size and lighting situation, the book has to be EXACTLY the proper distance away for me to be able to focus on it and see it. This means a stable missal, a stable altar height, and a missal stand. These days, altars are build around 36″ high instead of the 42″ common in more classical structures. For me, 8″ makes all the difference. Most parishes do not possess missal stands, either.

    So, I use frequently my iPad to celebrate Mass…and always when I travel. iBreviary has a wonderful Missal section and I can enlarge the text to whatever is required and it scrolls nicely. This had been an effective use of technology for me, especially after ICEL told me I was not allowed to enlarge the new texts of the RM and print them for my own use.

    Incidentally, this is the reason I have not been able to learn the 1962 MR. The propers in those missals are so small that I cannot read them from the altar…and forget the altar cards! There is a Missal for the visually impaired, but I have not found one for under $500.

    So, yeah…Thank God for the iPad and new technologies !

  22. albinus1 says:

    I’d say that the case of a priest who is blind (or significantly impaired eyesight) would be a legitimate circumstance.

    I have read that the two Masses which any priest may offer anywhere, anytime without special permission are the Mass for Trinity Sunday and the Requiem Mass. This is specifically provided to allow blind priests or those for whom the Missal is inaccessible (e.g., those in prison) to memorize a Mass which they may offer every day without the use of a Missal. Is this no longer the case?

  23. cdnpriest says:

    I agree that such electronic devices are inappropriate for the Church’s Sacred Liturgy. I would feel rather uncomfortable incensing an iPad at the Gospel reading, for example, and then venerating it with a kiss. Granted, I am venerating the Word of God and not the medium through which that Word is being presented (paper or electronic), but still….

    I did have to use my iPhone on one occasion though. I was preaching a retreat and the retreat centre did not have the texts for Benediction (I needed especially the “Lord Jesus Christ, you gave us the Sacrament…” prayer, and the Divine Praises — though I know the latter generally by heart). So in order to do Benediction properly, I had to resort to my iPhone. The iBreviary Pro Terra Sancta app has a Rites section that includes Eucharistic Adoration with Benediction. It felt odd using it, but at least I was able to do full Benediction that way.

    I would only do this in the case of such “emergencies” though.

    Needless to say, it is essential that one turn off one’s phone (“airplane mode”) at such times, as receiving a phone call in the midst of Benediction would be very distracting to oneself and to the people!

  24. FrJLP says:

    @cdnpriest: As a visually-handicapped priest, I am very grateful that your “feelings” and “subjective experience” about the matter do not effect the Church’s legislation about such matters. I am sure there were late medieval monk-priests who felt the same odd sensations censing and kissing a book instead of scrolls and folios.

    @albinus1: There were provisions laid out by the Sacred Congregation for Rites in 1957 regarding masses said by blind priests. You can find that document here: http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/resources/books-1962/rituale-romanum/24-the-sacrament-of-the-holy-eucharist-blind-priests.html. This legislation, however, is not currently in force…though its general intentions make common sense…

  25. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Obviously, one usually would use a book. But in special circumstances, I think a tablet or phone would be appropriate.

    I agree that in cases when one is regularly using a tablet, say, because of visual impairment, the tablet probably should be set aside and blessed as a “sacred tablet.” It might also be a good idea to get such tablets a nice “sacred cover,” to clue people in, and to protect a sacred object fittingly.

    It might also be nice for laypeople using electronics to say the Office or as a hand missal to have a special cover for their device, at least as “church clothes” when being used for such things. If the inside of a cover were to be decorated as well as the outside, or if holy cards were stuck onto the “church clothes” cover on the inside, people would know that you weren’t being irreverent by using a device in church.

  26. dburnette10 says:

    In an emergency or in case of handicap, I say go for it. My husband drives a truck all day, and if an iphone is all Father has at the scene of accident/in whatever other situations he might be in……use it!

    However, I also just reread Fahrenheit *451. Keep the books! I read that book the first time in the early to mid 90’s (middle school), in high school, around 95, and again about a month ago. We are turning into that society. I’ve already seen “old” dictionaries cut up and used for “art” projects at our school fundraiser. It would seem that, in the right circumstances, the Bible could meet the same fate. (I chose those 2 books due to the fact I can remember the dictionary being held under lock and key in the school library, as well as the same treatment of the Bible in times long since past). I think prudence is the key.

    FrJLP- could a stand be built to height/distance you require? It seems it would be a (semi?)permanent solution, provided that the font and lighting are correct. It seems to me a job of the laity is to aid the priest in doing his job, in more ways than showing up for confession!

  27. If an iPad can be used in place of a printed Missal, then I guess barbeque lighters are fine for igniting the candles. I really don’t want to go down that road.

  28. …barbeque lighters…

  29. … every sacristan reading this thread hangs his head in shame…

  30. jflare says:

    – I think a bit of common sense applies here. If you have a choice between using an electronic widget to offer Confession or Mass, or not offering Confession or Mass at all, I think it’s a pretty clear choice: DO IT! (Make better arrangements another time, if possible.)
    – I don’t think I’d care to see electronics used routinely for Mass in anything like a church. When you know you’ll be offering Mass someplace routinely, it’d be a good idea to enable reverence as much as possible. Routine use of electronic gadgets won’t support that idea as well.
    – Book is a form of technology? Only to a degree!
    Keep in mind, TECHNICALLY, someone could use a scroll or another copy of the Constitution of the United States for a door-stop. So long as the object holding the door will actually keep the door from moving, it won’t hurt either one. But we DON’T use copies of the Constitution for door-stops, do we? Because we understand that the Constitution, being the Law of the Land, is NOT the average run-of-the-mill object.
    If that’s true, neither does it make sense to use something for Mass that isn’t explicitly intended for FOR use IN the Mass. Not if we have reasonable means to designate particular objects–books–to fill the role.
    – Where possible, I should think a priest would want to find a copy of a missal or lectionary that uses larger print than normal. ..Actually, I would think any parish or religious organization would want to see to this routinely. I’m fairly sure that most Lectionaries have larger print than the average book; they do so PRECISELY because of the need for routinely reading them from a podium, not a “regular reading distance” in one’s hand. If that’s so and we’ve had people growing hard of seeing for centuries, I should think at least one publisher has discerned some means of printing something in the size appropriate for more sight-challenged persons.

    If I may be cruel enough to say this, it seems to me that if someone DOESN’T have the appropriate books in a size proper to reading effectively, it might be a good idea to have a chat with whomever the appropriate superior might be about a slight adjustment of funding priorities. If we truly believe that Mass IS our highest form of worship, I should think any superior would definitely WANT to do anything reasonably possible to better enable a priest to offer the Mass, privately OR publicly.

    Electronics probably should be limited to those cases where something hasn’t gone entirely right or space simply can’t be made without creating other, myriad, serious problems.

  31. FrJLP says:

    @dburnette10: A missal stand would have to be made for every altar upon which I celebrate mass. as the distances vary. To get a sense of what I am talking about, find yourself a magnifying glass, and use it to read something. That is a fixed lens. Try moving it closer and farther away, and see what happens. So, when I am not at the seminary at which I teach, and I am about the parishes were I assist and the parishes where I give missions, and the places where I say mass during time off (because I can’t drive), the iPad is very helpful! I couldn’t be more grateful for it. And I do not want to put a restriction upon it that the Church has not seen fit to put upon it. And I would like to ask ICEL not to be so territory and give permission to those of us with handicap to provide for the needs of the Church through our sacred ministry. The texts of the Church belong to the Church, and not to a translation body.

  32. Pingback: iPads and the Liturgy « A Priest Downunder

  33. Fr. Thomas says:

    >Fr Thomas says,
    >@robtbrown Not sure how a webpage is any different than an app though. Also, though I have an >appreciation of the Extraordinary Form, it is not a Liturgy I am comfortable offering.
    >I’ve never been comfortable with vernacular, versus populum celebration.

    I am not sure what you are saying or implying.

  34. timelord says:

    As an avid techno-geek, I nevertheless concur with Fr. Z and the Bishop insofar as normally speaking one should use a proper Roman Missal to celebrate Mass in a church, chapel or an oratory. That being said, I have and will continue to use my iPad for Masses at the local nursing home since they are celebrated in ‘community rooms’ similar to celebrating Mass in someone’s private home. As these are not considered sacred space, I see nothing irreverent in using electronic medium to offer Holy Mass in a secular place. The same could be said for chaplains who have no access to chapels. I know of one who had to photocopy or fax the Ordo Missae and/or Lectionary readings as he was limited to how much (weight) he could bring into the institution. The candle sticks, crucifix, chalice and paten and cruets alone just barely were under the limit. I also use a very dignified looking leather cover for the iPad to lend it more formality than just having an uncovered device.

    My question is, was there a special/particular blessing of Roman Missals in the old Roman Ritual or just for general things used for divine worship? If books can be blessed, cannot iPads? Again, I would never use on in a parish Mass inside church. The iPad is not a replacement for the Missal but it can be an extraordinary substitute depending on the location (outside sacred space). I use the iPad or iPhone for the Divine Office since you have easy access to English, Italian, Latin, Ordinary and Extraordinary forms of the Breviary. Again, having a dignified cover does help and you don’t have to worry about ribbon placement. Not that I disposed of my expensive four volume sets (one in English and one in Latin). When batteries poop out, these always work. With the eBreviary and iPhones and smart-phones being prolific , NO priest or deacon has an excuse to skip his obligatory Liturgy of the Hours.

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