Twitter Liturgy: Luther would be so proud…

Luther would be so proud.

From NPR:

In Germany, Churchgoers Are Encouraged To Tweet From The Pews

In Germany this year, the Protestant church is celebrating 500 years since Martin Luther brought about the Reformation. Today, as the number of churchgoers dwindles, the clergy is turning to new media to appeal to those with little time to attend worship in person.

In the eastern city of Magdeburg, the monotone peal of a single church bell calls a modest flock of parishioners to evening prayers at the Walloon Reformed Church of St. Augustine.

As the faithful file into a High Gothic church where Martin Luther once delivered a sermon, most fumble around in handbags and pockets, looking for their cellphones.

But instead of dutifully switching off their phones and putting them away on this Friday evening, these 40 or so churchgoers take a pew and bow their heads over their lit-up devices as if they were prayer books.

This is a Twitter service, where the congregation is encouraged to tweet about the liturgy and share their prayers online.


I have occasionally answer questions about use of handheld devices in church.  I even wrote something about the use of an iPad by the priest for Mass (you would probably need 4 iPads for the TLM):

There is nothing wrong with them in principle.  They are just ways to convey texts, like a book.  However, there are a lot of people in the pews next to you who could be distracted by them and who may not associate them with “texts”.  They may think of these things as games or distractions or whatever.   Just as it took a while to shift from the scroll to the codex, the connotation of the handheld will need some time to shift.  It could be that when you are looking at the text of the antiphon being sung in Gregorian chant, someone thinks you are “playing with your phone”.

There is another aspect.  If it wouldn’t be disruptive, I don’t see a problem with sending weekly donations for the parish via a handheld at the time of the collection.  Moreover, I know a parish or two with card swiping pads at the doors or in the narthex for those who stop in, etc.

I don’t see anything sacrilegious about these uses of technology.  However, we have to be sensitive about other people around us.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I actually really like this idea. I would suggest that it be kept out of Holy Mass itself, but it may be a positive way to get people involved in the public celebration of the Divine Office. This way we can join our prayers together before the throne of the Lord. A modern incarnation of the 141st psalm, as it were.

  2. Nathan says:

    Father, I’m with you in your assessment that there is nothing inherently sacrilegious or wrong with using handheld devices in the church. However, from the article it appears as though that this group goes off the rails in how they use the devices during the service.

    Whether you use an iPhone or Burma Shave signs or smoke signals, publicly commenting on the liturgy while it is going on is, IMO, inherently self-referential (one of the risks of using social media in general) . And for the pastor to post them on a big screen in the chancel makes the use even more self-referential.

    I think it would help these people much more if they were taught 1)to Whom worship is actually directed and 2)our rightful and proper place as created humans in the presence of the Un-created God. Perhaps we could convince them to post passages of Dietrich Von Hildenbrand’s Liturgy and Personality for a while instead of Tweets.

    In Christ,

  3. APX says:

    Some sort of a tablet would be helpful for choirs/scholas. It would eliminate lugging around a 40lbs choir bag full of books, since many chant books are available free online.

  4. DavidJ says:

    I very much agree that a parish tweeting prayer requests or otherwise building interest and community online can be a very good thing. Especially these days with so much connectedness.

    Just _not_ during the Mass.

  5. amrc says:

    I find electronically lit devices like smartphones, iPads, Kindles, etc. very distracting during the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Even if people are reading along the liturgical texts and prayers, the gleaming lights beside and around one are annoying and distracting. What if a child were playing with a little flashlight during Mass? It is the nature of the medium, not the message on it, that is disruptive. Is one going to bow one’s head over one’s phone, instead of at times closing the eyes to contemplate? Can’t we have one sacred space and time without hyper-media-ized gadgets? I even much prefer candle to electric lighting in Church. Harangue over.

  6. Nan says:

    My issue is similar to that of amrc. I find the bright lights in the devices distracting. It doesn’t matter what the owner is doing, the light diminishes my focus on Mass.

  7. Ocampa says:

    I can see the church signs now: “St. Slartibarfast: Now accepting Bitcoin”

  8. tgarcia2 says:

    Imagine that parish fund investment if that sign was up in 2009

  9. majuscule says:

    When I forget my prayer book I will sometimes use my smartphone to read from but not during Mass.

    I do not want to give the impression that I may be playing games, reading email, tweeting or anything else electronic during Mass. I was once scandalized to see a man in front of me playing games on his phone (he was trying to be secretive but I was at just the right angle behind him and it was hard to ignore). He finally put it aside when it came time for him to go forward to be an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

    This was not my usual Sunday Mass, so I don’t know who he was. And I have not been back to Mass at that hour.

  10. Ages says:

    I would disagree slightly with our congenial host. When it comes to books, they are sacred objects unto themselves—they are created and set aside for a specific holy purpose, and cannot really be used for any other purpose. They inherently contain the words of Christ. [You are over-reacting. I used sacred books. I bless sacred books. I get books. That’s not the real point here.]

    Tablets and smartphones, while they can be used to perform the same basic function of conveying information, are not sacred objects. You could take the same iPad after Mass and log onto Twitter, or even—God forbid—look up pornography. (Not to mention the nasty blue backlight glow that draws attention to itself and is very distracting in its own right.)

    A Missal, or Guadual, or Gospel book are more than mere receptacles of analog data. They are holy objects, made with specific holy purpose and are kept and used in holy places to do holy things. I would encourage parishes, clergy, and laymen to avoid using devices in church.

  11. Mary Jane says:

    “Some sort of a tablet would be helpful for choirs/scholas. It would eliminate lugging around a 40lbs choir bag full of books, since many chant books are available free online.”

    Yes! My husband and I do just this. We both sing in one of our parish choirs, and instead of lugging around bags full of books and binders full of sheet music we both have an iPad and two apps we use to sing from – Liber Pro (for the Liber Usualis) and Forzando (for sheet music). An interesting and related to the discussion story – during our Solemn High Mass on the Feast of the Assumption a few days ago, the power went out while Father was giving the homily. The church was dark except for the evening twilight and the candles from the altar (okay, and the “exit” signs ;-). All of the choir (except for those of us with iPads) scrambled for candles or flashlights or phones to illuminate their music, so when the homily was done we could see the music and still sing. For those of us with iPads…our illumination was taken care of!

    I never use an electronic device during Mass when I’m downstairs in the pews, though. It’s too easy for someone near me to wonder whether I’m following along using an app or whether I’m checking my email. I don’t want to be that source of distraction to someone.

  12. jaykay says:

    “As the faithful file into a High Gothic church where Martin Luther once delivered a sermon, most fumble around in handbags and pockets, looking for their cellphones.”

    Hah! History repeats itself. The article refers to the “reformed” church. Just a short while after the “reformation” the parishioners were already deserting in droves, as was reported (in despair) at the time, with churches practically deserted on Sundays or, if there, people mocking the pastor’s sermon, playing games etc. etc. Now, it did obviously improve as regards attendance etc. but the results of the “reformation” don’t seem to have been immediately obvious.

  13. Mojoron says:

    I have several apps for my iPhone two of which are devotionals and prayers, of which is the Anima Christi that can be said after communion. But I always am troubled by pulling out the phone to read prayers, people might think otherwise. The prayer used to be on back of the hymnal, but it has been replaced by others.

  14. iamlucky13 says:

    “This is a Twitter service, where the congregation is encouraged to tweet about the liturgy and share their prayers online.”

    I was going to say this isn’t news, it was already run 3 years ago.

    Then I realized you hadn’t just reposted the old Eye of The Tiber article:

    I’ve thought about using a smart phone for a missal, but agree. It could confuse others.

  15. Nan says:


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  17. LuxPerpetua says:

    On the one hand, Snapchatting and the like before or during major holidays and feasts is a way of evangelizing the culture if done respectfully, tastefully and well. This already happens in some respect on Christmas and Easter when people take photos of the decorations, grottos, altars of repose or with their families, the domestic church. I would not see a problem extending this to other public prayers and devotions, such as the Divine Office or exposition/benediction and prayers before the blessed sacrament. After all, the liturgy is a public prayer of the church, and social media is an extension of this public welcome to all. On the other hand, doing so also exposes the congregation or church to greater threats – hostile individuals, groups and governments where the church is persecuted. It might also appear profane, depending on the context. I’m not sure many non-believers would be terribly interested in a live Periscope of every Sunday Mass on Twitter, though they could benefit from a live stream of a priest’s homilies/sermons or live Periscope of an important diocesan event, such as Holy Week liturgies in the diocesan cathedral or visit from the Pope, etc. Again, this already happens to some extent anyway, such as in Papa Francesco’s visit to the US where such social media functionaries were actually deployed for this very purpose. In all matters it’s best to be prudent, I suppose.

  18. MB says:

    Hmmm. I was thinking of buying a daily missal, but the ones that I saw for sale were pretty ‘spency. Then, I discovered that I could get a daily missal for my kindle for $10. Now, I use my kindle all the time at Mass. However, after reading Ages comment … perhaps I should re-think it.

  19. APX says:


    I wouldn’t worry too much about the price of a hand missal. You will get years of use out of it and it is so useful for sticking ordination and funeral cards into. Personally, I find it easier to pray with an actual book than with my Kindle, which is what I take with me for spiritual reading.

  20. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The best prayerbook or prayer app is the one you actually use.

    (When cheap hand missals were introduced, there were a fair number of people who managed to be scandalized by them, too. If you are sitting there in a prayerful position, people will figure it out.)

  21. GregB says:

    I regularly use a PC, tablet, or smartphone to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. It is much easier and less distracting than having to flip pages between the sections of the printed version to say all the parts of each prayer. This way I can concentrate on the prayer.

  22. Ben Kenobi says:

    Father, I would have fully agreed with you awhile ago, but coming from a different church, I saw certain – euhm, practices that soured me off.

    Rather than having a pastor, they had an overflow space in a separate chapel where we could view the head pastor giving his sermon. I know that’s not what you’re talking about here, but it has bothered me a long time. The other concern I have had – again – as an ex prot. I have seen the texts themselves be changed and ‘censored’ with inclusive language, such that I’ve no longer been able to use the bible that brought me into Christianity in the first place. And I am not *that* old either. I fear that the conversion from Sacred Texts would be too easily changed into something of an altogether different form. To the extent where I’m going to have to purchase from a trusted publisher the biblical reference books for my own use. Currently Catholic Encyclopedia has a pretty good interlineal bible with the Greek and Latin alongside the English, but I wonder how long that will hold up.

  23. catholiccomelately says:

    Publishers of liturgical music don’t need users to diligently seek FREE music. That will kill the publishers off for sure!

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