New iPad application won’t replace liturgical books, creator says

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Are Catholics soon going to see their parish priest celebrating Mass with an iPad instead of traditional liturgical books?

That’s the impression left by recent reports about Italian Father Paolo Padrini’s planned launch of an iPad application that features the Roman Missal on its 10-inch screen. But Father Padrini and church officials say no one should throw the printed books out yet.

“Liturgical books on the altar will never be replaced by the iPad. This is an additional instrument, not an attempt to get rid of paper books,” Father Padrini said in late June.

“If I went on vacation, I’d take along my iPad and celebrate Mass that way. Obviously in my parish, where I have the books, I’m not going to deliberately use an iPad,” he said.

The application should be ready by the end of July and will feature the Roman Missal in various languages, including English, French, Italian, Latin and Spanish. It loads the missal and breviary, or book of prayers, for a particular day, with the option of pre-loading up to 10 days worth of texts.

Father Padrini said that for the English version, he plans to use the missal text as currently approved for use in the United States. But he apparently has not yet nailed down the necessary permissions.

Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, said June 25 that Father Padrini currently had not received authorization to publish English liturgical texts as digital “applications.”

“We are trying to find a way forward in this situation and are currently in consultation with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding the matter. I imagine that it will take some time to reach a solution which is equally satisfactory to all the parties concerned,” Msgr. Wadsworth said in a statement to Catholic News Service.

Father Padrini did not run his idea past the Vatican’s liturgical experts, presuming that there should not be a problem.

“As far as I can see, there is no liturgical rule saying a printed instrument must be used. The rules do say the liturgy should be dignified and fitting and should not be disturbed,” he said.

In Father Padrini’s opinion, the small iPad would not detract from the liturgical decorum, and would be less noticeable than other objects placed on the altar these days.

But Vatican officials were not so certain that an iPad belongs on the altar.

Marist Father Anthony Ward, an undersecretary at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, said liturgical rules generally refer to “the book,” and there’s been an effort in recent years “to promote the book, and the embellishment of the book.” The idea of having a substitute for the book at public Masses seems to go against that consensus, he said.

Father Ward said the congregation wasn’t specifically considering the suitability of the iPad application, and that there didn’t appear to be explicit rules against such devices. But he added that in this case, one should not assume that if it is not forbidden, it is allowed.

The final judgment on the iPad-as-missal may come with experience. Father Padrini said he thinks the shock effect will disappear as more people carry such devices around with them.

“The liturgy should be beautiful. But personally, I’d rather celebrate Mass with an iPad, which is small and doesn’t disturb the faithful, than with an old, worn-out missal with yellow pages and small type,” he said.


  1. Exactly. This is why there was an ecclesial ban on machine-printed missals and hymnals, since they were unworthy for the liturgy, and why those machine-printed books never replaced hand-lettered and illuminated ones. Oh, wait …

  2. I would doubt that we would lose the form of the book, especially owing to the codex form possibly even originating among early Christians (and certainly being popularized by them). My assumption is that, like the tradition that has preserved vestments long out of fashion, there may be some changes in style, but the essential codex form will be preserved. There just seems to be too much symbolism in the codex form for it not to be perserved.

    1. Apple will only allow you to use its proprietary iThurifer app; they want to make sure no underage models will be used.

  3. Fr. Christopher may be jesting, but I think there’s a serious concern here which I share with him. I don’t have an iPad and I’m not sure what it is… but doesn’t it contain lots of things including perhaps the Missal and Lectionary? That bugs me. We incense the Book of Gospels which has nothing but sacred texts (and intro material related to them). The seemingly absurd question of whether to incense the iPad tells me there’s something wrong in using it in the liturgy. Maybe I’m missing something or I need to open up, but I don’t like the idea.

    1. Which is why we use a Missal or other ritual books and not scraps of throw-away paper to celebrate the sacraments and read the scriptures from.

  4. There is nothing particularly new about the iPad….there have been televisions, computers, PDA’s, e-books and numerous other electronic gadgets capable of storing and retreiving text. Why did we not have a computer monitor up on the altar 25 years ago? Why not a television screen with closed circuit broadcast version of the Missal since the 1950’s? Why not an e-book Missal? The answer of course is both a matter of tradition, and a matter of practicality. Books are simple and easy to use.They don’t require power (other than light) and there are no menus or function keys to worry about. They are the ultimate “interface” for people with hands and eyes… and they are easily portable.

  5. An iPad, charged, would last the duration of most any liturgy (maybe not an Easter Vigil with lots of baptisms), so it’s not the power thing. My gravest concern is the one that Anthony expresses – that the Mass/Missal/Lectionary would be just one more thing stored on the iPad. Some folks will offer that a priest could also store and link the homily for a given Sunday, etc. But lots of other things could be stored there as well …
    [The codex, in some form, goes back pre-AD, Cicero speaks of assembled and bound pages; it was 1st century pagan Rome that the format became popularized, so its concurrent spread with Christianity throughout the Graeco-Roman empire was historical coincidence, not Christian innovation.]

  6. What about the priest, deacon, or lector with diminishing eyesight? Does poor eyesight dictate that it’s time to retire from ministry? I’m aware of one priest in his mid-forties who has to hold a ritual book 2-3 inches from his face in order to read the text (and with some difficulty at that). I don’t know the capabilities of the iPad, but if one could increase the font size of an electronic text to 50 points or greater, would this be of assistance to some in ministry?

    I’ve been at more then one liturgy where the Sacramentary has been replaced with a binder. I don’t know if this is done for the sake of convenience or text modification, but is this “binder” really any different than a pad?

    1. I can’t remember where I read it, but there is a document from some Congregation or Conference which frowns on the use of binders and folders as substitutes for actual liturgical books.

      As for an iPad displaying text at a very large font size, you will then have to continue to “page” through the text, which a disturbance (like having your face 2 inches from the page).

  7. We have lived so long with the codex as the only format for a book that we have forgotten what a book really is. Ideas and language make a book, not little dots of ink on pieces of paper.

    The iPad offers a new format, just as the codex was different from the scroll, and the scroll made stone tablets obsolete and stone tablets stopped fights over memory. It will not become the exclusive format, unless some serious problem arises with the codex. But whatever formats there are, it is likely the book — the collected ideas, rites, statistics now found in codices — will continue to exist.

  8. What if it dies during the Mass?
    And is the deacon going to process in raising his iPad?
    Does the congregation respond by lighting and raising their cellphones and waving them like at concerts?
    Oh, and incensing the iPad may void its warranty! 😉

  9. I have both an iPad and iPhone and I have the universalis app. It has the full brevery and full Mass readings for each day. Very useful working as a lay Chaplain!

  10. Jim McKay suggests that ideas and language make a book not the physicality of it. I’m not sure ideas and language are enough. I’m going to borrow from Raymond Studzinski, OSB and his recent book Reading to Live (ironically available now as an eBook) where Ivan IIllich’s distinction between a book and an abstracted text are made even more significant to Christians because our faith rests on the Word that became flesh. The very act of the incarnation, the precursor for all sacramental activity wherein the real presence of the divine comes into our midst by conjoining word and substance, means that we not only take seriously the physicality of things, including books and people, but also understand them to have worth beyond merely what ideas they may contain. Thus we reverence books, bury or burn worn liturgical vestments or books, and treat them with dignity. I hope the iPad application (and other disposable formats of the Roman Missal) will occasion easier study and reflection so that celebrations of the liturgy with large-format beautifully-bound codices may be occasions for awe and wonder in order to recognize the real presence that gives meaning to life.

  11. While we may incense an ornamented Book of the Gospels, we don’t usually incense paperback and loose leaf editions of the Gospels. The ornate Book and incense point to something more than the printed text.

    Electronic forms of the Bible can be far richer than print forms. The BibleWorks program contains not only most of the commonly used texts in English and many languages but also the Greek, Hebrew and Latin texts, and a whole bunch of integrated scholarly tools such as dictionaries. Each verse can be seen simultaneously in many forms, and all the tools are present to make one’s own translation which can be incorporated into BibleWorks.

    The Living Text of the Gospels by D.C. Parker has a fine discussion of how print has changed and electronic will change our notion of the text of the Gospels which he maintains is a living text (what we are really incensing).

    Electronics offers truly astounding ways of being able to ornament the Bible and liturgical books. These are likely to start on home computers with people who compose their own Biblical texts and Divine Office but eventually they will reach the web (perhaps Saint John’s will complement its recent manuscript with an entirely different illumination in cyberspace).

    These illuminated electronic texts and images will come to inhabit the electronic icon screens of our churches, and we will have no difficulty incensing them.

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