Priest celebrates Mass with iPad


Story here.

H/T: The Deacon’s Bench.


  1. A Catholic priest in Italy recently employed an iPad to perform an outdoor mass in the place of a heavy bible.

    Well, at least this journalist is trying to dispel the myth that Catholic worship isn’t biblical. 😉

    1. can a priest not use a sacramentary for mass?

      Or a chasuble?

      I deplore these liturgical abuses in which everything is reduced to mere functionality.

      1. Robert,

        You have not answered my question. I am asking a canonical question, not a liturgical one. I do not advocate the use of iPads in place of sacramentaries. Do not assume every question is an advocacy for abuses.

        Let me clarify my question: is the presider required to use a sacramentary? under what circumstances can a priest not use a sacramentary, i.e., using an iPad?

      2. I don’t know for sure if a priest is canonically allowed to say mass without using a sacramentary, but I have seen priests say mass with their texts in a binder, especially for special-occasion liturgies like weddings or once-a-year diocesan things. I don’t remember if a sacramentary was used for the Eucharistic Prayers, but I certainly have seen everything else read from a binder.

      3. John, I didn’t speak to your question because I don’t know the answer.

        Tom and Paul: the absence of the chasuble in the celebration of Mass is indisputably an abuse — not a “variation”. As for the iPad, it would seem almost to have been more trouble to have gone to the trouble to load the Sacramentary as opposed to using a real one. The celebrant appears intent on making some kind of point — as with the beat-up table. I’m sure he is very gritty and romantic, and everyone is terribly impressed by his spontaneous authenticity and lack of artifice.

      4. Robert, the baptismal garment is the alb, and the symbol of priestly office is the stole, not the chasuble. No abuse if you don’t wear a chasuble (e.g. in the hot sun). Lighten up, please.

      5. Robert, I wonder whether the chasuble worn by Jesus at the last supper was the correct liturgical colour.

      6. RBR,

        If it’s 105 degrees outside, would you still insist on the full set of vestments? What’s the procedure for handling the situatioh where the celebrant collapses from heatstroke?

      7. Excuse me Paul, but RS and the GIRM are quite clear on this point — as a scholar of your stature surely knows. The chasuble is never to be omitted by the chief celebrant. I realize this fad of celebrants in their underwear is still popular in some circles, but quirky preferences do not get to become licit simply because their mandarin adherents are comfortably established and well-connected.

        The faithful are entitled to a lawful celebration of the liturgy. Don’t you care about them at all?

    2. I wonder how many of “the faithful” are hung up on legalities. Some, I suspect, but not many. As for those who are – I wonder how happy they are, and whether they’re ever able to participate joyfully and with inner peace at liturgies short of perfection. Robert, do you realize that your tone is consistently negative, even bitterly so?

  2. A recent lecture at Catholic University of America, by Rev. Kevin Irwin addressed this issue. He makes the point that the design of our liturgical books is a display of reverence. A reverence that is often lost by many. You can view the entire lecture:
    Go to Theolgy and Religious Studies: Dean Irwin gives Lecture on Liturgy.

  3. When the new Mass translation comes into use, this stratagem may well be a great saving in cost. There will be a need for a text which can be easily amended, without scribbled margins.

    I think this would be preferable to a loose leaf “book.”

    1. If it works, it must be worthy for liturgical use.

      Is that a general liturgical principle? I would think it would be safer to say, “if it works, it must be made worthy for liturgical use,” instead of expecting anything that works to be de facto worthy. Mechanical host dispenser “work”, but that doesn’t mean they’re worthy for liturgical use.

      (And I’ve never heard of or seen paper purificators…)

  4. But, technology can fail. What happens when you lose network signal or the device decides to shut down during the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer, especially with the new translation? One would be up @%#& creek!

    Perhaps in a future Pray Tell post we could discuss technology in the liturgy, i.e. use of Powerpoint for homilies, projected music and new words of the Mass on screens, etc. It could be the source of a future USCCB document on the technological implications for the liturgy!

    1. I would agree that this is a topic worthy of discussion. “worthy, dignified and beautiful” doesn’t summarily exclude technological devices. We need to develop a theology of technology!

  5. Just to cut to the chase, here’s a relevant passage from the GIRM:

    349. In a special way, care must be taken that the liturgical books, particularly the Book of the Gospels and the Lectionary, which are intended for the proclamation of the word of God and hence enjoy special veneration, really serve in a liturgical action as signs and symbols of heavenly realities and hence are truly worthy, dignified, and beautiful.

  6. I am all in favour of the desire for dignified liturgical books, but I can see a widespread application for this sort of device not only in mission situations but in situations where Fr Circuit-Rider is celebrating in multiple churches, or in the open air (as in the original — pages do not blow over in the breeze on an IPad), on pilgrimage in the Holy Land, etc, etc.

    The question is: is this an abuse as Robert somewhat intemperately describes it, or is it something else? And can an IPad or a Kindle ever be a dignified and worthy repository for liturgical texts? To my mind, it’s much better than crumpled pieces of paper or cheap binders, even if not the ultimate replacement for a faux-leatherbound book.

    1. Right, lets get morocco bound ipads instead.

      With built in bipod supports and adjustable lighting for the screens to assist in darkened churches or sunlit arenas.


      1. Sort of what I wanted to test people’s views on. Would it help if the supports were gilded? 😉

      2. While I provided the cite from the GIRMa above, it only raises relevant criteria, rather than answering the question.

        I would suggest that underneath those criteria is an assumption: namely, that the characteristic of a “book” at the altar or ambo bespeaks a public rather than private dimension to liturgy. One might use a hand missal for a sacramentary, but I think most people would find that odd as a chronic practice in the absence of extended necessity (in the case of necessity, one can permit much, but let’s not work from cases of necessity, shall we?). I see no reason why an electronic tablet might not be developed that could qualify. Whether the current iteration of the iPad qualifies is not clear to me (really). Progressives who have fought long and hard to revivify the public dimension of liturgy have to be ever mindful of the triaging of values being served.

  7. Why are they more worried about how it looks rather than what is being said and how it is being said? If Jesus came today instead of 2000 years ago, would he use and iPad or a scroll and ink? Is insisting on a big heavy book instead of an iPad simply another resistance to it being 2011?

  8. Books are technology too. A rather old technology, but there was a time when they did not exist and they had to be invented.

    I wonder if controversy surrounded using the printing press for bibles and liturgical books when that technology was developed. Were people making the argument that it is more reverent to use the books which monks hand-copied over generations, the hand printing is more beautiful, etc.

    I would lean toward electronic renditions as simply the latest in technology which coveys written words.

    1. Scrolls are a technology too. Some have argued that early Christians chose the commonplace codex, what we call books today, over the more formal scroll because of its ease of use.

      Stone tablets are technology as well. Scrolls replaced them despite the unchangeable sacred quality of being written in stone. (Moses couldn’t even come down from the mountaintop without breaking the tablets!)

    2. Joel,
      I just gave that same argument to my brother, who’s very conservative and traditional. There must have been people similar to him back 500 years ago who were against the printed book being used during Holy Mass, just as he’s against the iPad as well as any type of projectors beaming songs or prayers during Mass. I don’t think the iPad will be used during Mass ever because by the time the church adopts digital technology for liturgical celebration the iPad will long be replaced by a much better “display” technology. But I am sure the ink on paper format will become history just as the stone tablets and scrolls. And this is from a person who makes a living providing print services 😉

  9. Joel – interesting point. Historically, there are many situations where the first or almost first printed materials in many vernaculars were considered heretical; anti-royal; geared toward the peasant (oh my), etc. and many of these first printed attempts were bibles.

  10. Gerard Flynn :
    Robert, I wonder whether the chasuble worn by Jesus at the last supper was the correct liturgical colour.

    Gerard, how dare you suggest Jesus didn’t obey the rubrics! He came that we might say the black and do the red and put down those who don’t. Shame on you!!!

  11. Robert B. Ramirez :
    I’ll say no more.

    Thanks for puitting it in writing, Robert. Your bitter negativity won’t be missed (or perhaps will be better utilised on other blogs).

    Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  12. For some time I’ve considered getting the large-format Kindle for cantors. Similarly it would be nice to have one for each choir members on which they can upload all of the music and eliminate the issue of “I can’t find my music” and the constant cacophony of rattling papers, clicking binders, etc.

    The adjustable size font would be useful in challenging lighting conditions and it wouldn’t cast that “backlit glow” on the user.

    However, until I can be completely confident there’s not going to be a glitch leaving the spinning hourglass in the middle of a verse I think I’ll pass.

    1. It would be especially helpful to IM them that they are going flat or sharp or off-tempo….

  13. It is my understanding that a Sacramentary is its contents not its housing. I am in support of beautiful books, especially the Gospel Book. Beautiful books can tell something about its contents. The Ipad is a beautiful device, more so than some of the awful binders or missalettes that i have seen used. Anyone notice the clothesline in the background. In a permanent location and a stable community a nice Missal is desireable. In other situations an Ipad might be the best solution.

    Many deacons do not where a Dalmatic at mass (usually when they are not available) but they do wear their stole as a sign of their office.

  14. they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
    I do wonder where and what we are at in the church at present. Do we preach good news or is it lost in rubrics and rules?

  15. John,

    There has been extensive correspondence on other forums about iPads, etc, for musicians, and these are already being used not just by cantors but by keyboard players (page-turns are no problem, it seems).

    It seems inevitable that anyone reading this thread in 50 years’ time will consider all of us to be dinosaurs…..

  16. Earlier in the thread, Fr. Philip Endean said: … and we’ll also be able to interpolate bits of 1998, or even 1973, without it being disruptively obvious.

    Hey, two ideologies can play at this game! A EF celebrant could use an iPad to interpolate vernacular readings into the EF.

    As a long-term computer nerd, I think it’s a great idea to use an iPad as a breviary, hymnal, and even missal. However, as Donna Eschenauer remarks with regards to Fr. Kevin Irwin’s CUA lecture, missals are reverenced liturgical articles. The illuminated text found in many missals conveys profound semiotic meaning.

    The Tridentine tradition allows for three altar cards: a central card for the Canon, a card to the right for the Lavabo, and a card to the left for the Final Gospel. At the offertory, a priest could “awaken” an iPod screen hidden behind an decorative frame. The iPod text would match the print and style of the other cards. The priest could merely move the ribbons to the offertory, preface, Canon &c. but read the text off of the disguised iPod-cum-altar-card.

    Mass facing the people is an even easier endeavor. Simply cover the missal stand with a nice cloth, and rest the iPad on an open sacramentary/missal. Since the missal typeface is never in the congregation’s line of sight, page turning might go unnoticed.

    Catholics of any stripe must either embrace technology or get run over by it. As a grad student, I see more and more college students typing notes into laptops during class. Future priests will iPad the Mass regardless of the sentiments of older Catholics.

  17. GIRM, as quoted above, says that the liturgical books should “ serve in a liturgical action as signs and symbols of heavenly realities and hence are truly worthy, dignified, and beautiful.

    How does this apply to an ipad? Is the evanescent quality of the ipad a sign of liturgy’s ethereal nature? Or is it too ephemeral to signify the eternal liturgy? Does it promote a disembodied, incarnation-free religion? Mechanized, depersonalized prayer? Prayer present in our most personal refuge, a device that is adapted to our personal uses?

    Public and private is a core consideration. A liturgical book now is a public book, used by the community. How does that change if one’s personal reader is used? Or should an ipad be dedicated to liturgical use if it is to be used at all? How personal is our public participation?

    If something is to be used as a sign of heavenly realities, what do we believe about heavenly realities?

    I tend to like it as reestablishing a lost sign of prayer. “Who art in heaven” is paradoxical because we are talking to Someone who is not here, and yet is here enough that we can speak to Him. We have lost the sense of that with the advent of the telephone, where I can talk to a brother in Australia without leaving my home in the US. Here, and not here, is normal. For some reason, and I do not know why, I think the ipad reestablishes God as impossibly distant (in heaven) and yet completely here, always at my side.

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