Recently, the bishops in New Zealand issued a letter stating that iPads and other electronic tablets are not to be used to replace the Roman Missal in the celebration of the Mass. Over the last couple days, it’s received some attention from blogs like Thomas McDonald’s God and the Machine and Deacon Greg Kandra’s The Deacon’s Bench.
Now, it’s very clear for those who know me or have read my blog for some time that I’m a computer geek. I make no attempt to hide this fact. I have an iPad and an Android smartphone, as well as several computers (including a classic Commodore 64). I follow trends in the tech world, and try to figure out how to use them to the Church’s advantage.
With my geek cred established, it might come as a surprise that I agree with the New Zealand bishops. Electronic devices, like iPads and smartphones have their place within the Church, and should receive wide use by people at all levels for the work of the Church, but the celebration of the Mass is one place where we should be reticent about bringing these forms of technology into play.
The written word is an important aspect of our worship, so much so that the books used for the celebration of the Mass should be high-quality, durable, and beautiful. There should be a permanence to the books used at the altar and ambo, because the words we speak at Mass are truly the Word of God. Words have power, and the Word of God spoken during the Mass have the power to make Christ present in the proclamation of the Scriptures and in His Real Presence through the Words of Institution.
The Word of God is permanent, existing for all eternity, and became incarnate through Our Lord taking on human flesh through the Blessed Virgin Mary. For this reason, it is fitting that the texts used for the celebration of the Mass be permanent and tangible through the use of books dedicated for the celebration of the Mass, and not transitory and intangible data on an iPad screen. So, for the purposes of celebrating Mass, I agree that electronic devices should not replace the Roman Missal.
I do believe there are places for electronic devices outside of the actual celebration of the liturgy. For at least 2 years now, I have used an iPad to display my homiletic notes while I preach the weekend homilies. I’ve found this to be a good use for the iPad, especially since it is a lot less wasteful than printing up the notes on paper – I’d estimate that I’ve saved well over 100 pieces of paper in that time. It also allows me to occasionally record the homily for later publication over the blog (as I did last weekend).
I also agree with Thomas McDonald that e-ink devices could easily replace the throw-away missals that nearly every parish uses. (Catholic publishers, like Our Sunday Visitor, Word Among Us or Magnificat, are you listening?) Instead, the parish buys a dedicated “plug server” and the required number of dedicated e-ink readers (think non-Fire Kindles). The server is connected to the Internet, and communicates with the readers over a dedicated wi-fi link.
When a parishioner picks up the e-ink reader, it connects to the server and grabs the entire text of the Mass. I especially like Thomas’ idea of having the hymns right in line. No more page flipping or announcing, “Please join in hymn #XXX.” Think of a custom-made worship aid at every Mass without the hassle. Just tell the server what hymns to add for the day, and it does the rest, including downloading the daily readings directly from the publisher. It would also eliminate the confusion that comes with the necessary separation of the ordinary and propers of the Mass in current missals.
So, Catholic publishers who might be willing to take this on, I’ll take 150 e-ink readers and a couple of the servers, but I’ll keep the Roman Missal and Lectionaries in the sanctuary.