New Zealand Bishops, ipad Missals, and Breviary apps

Over at Father Z’s blog is a post about the bishops of New Zealand forbidding priests from saying mass using digital missals with their ipads or smart phones.

One point the NZ Bishops made was that the Missal is a sacred book whose use it specifically for celebration of mass. An ipad has many uses, both sacred and profane. Hence, there is something less than fitting about an ipad sitting on the altar as the vehicle of the texts for the ritual. In some kind of emergency situation where no mass at all could be said if the ipad were not used, then it might be okay, but normally, a genuine altar missal should be the default version. Makes sense.

This makes me think about our handy digital breviaries. Since the Vatican has already commended and approved at least one breviary application, I don’t think that this kind of statement is likely to be made about print vs. internet Liturgy of the Hours. But it does give one pause.   I use my Kindle for the Divine Office, and also to read all sorts of books, from the sublime to the ridiculous. More recently, an iPod Touch has become a daily companion gadget. It’s convenient to switch it on to ibreviary or universalis. But this same gadget also blasts the theme from Rocky, selections from West Side Story, and (blushes) John Denver and ABBA tunes when I’m doing a morning power-walk. And counts my calories. And amuses me with a slingshot that shoots cartoon birds at green pigs.

That’s a little weird when you think about it. Like using a string of beads as both a rosary and a necklace. On the other hand, I’ve seen artwork where medieval knights would plant the point of their swords in the ground and kneel before it as an icon of sorts, since the blade and the hand-guard formed a cross.

Until we’re living in the age of –I dunno,the Jetsons? Where digital texts have pretty much replaced paper and ink–it does seem worthwhile to use our real breviaries whenever possible. This cautionary note from the New Zealand bishops makes me want to be sure to use mine at least once a day. I’ve already known for a long time that in general, using the book slows me down as I pray.Makes for a less distracted, more meditative experience.   And there’s a certain symbolic value to turning away from the all-present Screen, leaving the world of Tech behind and attending to the Eternal. I’ve said it before: a breviary is a sacramental, an app is not. You might kiss the cross or Chi Rho symbol on the cover of your breviary as you open it or put it away, but you wouldn’t kiss your ipad.


Don’t get me wrong. Digital breviaries are a godsend, one of the things that redeems the internet. Without them, far fewer Catholics would be praying the Liturgy of the Hours today. I will never cease to promote digital breviaries as the best gateway to lifelong Divine Office habit.


But I just had to think aloud on this issue. I can’t dismiss those New Zealand prelates as a bunch of out of touch old guys. And since liturgy is liturgy, I have to connect some dots between the missal and the breviary.

What do you guys think?


Daria Sockey


Daria Sockey is a freelance writer from western Pennsylvania. Her articles have appeared in many Catholic publications. She authored several of the original Ignatius Press Faith and Life catechisms in the 1980s, and more recently wrote five study guides for saints' lives DVDs distributed by Ignatius Press. She now writes regularly for the newly revamped Catholic Digest. Her newest book, The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, will be published by Servant Books this spring. Feel Free to email her at

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  • mallys

    For me, the iBreviary on the iPod Touch is a God-send! Heavy books are increasingly difficult for me to haul around, and even to use sometimes. The Touch is small, fits in my purse, and I can pray the Office anywhere (especially while I am preparing for daily Mass. Just sayin.’

  • Pargontwin

    I’m with you on this one.  I’ve tried to pray the Divine Office online when I couldn’t get to my hardcopy,  and something inside of me just felt that something was – I don’t know, just plain *wrong* with it.  It felt as if doing it that way somehow sullied the sacred.  Now whether that’s just me, or the grace of God moving in me, I have no way of knowing.  I just know that I won’t do it again.

  • Personal preference for apps:

    iBreviary on i devices
    Universalis export (you can still use e-pub’s)
    Open Prayer on Android
    Laudate on Android

    Don’t bother with DivineOffice on Android unless you only pray sext from the midday prayers (terce and none use the supplemental Psalms) and possibly finding an alternate option (they put Trinity Sunday prayers up for Corpus Christi, and they defaulted to Ascension on Sunday, which is not used in my diocese). Oh, and it won’t work in offline mode. Epic fail.

  • As to “why is prayer different?” Well, my experience has been that the physical book requires us to actually take more time to pray. We have to stop to turn pages. We need to flip to different sections. All of those make it more ritualistic.

     It is also more physical: swiping a screen is hardly the same as actually moving your hand across your body, picking it up, and pulling the page. There is also more substance to a book, and this is important. I heard once that the first electric keyboards would not sell because they were too light and people felt they were too dinky. Well, in a world where “lighter is better” the book actually has better feel.The book is better suited to our eyes. Having used ereaders, computer screens, iPhones, iPads, and Android devices (I’m a developer, I get to use a lot of gadgets) one problem which all of them face is that they are a poor imitation of the actual reading experience of a book. In most cases (everything but an ereader) the light is not the reflected light of the sun (or generally incandescent light) which is what our eyes are made for, but it is the projected light of a terminal. They also have the problem of glare (something the ereaders have not yet escaped properly).

    Finally, and this is the one which actually causes the most problems for me, the electronic devices can (and often do) interject messages into your prayer experience. Prayer is best away from external noise, but these things are sources of the distraction!

    I can’t get away from the convenience of it all (I use my Android to do an examination of conscience every night), but I’m glad I still have the full set of books on my shelf.

  • Amy Mitchell

    I read the New Zealand’s Bishop’s comment with interest, as I use my iPhone for my participation in the Liturgy of the Hours. I once asked a Priest to bless it as it seemed to be used mostly for prayers and study.
    I think we should measure how we use all of our tech gifts, especially how often they are used for secular activities. We have such great resources, are we having great results?
    My craftsman husband feels he accomplishes so much less with all his power tools plus handtools than the masters of earlier years.
    I plan to keep my breviary and I love it but I don’t see it replacing my reliance of my iPhone.
    Can I just say that Universalis doesn’t count as it isn’t even close to the text in my breviary,sorry.
    I try to support Catholic apps so I have most of them. Get iBreviary, Divine Office, iPieta and some others.