Monday, October 16, 2017

Cardinal Sarah and Electronic Breviaries

People interested in liturgy have recently been stirred up a bit by some remarks of Cardinal Sarah about the use of electronic devices for liturgical (or perhaps any type of) prayer. Apparently he thinks using a breviary app on a smartphone or tablet is a bad idea.

I am a great fan of Cardinal Sarah. Lately I've been using his book The Power of Silence for reading during Eucharistic adoration, and find that is helps me stay focused and aware of why I'm there. I also reflected on Cardinal Sarah's insights while attending an Extraordinary form mass last week. (I've always been a bit hyperactive and so, while appreciating the EF mass in principle I sometimes find it difficult to get through in practice.) So I'm taking what Cardinal Sarah says seriously, and thought we could discuss it here.

His remarks about breviary apps were a tiny part of  a much longer  speech given recently to the Roman Forum on Summorum Pontificum.  The whole speech is worth reading, but for our purposes we want to read at least this paragraph, where he says that, when we embark on liturgical prayer:

Secondly, I must—somehow—manage to put aside, even if this must be temporary, the world and its constant demands. I cannot participate fully and fruitfully in the Sacred Liturgy if my focus is elsewhere. We all benefit from the advances of modern technology, but the many (maybe too many?) technological devices upon which we rely can enslave us in a constant stream of communication and demands for instant responses. We must leave this behind if we are to celebrate the liturgy properly. Perhaps it is very practical and convenient to pray the breviary with my own mobile phone or tablet or another electronic device, but it is not worthy: it desacralizes prayer. These apparatuses are not instruments consecrated and reserved to God, but we use them for God and also for profane things! Electronic devices must be turned off, or better still they can be left behind at home when we come to worship God. I have spoken previously of the unacceptability of taking photographs at the Sacred Liturgy, and of the particular scandal that this gives when it is done by clergy vested for liturgical service. We cannot focus on God if we are busy with something else. We cannot hear God speaking to us if we are already occupied communicating with someone else, or behaving as a photographer.


Okay, here's my thoughts.
Seen in context, I believe the Cardinal's greatest objection is to the use of these devices inside a church. It sounds like he's sometimes, during solemn occasions with many clergy present, caught sight of priests whipping out their cell phones to check messages and take photographs during mass or solemn vespers or some other liturgical function.  And I'll bet he's been annoyed by the sounds of electronic notifications from those who forget to turn their sounds off before entering the church. Not annoyed on his own behalf, but on God's. From this perspective, phones and tablets do indeed seem to desacralize prayer. 

 I believe his critique of using a breviary app is mostly given with priests in mind, who: 1. have a solemn obligation to pray the Divine Office and 2. Own print breviaries and know how to use them.  He's pointing out that a sacred book is a sacramental and for most of us is more conducive to a prayerful, contemplative spirit than an electronic device (even if we don't succumb to temptations to interrupt our prayer when a message notification pops up.)

I don't think he was addressing the fact that breviary apps have made it possible for thousands of laymen to learn how to pray and appreciate the Divine Office, people who would have been put off by the initial effort to figure out the ribbons and the calendar for each day.  Or people who cannot afford a four-volume breviary but, because they already have cell phones, can use a free app.   

But we can apply what he said to us laymen. Assuming you own a print breviary, it's probably better to use it when possible.  If you find yourself checking phone messages in the middle of praying with an app, it's time to rethink using it, or form a firm habit of turning off notifications whenever you use your phone or tablet to pray. 

Also, even if you are NEVER tempted to check your phone while at mass, there is something very wholesome in the idea of turning a phone off (as in powering off, not just silencing notifications) or even leaving it behind in the car, before you enter church. It's a powerful symbol of leaving the world behind us before we approach the holy altar of Christ's sacrifice.  Removing one's sandals before stepping on holy ground. 

Remember that Cardinal Sarah's remarks are simply his personal opinions. But we should take them seriously. But I will keep recommending ibreviary to newcomers who don't have a book or find it confusing to use.

Okay, everyone. Share your thoughts. 







21 comments:

  1. Several years ago I bought my first tablet for the sole purpose of using it for the online breviaries. So convenient, and everything in one place. But I started to think that I should not rely on anything that needs to have its battery charged regularly because I never know when I will find myself in an evacuation center (I live in Japan, land of scary earthquakes). So a few weeks ago I finally bought the one-volume Christian Prayer, and it has mysteriously brought new life and excitement to my experience of the Divine Office! I can't explain it.

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  2. I love Cardinal Sarah, but I would be very wary of a blanket condemnation of using electronic devices for praying the Office, even for priests under canonical obligation - much as I myself prefer hard-copy books. Without the Universalis app, I would almost certainly not have "gotten into" the Divine Office years ago.

    Ironically perhaps, electronic resources are even more useful and even critical for those of us interested in and praying traditional forms of the Roman Breviary, which tend to be significantly more cost-prohibitive than modern reformed publications. Sites like www.divinumofficium.com and apps that refer to it are an absolute gold mine, as is John Covert's http://prayer.covert.org/ for members (and those interested in) the Ordinariate and its Daily Office, or the Anglican resource http://www.stbedeproductions.com/breviary/ that focuses on the Prayer Book Office tradition.

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    1. Tom, did you know that ibreviary has a "Vetus Ordo" option under that language selection tab in settings? Of course, it's only in Latin.

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    2. Yes, I did notice that. Layout is not nearly as attractive as Divinum Officium though, nor do not you have options for different editions (e.g. Pius X's major 1911 reforms; 1955 simplification; pre-1911 Tridentine books, etc.), or secondary languages alongside Latin as you mentioned. The best Android app for this btw is iMass, published by FSSP. It has the full Breviary (w/ all aforementioned options), full Missale Romanum, Rituale Romanum, and streaming video Masses from three different Fraternity apostolates (Mexico, Florida and Switzerland). It's a fantastic buy for just $1.99.

      I'm not an iPhone person but the best traditional iOS Breviary app seems to be "Breviarium Meum" made by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate.

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  3. I have the books, but I'm handicapped and the iPhone app "Divine Office dot org" is easier for me. I listen to the audio and it gives me a sense of community. I will lose the app if I update to the ios 11 though, and it will be a little less convenient to access their site via Safari. I'd hoped they would be able to update, but alas, apparently not.

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  4. I think an eBook reader will satisfy Cardinal Sarah.

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    1. Universalis has the entire Liturgia Horarum (sadly not in print anymore by either the Vatican's printer or Midwestern Theological Forum -- for shame) available for the Kindle and other eReaders for free. Latin only.

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  5. I find that I do prefer the ‘book / printed’ version, there is to me something very sacramental about a print breviary. When I do use an electronic breviary (travelling, or for the Office of Readings)I do find more of a temptation to flip to something else on my iPad, human nature I guess. So in those instances, Cardinal is absolutely correct.

    However, electronic breviaries have helped so many, those woth handicaps, those who travel, and those uninitiated in using a print breviary, I just can’t see labelling them entirely bad; maybe a less preferential option if a print breviary is available and able to be used.

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  6. I can appreciate what Cardinal Sarah is trying to tell us. I have the iBreviary app on both my phone and iPad and use them sparingly for praying the Office. It's not that I'm distracted by other apps, email, notifications, etc., but it just doesn't "feel" the same as using the actual books.

    I use my devices all the time (too much, probably) and using them to pray feels like just another thing I'm doing while using them. "Setting up" to pray using the breviary in book form definitely has a feeling of sacredness to it and for me, better lends itself to be properly disposed to pray an Office; much like preparing for Mass. I have the 4-volume set down in my "man cave" and I can give my full attention to praying when I do pray there. Sometimes I'll play some Gregorian chant very low in the background for "mood."

    It's not that I *won't* use the electronic version to pray the Office but try to do so in certain situations or out of necessity only. God Bless you all.

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  7. "These apparatuses are not instruments consecrated and reserved to God, but we use them for God and also for profane things!" This is such a fine line of division like the veil that divides the living and the dead. I hear what the Cardinal is saying,...It is the human condition, at times, to cross the line between the sacred and the profane...human history is plagued with those who have been consecrated and reserved for God do some awfully unholy actions. Change, development, evolution happens under God's providence..And the new electronic devices, as you well argued Daria, have opened up modes of prayer, resources for prayer, long unavailable to the vast majority of the laity...Let us praise the good uses we received from them - adaptable for those with sight difficulties, easily portable, etc., and learn to use them with the reverence we could, and should have, for all creation. The WORD will endure in many forms! Peace to all!

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  8. I think it is better to use a paper book. The reason being that by going through the pages, one becomes more familiar with it's contents.

    The same applies to Bibles and hymn books.

    When I was an Evangelical Protestant, I got really irritated by the way so many in my church stopped bringing their Bibles to church and instead looked up Scriptural passages on their mobile phones. The way we use the content affects how we learn the content.

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  9. I Have Brought a Cheaper Four Volume Set(Published by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India)for $84.73 or ₱4.350(Philippine/Filipino Pesos)last October 15. DEO GRATIAS!

    If I can add to Cardinal Sarah's Reasonable and Uplifting Thoughts,Print Breviaries are better. Especially when there are Electricity Blackouts and you can't use the iPad for Electronic Breviaries.

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  10. I have the paper books, but recently have been using an app on my phone because it is so easy to carry around, especially when traveling. I also take pictures in mass at special masses, such as ordinations or first communions.

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  11. I'm a die-hard print reader. EXCEPT ... sitting in Mass I will go to the USCCB website when the readings are not printed out in "Breaking Bread." Especially this occurs:
    ~ weekday and Saturday morning Mass readings, particularly for the Responsorial Psalm
    ~ when the lector is less than stellar
    ~ when the sound system is muddy, and
    ~ in any Mass when the Priest or Deacon is proclaiming the Gospel and English isn't their first language

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  12. Hello Thomas Dillon, I liked you comment! I would just like to add that I have an old Android Cel which I resurrected, removed the phone chip and disabled all Apps that might be a distraction and have only my Universalis.com site for the Hours and Misal. It works very well for me especially if I am out when its time to do an Hour or hear Mass

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  13. Hi Everyone, It's been a while since I've had such a good discussion here. I'm glad we're having it. Everyone makes good points. Reading over them all, and thinking again about Cardinal Sarah's words, I think we can safely say that Cardinal Sarah was speaking wisely to one angle: the sacredness, the "otherness" the profundity of what it even means to enter into prayer (and to enter into the house of God). I think his words should serve to remind us to stop and think about what we are doing when we open a breviary--or pick up a phone to turn on a breviary app. On the other hand, our own experiences show us how technology is not necessarily an enemy, but can be a tool through which Christ has --humble as ever--deigns to approach us at times! Again its a case of both/and. By the way, I deleted an irrelevant, cut-and-pasted essay by a fundamentalist troll who has posted the exact same essay in the past. With that deletion, two of your excellent followup comments opposing this person also disappeared because they were replies to his and attached to his thread. So be aware that the deletion was not against what either of you said.

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    1. I Understand that I should not "feed the trolls". But I what was doing is giving that dude,the Fr Matthew Schneider Challenge. Many Thanks.

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  14. Hello Daria, I came across the article which I thought I would like to share with you and the group . Itś worth a read have a look...
    https://www.dominicanajournal.org/the-popes-well-worn-breviary/

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    1. That's a good article. Some of that information I'd published here a long time ago--shortly after Pope Francis was elected.

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    2. http://dariasockey.blogspot.com/2013/04/pope-francis-on-psalms-breviary.html

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    3. And what a shame that, even though PF himself prays the LOTH in Latin, the LEV (the official Vatican printer/publisher) has indefinitely discontinued printing the Liturgia Horarum, as did the Midwestern Theological Forum. There is now no Latin LOTH in print anywhere today. So much for "Latin is to be retained" and all the other parts of Sacrosanctum Concilium that, to certain of the reformers, were merely necessary transitional debris, to be disregarded and cleared away as soon as expedient...

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