Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New Zealand Bishops, ipad missals, and the Breviary

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.
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?


  1. Well, I finally figured out and picked up the divine office regularly during Lent* and I found that using my bound breviary over app breviaries drastically improved my prayer. I didn't focus as well using the apps, and I was easily distracted by all of them having rather poor UIs. On the other hand, the apps were nice LotH training wheels, so I could understand how all the pieces went together, and how the calendar effects them. But now that I don't need them, I vastly prefer the book** to the apps.

    * if one is learning, I highly recommend starting during Lent, so you won't need to worry about how memorials work for a couple months

    ** the book's UI isn't perfect either, but you can hack a bound breviary far more easily than you can code your own.

    1. Let see...UI...UI...urinary infection? No, that can't be it...Oh! I get it!User interface!
      Which is why you go by Geek Lady and I don't.

      I'm for starting in ordinary time and just skipping memorials for a while until the 4-week psalter feels comfortable. Combining out method, you'd ideally start with those few weeks of OT after Christmastide, then go into lent, and then add memorials after Easter.

    2. You're thinking of UTI (the T stands for tract).

      But the perfectionist in me would never stand for just skipping something I knew I was supposed to be doing.

  2. Dom and I have had this very discussion about the Sacramentary and what that means about the LOTH. I definitely agree that the bound book is better than a digital app. I see the value of the sacramental as an aid to prayer. But I'm not a priest or religious and for me saying the divine office is an extra devotion that I'm glad to take on but which I must pray as is suitable to my station in life. My first call is to serve my family and to pay attention to God's will for me in the season of life I am in.

    The reality of my life right now is that the apps are realistically the only way I'm going to pray the liturgy of the hours. I was finding that the book got in the way for me because it just didn't fit into my day to try to find it whenever I had a moment to pray. When I started taking advantage of the apps-- and especially the podcasts-- I started praying more of the hours. All the hours that I'd previously dropped as my days got more and more fullof children's demands.

    I'm not going to stress about the theoretical quality of my prayer or whether it would be more perfect to pray with my breviary. I know it would be more perfect; but where I am right now is learning to accept the less perfect because grasping onto that vision of the perfect was getting in the way of my prayer life. From accepting that during the first trimester my floors will be vacuumed much less often than I want to giving in and going to sleep at what feels like an incredibly early hour... pregnancy and motherhood of four kids under 7 means accepting life's imperfections. Right now I'm accepting that my prayer life is analogous to grabbing a handful of peanuts and a sip of water to ward off the queasies-- keeping in touch with God however briefly and distractedly and imperfectly throughout the day gives me the boost I need to keep going. For me this is not the season for gourmet meals but for getting down whatever food I can keep down to sustain me and my growing baby, feeding the picky kids what they will actually eat and not worrying too much about an ideal diet.

    Yes, at some point I'd like to get back to my four volume set and a quiet time set apart for prayer. I'm learning to see that kind of prayer as a priceless gift and not something I can demand.

    1. Melanie, I agree completely that the perfect can be the enemy of the good. Of the thousands of hours I've prayed over the years, a good many were devotional, not liturgical, because of the incomplete or semi-attentive way I prayed them, especially during the baby-intensive and/or homeschooling years. Yet there was probably more merit (for me personally) in those hastily mumbled psalms and interrupted intercessions than in those luxurious stretches of quiet I now have in which to do everything perfectly.
      All these things I write--it's always both/and, not either/or. With the LOTH, the privilege of being able to exercise the priesthood of the laity and offer the public worship of the church calls us to do it as well as we can. On the other hand, praying the psalms is such a great thing in itself, that something is always better than nothing.

    2. Oh, I hope you don't think I was ragging on apps as a /bad/ way to pray the hours. I just can't use them to do it. I don't linger in quiet, peaceful prayer over the hours in my breviary, but I can focus on them from beginning to end enough to silence my inner running monologue. And that running monologue can get rather impious using an app. Especially the podcast app. It's not a perfect the enemy of the good situation for me, it's a matter of relieving myself of a major distraction.

    3. Daria,
      Oh yes, both/and I agree.

      Mostly, I want to share my point of view so as to be encouraging to anyone else who is finding themselves distracted and who is tempted to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I've been praying the office regularly for more than a decade and it's taken me a long time to begin to accept my distractions gracefully. (As in not flying into a rage when the kids interrupt my prayer time: Seriously? Does it say a whole lot about the quality of my prayer when I'm yelling at the kids for interrupting? If I can make progress anyone can.

      Geek Lady, Oh no. I didn't think that at all. In fact I began writing my response just in response to Daria's post before yours posted. I do know what you mean about the running monologue in response to the podcast. (Though I haven't felt that way very often with iBreviary except when there are typos. Mainly, I find it to be pretty transparent.) I find several of the readers annoying in the extreme and sometimes the modern music selection drives me batty. And yet the chanted psalms in Easter Season completely made up for it for me and the more overwhelmed I get the less they annoy me. And for me no amount of internal monologue can compete with my kids' external monologue. Seriously, I'm doing good if I actually listen attentively fully to one psalm during most of the hours I pray.

  3. I'm a recent Catholic convert and just learned about praying the Divine Office a few months ago. I first started with the iPhone app which I do like very much but the audio was distracting and so I stopped using that function. I have since purchased bound breviaries and am with the aid of a helpful book learning to pray the Divine Office using Christian Prayer. I too find I go mores slowly and feel that I get more out of the experience when I use a printed breviary. The electronic resources though remain very helpful when I am traveling. I enjoy the blog so much. Thanks.

    Larry Darter

  4. As a rule for the Mass, the bishops make perfect sense. It is good to have certain things set aside only for that use. You don't just grab a cup and plate from the cupboard, and quick pull the table cloth off the kitchen table to drape over the altar, and grab your green rain poncho for vestments. So you wouldn't take your same iPad that you play Angry Birds and check your e-mail, and turn around and stick it on the altar.

    In contrast, while I put on special clothes to go to Mass, I don't put on special clothes to pray at home. I say digital breviary for home use is like wearing sneakers to say the rosary. No problem.

  5. Having started with an iphone app a year ago I can attest to what Daria is saying about technology bringing LOTH to people who may have been discouraged trying to use the printed version. But now that Daria has directed me to some instructional resources, after just two days, I must say I prefer using a book, but I keep my iphone close at hand just to make sure I don't get lost.

    Since I use the single volume Christian Prayer book, I still pray the Office of Readings with my app while taking my morning walk. I love the Office of Readings!

  6. It seems safer to me to have a device when I say the office on the subway train. Then no one knows what I'm doing. But I don't own an ipad and so I haul out my breviary. It also means I have to wait for a train with seats, since it's really difficult to hold on with one hand and have only one hand to both hold the book and turn the pages. Just as you let go to turn a page the train lurches and ooops!
    But these days, when all and sundry are striving to mash Christianity into an invisible corner, I am happy to hold my book and be seen in public. It has a sturdy strap along the spine so I don't drop it. And occasionally it creates a witness moment, when some brave soul asks me what it is.

  7. I have long grappled with this. I was given a used 3 volume (UK) edition, which I haven't used in some months, because I got lost and haven't taken the time to sort it out again. (Matters are complicated greatly because there's a major misprinted section in one volume that totally throws you off). But I digress. iBreviary is so EASY and convenient (no ribbons; no possible way to get lost or confused becuase it's so linear); I use it on my Mac. (Also don't need my reading glasses, which are always where I am not.)

    Problem: it doesn't 'feel' like praying when I'm in front of a screen. And there are so many distractions; other stuff is just a tab/click away. (Don't blush over ABBA; blush if you interrupt your prayer to blog a Scripture passage or saint quotation or jot notes for a freelance article, cuz it's just so darn inspiring you can't wait till you're done praying. OR you get online to pray and get distracted by some other stuff and never even make it to the iBreviary page at all. Then you can blush!)

    During Lent when I tried to be more consistent with the LOTH (and spend less time online), I found myself going back to my 1-volume breviary. And I think the quality of my prayertime was better; I felt as though I was alone with God, and did not have all cyberspace along for the ride. But I have to be honest; I would probably not pray as many hours or as often without the app. Still trying to find a happy medium.
    Thanks for the discussion/post!

  8. "blush if you interrupt your prayer to blog a Scripture passage or saint quotation or jot notes for a freelance article, cuz it's just so darn inspiring you can't wait till you're done praying"

    This is a huge temptation to me, since after all, I have to write about the LOTH, and yes, stuff just jumps out at me. My solution is to dog ear the page or maybe pencil in an asterisk so I'll remember after I"m done with the hour what it was I wanted to write about.

  9. Little arrow-shaped sticky tabs are great too.