Friday, August 21, 2009


Fr. P, a newly ordained assigned St. Sebastian, was praying his office with me the other day. There was one notable difference. I held a leather bound book with satin ribbon page markers and he held his phone. Was there any difference in our prayers? No. Not a jot. At least I don’t think so. But – am I just getting old? – there just seemed something – I don’t know – WRONG with praying by phone. Well – by the screen version of the breviary anyway. The problem is – I cannot define exactly what if anything is wrong with it.

I think there is a general consensus in the Church toward this idea. The Church abhors fake. The one, the true, the good, the beautiful – these are our ideals. (Is a phone version of the breviary fake?) We would never have (I should watch what I say – God is ironic) an electronic version of the Sacramentary or Lectionary or Book of Gospels. In fact, there are some general rules about how these books are to be reverently handled. (Does a phone remain an object to be reverently handled after the Liturgy of the Hours is no longer on the screen?)

It is interesting to note that according to the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (para. 120) the official instrument of the Catholic Church is still the pipe organ – very definitely PIPE organ – not electronically reproduced pipe organ sounding – like instrument. “Environment and Art in Catholic Worship” (para 102) states, “Flowers, plants, and trees – genuine of course – are particularly apt for decoration . . .” Those three little words are striking, “genuine of course!”

Wine must be true wine – bread true bread – sacraments must always involve more than one person and must be face to face with some amount of physical contact – music during the Mass may never be recorded – candles for the Mass may not be of the light bulb variety – always we are called back to the earthy – the earthly set aside and made holy for the worship of God – to smell, touch, hear, taste, see – not virtually but as messy as possible – which is why I like smells and bells I suppose.

So what does that say about polyester vestments?


Michelle said...

I am with you - I'm not a fan of the electronic breviary! I wrote a column about this last year for the archdiocesan paper: here with a squib or two about why I thought it mattered.

Cheryl said...

I can't necessarily weigh in on correctness or incorrectness (especially as I'm not Catholic!), but I DO understand your feeling. As convenient as a Kindle might be, for instance - even if I could afford one, heh - I can't really fathom using one. I like the feel of a real book too much - the weight of it, the texture, and especially in older books, the feeling of connection with those who have held that same book before and read it. I love my grandfather's books for that very reason, and hope to someday learn German so I can read my great-grandfather's; it's an itty-bitty prayer book (he was Catholic), and from what I hear, the first book he bought after arriving in the US.

You just can't have that same sense from an electronic book reader/application. Though admittedly, flying with a whole lotta books in a Kindle to choose from might be tempting. ;)

Anonymous said...

You make a good case, Father, especially for this fellow Luddite. However, I recall the words of Jesus (Mt. 23:19): "For which is of greater worth, the offering or the altar that makes the offering sacred?" Which is of more worth, the words of the ancient text or the modality by which the words are transmitted? A while back, I think the Vatican clarified that a priestly (or Papal) blessing transmitted through radio or TV "counts" in real time but not when the show is replayed. So, peopel do have legitimate questions and it is necessary to clarify the role of technology in the realm of the spirit.

MJ said...

But then you are a Luddite.
I personally wouldn't use the phone because I would have no idea how to use the application and I prefer book in hand.
However I did learn how to say LOH by listening to a podfeed on my computer. I did have my Christian Prayer Book and followed along until I was eventually able to cut the "cord".

Victoria said...

music during the Mass may never be recorded

We have CD music (sometimes religious, sometimes Spanish guitar and sometimes something that sounds like line dancing music) at one of our Masses on Sunday. Where could I find an authoritative source which says that recorded music is not permitted?

candles for the Mass may not be of the light bulb variety

I have been to an Adoration Chapel which had electric candles for Adoration. Is that permitted? If not, where could I find a source which Where could I find an authoritative source which says that electric candles are not permitted?

I don't think that our sacristy has a sacrarium. Is that possible?

uncle jim said...

I attended a Mass where I was impressed with the organ and choir.

Coming back from Communion, I looked up to the rear choir loft to find it vacant.

After Mass I asked someone where the choir was during that Mass; he told me there was none; the music was a recording of the choir from an earlier Mass of that day.

Odysseus said...

I'm glad that the breviary and other liturgical texts can be found online, but I share your unease about actually using them.

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Anonymous said...

Polyester vestments: well, even if the fabric is created via the synthesis of chemicals, those chemicals occur in nature, so polyester is a "natural" fabric.

Kevin said...

Father, While I find holding a leather bound book with fine quality paper almost a work of art and very enjoyable. We should remember that said book is in its self a modern device. It was unknown to Jesus and his followers and was until relatively recently too expensive for the common man. At one time even if you could afford a book, chances were that you didn't have the technological knowledge to operate it. Sadly even today illiteracy is a problem.
While I would be very uncomfortable holding an electronic device in place of my leather bound missal for example. I must remember it is the words, the message which is holy, not necessarily the delivery system.

Carol said...

I recall watching a (heh, taped..) video of a monk teaching folks how to begin Lectio Divina. For an example to us, but certainly because it was a lifelong habit of his, he kissed the Bible reverently before opening it. Can we see this happening on a portable device, and as Fr. V points out, especially considering that phones/other technology are used for many other things? Heck, no.

I won't ever own a Kindle et al, and I hope the Church will decide that wall-to-wall technology is not a good idea for the Church, too. How many of us have already had a run-in with Powerpoint on the church walls before during and after Mass? Technology in the Church is a little like seeing Pete, Teresa's husband, in his summer shirtsleeves put the Host into the Monstrance for Adoration. That actually hurt my heart. Maybe not Jesus', because Pete is nothing if not a reverent EMHC and good man in all areas (to my knowledge), but it hurt. What were we who were waiting for Jesus to do, object?

Old in the Church does not translate to passe. Real is good. For the longest while, our Arts & Environment committee had to use artificial flowers and ferns except for Easter and Christmas. Our director couldn't see the Church spending money on flowers, except right before the altar. Her Pastor agreed. Then, we got a new pastor, who said, "Nothing fake." He meant Christmas trees, too! It'd be nice if folks donated their garden flowers as they did the trees, no? Of course, in a part of the country where winter can go 7 mo. long, that's too much a challenge.

Well, there's a whole basket of apples and oranges for ya, pretty much just to say I understand any ambivalence about fake things, whether mandated by the Church or not. Jesus gave us all the tangibles, and arranged for them to continue. We needn't fix what ain't broke.

Anonymous said...


don't worry about it. Once the priest with the phone turns 50 he'll have to get a large print book because the words on the phone will be too small for him to read.