Using an iPad at the Gospel

And More on Children's Masses

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ROME, JUNE 12, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I want to know if the spirit of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal will allow the use of the iPad for the reading of the Gospel by the priest? What does he venerate then -- the iPad or the Book of the Gospels? -- H.A., Lashibi, Ghana

A: So far the universal Church has made no official pronouncement regarding the use of electronic tablets in the liturgy. At least one cardinal, celebrating in his cathedral, has publicly used a tablet in lieu of a missal, but this does not constitute official ratification. In contrast, a recent statement from the bishops of New Zealand said that tablets should not be used for Mass and other public rituals.

Hence what I say has no official standing whatsoever. I limit myself to what I consider to be the liturgical principles involved.

Although I use a computer, I admit that I am no technology buff and have so far managed to survive without even a mobile phone much less a tablet.

With respect to using phones or tablets I do not see any great difficulty in a priest or anybody else using these instruments to pray the breviary, especially while traveling.

With respect to using a tablet to substitute the missal, lectionary and Book of the Gospels at Mass I would be much more hesitant.

On the one hand, it can be argued that the liturgical books, like any other book, are a means of conserving and transmitting information. In this sense the tablet fulfills the same function as the printed page but with some added advantages. For example, the tablet can contain all the ritual books in one place, and it allows the celebrant to switch the text from one language to another as needed and adjust the letter size to his own comfort level.

On the other hand, there is a principle which, while not essential to liturgy, should be weighed very carefully before using such instruments.

The Church has traditionally reserved the objects used in the liturgy exclusively for the sacred functions. Because of this, these objects generally receive a blessing which separates them from all other uses. One does not use a blessed chalice for domestic purposes; nor would a priest drive around town in alb, stole and chasuble. The reason for this is not the impracticality of the action but because such sacred objects are reserved for a specific time, place and function.

Likewise the books used in the liturgical celebration are usually blessed and reserved for sacred use. They are also printed and bound in a format which underlines their holy purpose.

Tablets, however, by their very nature, are capable of multiple uses. There is something incongruous in using a tablet as a missal or a lectionary and shortly thereafter utilizing it to respond to e-mail, surf the web, or download a movie.

The Book of the Gospels is one case in which I believe that norms exist that apply to our question. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 120d, specifies that only the Book of the Gospels, and not the lectionary, can be carried in the entrance procession and placed upon the altar. This distinction would certainly hold for a multiuse tablet, and thus I think we can say that the norms preclude carrying a tablet in procession, laying it upon the altar, and incensing it.

It is possible to speculate that eventually someone could develop a tablet for exclusively liturgical use with an appropriate design and no other programs installed. That might change the terms of the debate.

Until such a time arrives, I think it best to avoid using such instruments so as to maintain that sacred distinction of the liturgy from the humdrum of ordinary activities.

In special cases, however, such as when a traveling priest finds himself in a bind and has no access to a missal, I believe he could use a tablet in order to be able to celebrate Mass.

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Follow-up: Children's Masses

In the wake of our comments on the relationship between the new missal translation and the Eucharistic Prayers for Children (see May 29), a reader offered this valuable information: "Today's post on Children's Masses notes that the current texts dating from 1974 are still in use. You may also know that the U.S. [bishops'] conference has updated the 1974 text to conform to the new Missal. […] Here is a link to the USCCB publication: http://www.usccbpublishing.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=1697."

The U.S. bishops' conference is working on updates of several liturgical rites so that they correspond to the new missal. Although in some cases this is a temporary solution, it is still worthwhile since fully fledged retranslations of such rites might take years to complete.

These new books will have official standing only in the United States.

However, in countries that use the same English translation of the rites as that used in the United States, these updated versions could also be used as they simply adapt the rite to the common elements of the new missal such as the liturgical greetings, responses and prayer collects.

They would not be of use for those rites for which a national bishops' conference has prepared its own translation or where the bishops have significantly adapted the rites to local customs, as often occurs for the celebration of weddings and funerals.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.