Are You Ready for a "High Tech" Liturgy?

(photo: Shutterstock image)

I picked up this story from Thomas Peters this week:

“The Rev. Paolo Padrini, an Italian priest who consults with the Vatican, is launching a free iPad app that will contain the complete Roman missal—the book containing everything that is said and sung during Catholic Mass throughout the liturgical year.

It will be available in July, meaning iPads could start appearing on altars in the next few weeks. Future editions will feature audio as well as commentaries and suggestions for homilies, AP reports. [POPSCI]”

iPads to start appearing on altars in a few weeks!?  Yikes.

The topic of technology in the liturgy is a very interesting one. I know plenty of people who fight it at every opportunity. The traditionalist in me is happy to fight right along side them. Trendiness just seems so incompatible with sacredness. On the other hand, the pragmatic, computer engineer inside of me at least likes to entertain the thought of…why not?

After all, if we’re being honest - and I like to be honest - the printing press, or electricity were as high-tech as the iPad in their day. And the Church embraced them. And not just in general - but in the liturgy. So if you’re against the iPad, ask yourself if you would have attended mass back in the day in a church with a light bulb in it? Or a printed and bound missal? Or with air conditioning? Or a clip-on microphone?  “High-tech” is a relative term.

Thomas Peters makes some good points in his post, though:

“Certainly the first time you see a priest using an iPad on the altar it could distract from focusing on the Mass. And although I’m not aware of any specific prohibition against using electronics to read the text of the Mass, this might be viewed as a needless use of technology. After all, there is a symbolism to the sacred articles used at Mass that goes beyond their use. For instance, we still retain candles at Mass even though we have lightbulbs.”

I agree on the symbolism and sacredness. And perhaps “needless” is a key word there. Maybe he’s right. But then again, are more people likely to sing and pray along if the words are up on a projection screen than having to thumb through a book? I think so. Would it be a bit more practical for a priest to carry a single iPad around with every prayer, ceremony, homily aid, reading, reference, etc. at his fingertips than all of the corresponding books? I think so.

And perhaps it would be distracting at first? But then again maybe it would be less distracting in the long run. Less page thumbing and turning.

But there is still a part of me that feels uncomfortable at the thought of seeing an alter boy holding up an iPad for the priest while trying to get the viewing angle just right. And then there’s the priest getting stuck in the middle of Mass after the battery died smack dab in the middle of the consecration. All because the sacristan forgot to charge it properly.

Admittedly, much of my distaste for having iPads at Mass likely stems from a clinging to my own personal preferences in trend and style. But just because a style is centuries old doesn’t mean it can’t still also be a distraction or misplaced priority for us.

All of that aside, the problem I have most with such devices is the same problem I have with contemporary music, projection screens or brushed steel chalices at Mass. In most cases, they’re not being used to draw us deeper into the liturgy, instead they’re being used to entertain us while we endure the liturgy. They are being used to make us feel hip and trendy. They distract from the Mass instead of enhancing it and pointing us back to its heart - the Eucharist.

That’s the danger with any of these amazing tools. It doesn’t mean we can’t use them. It just means we should proceed with caution and keep our motivations in check. And don’t forget to charge the batteries.