Q. Recently, my wife and I attended Mass at a small parish church in the southwestern part of England. The priest's homily was fine, and the congregation participated with enthusiasm. In fact, it was the first Mass I can remember where no one left church until the priest left the altar. But here is my question: The priest used an iPad for the liturgical readings as well as for the Mass prayers. There were no liturgical books in sight. This struck me as very different, although it clearly accomplished the task. Is it permissible now to use an iPad instead of the Lectionary and Roman Missal? (Roanoke, Va.)
A. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which serves as a preface to the book you see at the celebrant's chair and on the altar during Mass, provides the "rules" for the celebration of the liturgy. That instruction (not surprisingly) makes no mention of iPads or other electronic media but refers only to the "liturgical books."
Prior to Mass, the priest is directed to set out the Roman Missal at the presider's chair and the Lectionary on the ambo (reading stand). It is noted in No. 349 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal that these books, used to proclaim the Word of God, should be "truly worthy, dignified and beautiful."
In 2010, Father Paolo Padrini, a consultant to the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications, designed an iPad application, which offered the text of the Roman Missal in several languages.
At the time, he said the use of the iPad would not detract from liturgical decorum, noting that "as far as I can see, there is no liturgical rule saying a printed instrument must be used," and that is where the matter still stands.
I have participated in many Masses where, instead of using a Lectionary, all of the readings were typed ahead of time and included in a plain but presentable loose-leaf binder placed on the lectern. This seemed to contribute to the smooth flow of the service because readers did not have to flip through the pages of a large book to find the proper place.
Recently, I led a parish pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Italy, and the deacon who accompanied us had downloaded the Lectionary and the Missal onto his iPad. This proved to be invaluable since we couldn't find English-language liturgical books in some of the places where we wanted to celebrate Mass. Still another advantage (for the graying clergy population) is that the font size on an iPad can be expanded.
Objectors may point to the Vatican's 2001 document Liturgiam Authenticam, which requires that the liturgical books "should be marked by such a dignity that the exterior appearance of the book itself will lead the faithful to a greater reverence for the word of God and for sacred realities." But it would seem that aim could be achieved by covering an iPad in a red leather case (which would also mask the manufacturer's logo).
At one point in history, with the invention of the printing press, worship aids changed from hand-lettered scrolls to bound books. In recent years, Pope Benedict XVI has called repeatedly for creative use of new media in efforts toward evangelization. It may well be that, after an appropriate period of adjustment, the use of an iPad at Mass could actually enhance the experience of prayer.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.