When Fran Rossi Szpylczyn developed complications from routine gall bladder surgery last month, the subsequent 12-day hospital stay could have been traumatic and stressful. Instead, she said, it became a moment of grace thanks to, of all things, her Motorola Droid phone and a Catholic prayer application (or, "app") that she had downloaded on a whim months earlier but had not often used.
“When I got to the hospital, I had my husband bring me this big pile of books, and I just could not touch one of them,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “I had no concentration to open a book. My Magnificat, my Bible, Christian Prayer, my journal which I write in every day, just sat there. But I picked up my phone on the second day I was there and I opened the iBreviary software, and I don’t know why, but I was just able to go there.
”The iBreviary app, created by Father Paolo Padrini, an Italian priest, is one of a growing number of Catholic-related prayer aids for smart phones like the iPhone and Droid, as well as for the iPad, that are beginning to transform the way Catholics pray and, perhaps soon, how they worship at Mass.
“It was just so comforting to me to be able to hold my little blocky Droid phone in my hand and yet be able to enter in and engage in my prayer, to let go in a way that books at that point simply did not allow me to do,” said Szpylczyn, a writer who lives in Clifton Park, N.Y.
Developers of this new prayer frontier say situations like Szpylczyn’s are exactly what their products are intended to be used for — not to replace the sacred books so associated with Catholicism, but to supplement them.
“I do not think paper books will disappear,” Father Padrini said in an email interview from northern Italy. “The experience of prayer, or even simply reading a paper book, cannot be replaced by that of an ebook.” However, he added, “I don’t think there should be shock” if in the near future priests use such tools on the iPad for support during the Mass and performing other sacraments, in addition to “some faithful who use such tools to follow the liturgical functions or meditate on the Scriptures.”
Father Padrini, a consultant with the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications, made news in June with the announcement of the upcoming release of a new version of iBreviary for the iPad, which will include the complete Roman Missal in various languages, perhaps allowing priests to use the tablet computer during Mass in some situations, such as in remote mission areas, on cruise ships or other travel situations where books may be cumbersome.
But while its use in celebrating Mass may still be down the road, there is no question that iBreviary already has made an impact on Catholics worldwide. The free application, which contains the major prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours for the current day, the Roman Missal, including daily Mass readings and a treasury of Catholic prayers, has been downloaded more than 200,000 times for the iPhone, as well as the Android and Symbian operating systems.
Enhancing prayer life
While iBreviary is certainly among the most popular of the Catholic apps, it has a lot of company. A quick look through Apple’s “App Store” for the iPhone shows more than 300 Catholic-related apps, many dedicated to popular devotions like the Rosary or Divine Mercy, as well as the saints, Bible verses and more.
For those who faithfully pray the Divine Office throughout the day, Universalis may be an app of choice. Although it costs more than most apps ($24.99 for the iPhone), it gives you, in effect, the entire multi-volume Breviary on your phone or iPod (as well as access to the Universalis website, daily emails and more). Like other breviary apps, the prayers are laid out in order for each hour, so there’s no need to jump back and forth to different sections, as in the books. A free app from Universalis called Catholic Calendar includes that day’s office readings.
Bringing the Liturgy of the Hours into the new millennium has been the life’s work of Universalis creator Martin Kochanski since 1995, when he discovered a secondhand breviary at a bookshop at Downside Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in his home country of England. “I always thought a breviary was something that priests and monks used, but I bought it anyway because it was Easter and the joy of the Resurrection was all around,” he said in an email interview from London, adding that he was “blown away by it.”
“I wanted to share the experience,” he said. Initial plans for a CD-ROM version instead became a website featuring his own translation of the Latin, and now a portable phone app with official translations. The website has free content, including a week’s worth of Divine Office prayers. A one-time fee gives you everything you’d get in the hard-copy breviary and more.
Nancy Piccione, a writer and blogger from central Illinois, has been a Universalis fan for years, since getting the version for her old Palm Pilot personal digital assistant in the days before smart phones. These days, she’s got the iPhone app.
“What I love most about having the Liturgy of the Hours on my iPhone is that I can pray the office anywhere, anytime,” she told OSV. “So if I get somewhere early or have some time waiting for an appointment, I can pray part of the office with a couple of clicks. More often, I usually pray out loud night prayer with the kids at bedtime, and since the phone needs no light, I can do it in a dark room. It’s a really nice way that technology has enhanced our family prayer life.”
Dennis Poust writes from New York.
There’s an app for that… (sidebar)
While the App Store on iTunes brings up more than 300 applications in a search for Catholic, here are a few good choices:
iBreviary: Includes the Roman Missal, including the readings for that particular day, the major hours of the Divine Office for that day, and numerous Catholic prayers. (Free)
Universalis: Like the popular website, includes the complete Liturgy of the Hours within the app with no need to download a particular day’s prayers, Mass readings, liturgical calendar. Purchasing the app gives you access to the Universalis website and other delivery methods. ($24.99, though a free app from Universalis called Catholic Calendar provides limited content)
iMissal: Another Missal app from Cantcha Inc., includes three different Bible translation options, a neat audio option for listening to the Mass readings, and even a selection of Mass videos. ($4.99)
Rosary Miracle Prayer: While there are many excellent Rosary apps, this one from the Daughters of St. Paul rises to the top because it includes audio of the sisters praying the Rosary. ($2.99)
Stations of the Cross: This app from Ave Maria Press includes 14 alternative Bible-based stations introduced by Pope John Paul II in 1991, rather than the traditional stations found in most churches. A Bible verse is connected to each station, as are prayers written by author Amy Welborn and her late husband, Michael Dubruiel. (free)
Saint a Day: A joint venture of Cantcha and the Daughters of St. Paul provides biographies of saints for every day of the year, prayers to saints and a searchable patronage listing. ($1.99)