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iPads on the Altar?

Baby looking at laptop

This discussion is just starting but will get more interesting once people start seeing more and more priests using electronic devices during Mass. Good idea? Bad idea? It depends? Of course it depends, it ALWAYS depends (Well, maybe not always).

Thomas L. McDonald is an expert in the cross pollination of technology, journalism and religion (with experience in the Catholic tribe as well. He is a certified catechist in the Diocese of Trenton). On his blog (“In” his blog? “At” his blog? “For” his blog?  ” Which is it? Can we send this upstairs for a booth review?) God and the Machine”  Tom outlines his thoughts on “Faith in the Digital Age” which I found prescient:

Our lives increasingly are defined by technology.

This is not news. [But] the acceleration of technological development is outpacing our ability to understand that technology in a moral context. Informational technology is only one frontier. Medical technology, energy, transportation, communication: all of these areas are undergoing, or soon will be undergoing, radical transitions.

Emerging technologies are shaping, reshaping, and sometimes warping, our perception of reality. This cannot happen in moral vacuum. It cannot exist without a moral dimension.

iPads on the altar? Droids for (homiletic) dummies? Blackberry Bible studies? All this comes on the heels of a decision of the New Zealand bishops who declared that iPads may not be used at Mass and at the church’s other liturgies.  Thus we arrive at Tom’s post about Electronics for Liturgical Use.   He takes a nice approach on considering economics (Do we really need to be paying for missalettes year after year), aesthetics, theology and practicality.

When I became pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption (Philadelphia) I inherited a set of large screens and projectors used to display:

* Announcements before Mass (aids in achieving a bit more quiet than chatty announcements from the pulpit)

* The hymns (licensed of course)

* The occasional video (This was very helpful when introducing the  “Alpha for Catholics” and the “Great Adventure – Bible Time Line” study series onto our parishes. The 5 minute, multimedia presentation was professionally done and much more effective than I ever could have been trying to explain them)

* New prayers. This was HUGH when the new translation of the Roman Missal came out. We displayed the prayer in one color (bright green) then used another color (red) to alert people that they were coming to a “new part.” I am a a Parochial Administrator at another church (St. Lucy) and was able to see the difference in the learning curve. HOWEVER, I wonder if the screen caused us at St. Mary to become a bit lazy in memorizing the new prayers. I’m still not sure. I think that the “color coding” did make the transition easier and less threatening in the beginning.

I had seen effective use of this type of technology years ago in St. Mary’s Parish in Ottawa City, Canada. (Click here and wait for the picture slides to roll through. You’ll see a picture of inside of the church and the screen on the right hand side of the Sanctuary) so I was not threatened by it.  However, following the announcement of my appointment to St. Mary, it was interesting how many of my confreres mentioned the  “#@*&%  screens” and “When are you going to get rid of those things?” I didn’t and am glad I didn’t. I’ve seen a similar approach used in a less “dramatic fashion” in a church which mounted medium sized flat screens on pillars in the church. The pillars had been a problem for years, blocking the sight lines to the altar area. The screens are relatively small (as is the church) there are only two of them and it allows people to sit anywhere and see what’s happening up front. Parishioners have also noticed that youngsters are drawn to the images on the screens, they seem to pay attention more and remain quieter (Sometime, not always. We are talking kids here).

So let’s start the conversation about technology and testaments. Read Tom’s article and his bio. Tell me what you think.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Quick thoughts: I don’t have a problem inherently with the idea of technology like iPads during Mass, but I also am not a fan of technology that puts itself front and center. As an example, the screens at St. Mary’s are a physical presence in the church that draws attention in and of themselves. As technology has quickly advanced, a better solution for churches considering something like this would be to project onto a blank wall, rather than mount screens in the sanctuary. In other words, a blank wall with a projection is a way to use technology where technology is not vying for the visual attention of, say, the Tabernacle. I think all this stuff works best when it’s invisible.

    June 8, 2012
    • Fr. Charles Zlock #

      I would agree. St. Mary Ottawa has been using a screen for years but I recently saw a picture of their church. They framed the screen installed sheet rock and repainted the church and “incorporated” the screen within the architecture of the church. I also heard of a church that rebuild their podium and incorporated an iPad into it. You never see the technology but it can be used to read Scripture but also as a control panel (lights, sound, video on the screen…) to use other technology in the church. We’ll muddle through.

      June 13, 2012

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