Are Catholics soon going to see their parish priest celebrating Mass with an iPad instead of traditional liturgical books?
That's the impression left by recent reports about Italian Father Paolo Padrini's planned launch of an iPad application that features the Roman Missal on its 10-inch screen.
But Father Padrini and church officials say no one should throw the printed books out yet.
"Liturgical books on the altar will never be replaced by the iPad. This is an additional instrument, not an attempt to get rid of paper books," Father Padrini said in late June.
"If I went on vacation, I'd take along my iPad and celebrate Mass that way. Obviously in my parish, where I have the books, I'm not going to deliberately use an iPad," he said.
The application should be ready by the end of July and will feature the Roman Missal in various languages, including English, French, Italian, Latin and Spanish. It loads the missal and breviary, or book of prayers, for a particular day, with the option of pre-loading up to 10 days worth of texts.
Father Padrini said that for the English version, he plans to use the missal text as currently approved for use in the United States. But he apparently has not yet nailed down the necessary permissions.
Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, said June 25 that Father Padrini currently had not received authorization to publish English liturgical texts as digital "applications."
"We are trying to find a way forward in this situation and are currently in consultation with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding the matter. I imagine that it will take some time to reach a solution which is equally satisfactory to all the parties concerned," Msgr. Wadsworth said.
Father Padrini did not run his idea past the Vatican's liturgical experts, presuming that there should not be a problem.
"As far as I can see, there is no liturgical rule saying a printed instrument must be used. The rules do say the liturgy should be dignified and fitting and should not be disturbed," he said.
In Father Padrini's opinion, the small iPad would not detract from the liturgical decorum, and would be less noticeable than other objects placed on the altar these days.
But Vatican officials were not so certain that an iPad belongs on the altar.
Marist Father Anthony Ward, an undersecretary at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, said liturgical rules generally refer to "the book," and there's been an effort in recent years "to promote the book, and the embellishment of the book." The idea of having a substitute for the book at public Masses seems to go against that consensus, he said.
Father Ward said the congregation wasn't specifically considering the suitability of the iPad application, and that there didn't appear to be explicit rules against such devices. But he added that in this case, one should not assume that if it is not forbidden, it is allowed.
The final judgment on the iPad-as-missal may come with experience. Father Padrini said he thinks the shock effect will disappear as more people carry such devices around with them.
"The liturgy should be beautiful. But personally, I'd rather celebrate Mass with an iPad, which is small and doesn't disturb the faithful, than with an old, worn-out missal with yellow pages and small type," he said.