A Word Fitly Spoken

I have not seen the New Zealand edition of the new Roman Missal, so when I read that the Bishops’ Conference had banned the use of iPads by priests celebrating Mass, I dug a little deeper.

It appears that the New Zealand missal is not liked by some of its users. The layout is allegedly poor, making it difficult to use when presiding at Mass. Typographically, it sounds a mess. Some priests have therefore taken to using the Universalis app on their iPad, and the bishops have objected. They have issued an instruction stating that the (printed) books proper to the liturgy must be used. Now, in principle, I agree. Sacred texts have always been given a place of honour in our churches, and there is  a long tradition of producing books of great loveliness for use in worship. Sadly, however, liturgical books can and do suffer the same typographical and other misfortunes of any printed book: ill-judged combinations of typeface, ink and paper; mean margins; awkward turnovers; shoddy binding.

The New Zealand bishops’ decision has highlighted a problem of our time: what constitutes a book? Paper, wood and parchment are traditional materials. They can be used to produce of objects of great beauty and distinction; but there can also be great beauty in digital books, created using current technologies. As one who has designed books for both traditional and new media, I would hesitate to say that only the printed book is fit for liturgical use. True, I balk at the idea of an iPad being lifted up, incensed and kissed, as we do with the Book of the Gospels during Mass; but I have seen too many priests celebrate the sacred mysteries using old, tattered missals to be overly concerned about the medium of the message. ‘A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.’ Indeed: better the Word from a silver screen than a cracked and yellowed page.

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15 thoughts on “A Word Fitly Spoken”

  1. I haven’t seen the new missal but attended a Mass at Aylesford Priory a month or so ago, where it was used. I found it confusing, because I wasn’t used to the changes in wording and format.

    I can remember the introduction of the than, new Missal after Vatican II, and the new forms that it brought, particularly in the Vernacular (as they described it) people complained at the time, but got used to it. The Old Missal’s had the liturgy in Latin and English, side by side.

    When I became an Anglican, the Common Worship liturgy closely matched that of the Roman Missal. I had to get used to the Book of Common Prayer, which I now value as it’s language appeals to me, and perhaps I’m ancient enough to appreciate its beauty. I know Anglicans who will only attend BCP services and describe Common Worship in some ways as being not right.

    I believe that the latest Roman Missal moves away from compatibility with common worship somewhat. I suspect that people will adapt to it, they normally do.

    • Have you reviewed the third version, The Book of Divine Worship? This is the one now used by members of the Anglican Ordinariate. At Christmas our Diocese welcomed an entire parish of Anglicans as they joined the Roman Catholic Church. Their revised prayer book retains many of the beautiful services so beloved by Anglicans. I do not agree that the new Roman Missal moves away from compatibility with common worship – it was a change to adapt to, but with regular daily use we became quite comfortable with it.

  2. I too balk at incensing my Ipad, but admit to using the Universalis App, particularly for small groups and home mass – it is just so much easier. It also is a distinct advantage in low light settings.
    I’m thankful that the Paulines Africa edition used in English-speaking Africa has had oversight by Ignatius Press in the US. The layout is very workable. The only complaint I have heard (and I agree with) is that the tabs have been inserted 1 page too late – maybe that is a skill that has died out?

  3. I have to admit I’m taken aback at the notion of an iPad on the altar. But perhaps illogically. After all, technological devices are our everyday tools, and Benedict tells us to treat those as if they were sacred.

  4. I’ve also been involved in creating traditional books (both layout and binding) and (to a lesser extent) websites and certainly see the need for a noble beauty in both of them. However, I also instinctively recoil at the idea of an iPad on the altar and I think that this goes beyond simply what I am used to. While this needs further probing, I suspect that my reaction has something to do with the role of matter in our worship and also the transitory nature of digital communication. When I kiss the book of the Gospels, is it really the Gospels that I am kissing, or something that could in a few minutes be something totally different? As I say, it needs further thinking through, but as an Orthodox Christian I am rather grateful that the Church moves slowly as we often don’t properly appreciate all that is involved in these sorts of changes.

  5. I am inclined to agree with Macrina. A book made for liturgical use has that as its sole purpose. An iPad might be used for the liturgy and then later used for purposes at odds with the liturgy. Having said that I must admit to using an iPhone for the daily Mass readings as the daily missal is too cumbersome to cart around. But I guess that’s a separate issue.

  6. Just to clarify: the New Zealand version of the missal has been described by some priests as not fit for purpose, which is why they have resorted to using an iPad. It’s not a question of cost or preference for digital, more a case of needing to be able to read the priest’s texts at the altar and finding, for example, that the gutter (inner margin) is too narrow to allow them to do so easily. Had I had more time, I’d have liked to have explored another aspect of this subject, which is why liturgical publishing is not always what it should or could be.

  7. Sorry to be following the red herring of the iPad vs Missal rather than the purpose of your posting, digitalnun, but I am surprised by how strongly I recoil from the thought of the iPad being used at the altar (and I am not even Roman Catholic). I’ll need to do a Fagin and ‘review the situation’. Of course, I still prefer and use the Jamie the Saxt & First version of the Bible over more modern versions but I am not entirely resistant to change.

    • The use of modern technology extends to our sacramentals, as well. Instead of the trad beeswax altar candles, we now use oil filled cylinders inserted into imitation candles, even for the Paschal Candle. Some churches have moved to electric votive lights. Imagine dropping your offering into the box and pushing a button rather than kindling a flame. We agree with you and Sister on the use of the Ipad. All fun and games til the priest moves his finger in the wrong direction and Angry Birds pops up! Hubby reads the Douay-Rheims on his Ipad, I do so using a large print leather bound edition. In the end it is the content and intent rather than format which matters. Don’t know if we could ever adapt to bowing to the raised Ipad, that would be an extreme stretch.

  8. Before we began using the new missal here in Canada, we had an information/introduction evening at our church. The priest spent the entire duration complaining about it, how he’d have to get used to it, etc. Once it was implemented, naturally, some were using the old responses, some the new, a mish-mosh of sound. Eventually all have learned the new words. Some had very strong feelings of opposition to the changes, and indeed this situation brought out the older folks’ opinions that Latin was best as in pre-Vatican 2 days. If necessary, New Zealand should reprint their Missal. To become too attached to a style and overreact is unnecessary. Do we worship the creature or the Creator?

    • The question Digitalnun raises interests me as a printer. It’s frustrating to have to use a book you can’t easily read from because the print’s too small or the margins aren’t wide enough so some of the text ends up hidden in the gutter. Re-printing could be expensive. Sounds as if the clergy have made the best of a bad job.

  9. “Book” is a word used to identify where you can read the printed word. It doesn’t matter what the book is made of. Moses had a book written by God with 12 commandments written on stone; until he dropped it, and had to start again. What the format is for the book should not be an issue, I would have thought the content would be the important part.

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