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.