Mobile phones, iPads, no match for Missal

St Joseph's Cathedral priest Monsignor John Harrison accesses material on an iPad lying next to...
St Joseph's Cathedral priest Monsignor John Harrison accesses material on an iPad lying next to the official Roman Missal Mass book. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
He has been computer-literate since the mid-1980s, owns a cellphone, a personal computer, a laptop and an iPad.

But St Joseph's Cathedral priest Monsignor Fr John Harrison in Dunedin says he has no problem with a ruling that Catholic priests should not use electronic devices when leading Mass.

"It is about what is appropriate to use during official worship. Using electronic devices, you could easily confuse the sacred and the secular," he said last week.

The words and prayers said during Mass are prescribed in a book called the Roman Missal. An updated, weightier, 1475-page Missal in English and Maori was introduced in New Zealand in March.

The change prompted several priests to ask the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference - the group which oversees local rules and regulations - if they could read the Missal from iPhones, iPads, e-readers or mobile phones instead of from the book, saying electronic applications were more convenient, especially when travelling.

But the bishops decided only the book should be used during services and told priests this in a letter at the end of April.

However, they said the Missal could be read electronically for study or private reflections.

While the ruling "had given priests a bit of a chuckle", Msgr Harrison said most were happy.

"The guys can see the sense in it."

Using the printed Missal was respectful and ensured the continued visibility of the signs and symbols associated with the Mass, he said.

There was also a practical element to the ruling. When in use, the Missal lay flat on the altar or was propped up on a low cushion. As they led the Mass, priests had gestures to make with their arms and hands such as holding them outstretched during prayers.

Using an electronic device would require priests to be continually scrolling down for upcoming passages.

"It could be distracting for the congregation. And when you had gestures to do you would have to be an octopus."

As for the inconvenience of taking the Missal on journeys, Msgr Harrison said a small book called a missalette containing Masses and prayers for a calendar month was available.

"When I go to Antarctica and the South Pole to say Mass (he has been seven times) that's what I use. It isn't a difficulty at all."

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