It delivers news and movies in an instant, it keeps us connected to family, friends and workplace, it tells us the time and weather, it reminds us of appointments, it even wakes us up in the morning.
But the powerful hand-held gadget known as the smartphone also has a spiritual side. It can offer prayers, Scripture and meditations, and even remind you to put the darned thing down and take some time out to pray.
This is the environment in which Novalis Publishing launched its new Living With Christ Prayer App in February. Available free of charge on the iPhone and Android devices, the app offers daily Mass readings as well as seasonal collections of daily prayers, daily meditations with attractive images, and a liturgical calendar with feast and saints’ days.
Joseph Sinasac, publishing director at Novalis, says the company published its first version of the Living With Christ app in 2012, in response to people asking for a digital version of the popular monthly missalette.
The latest version has enhanced features, more graphics and easier navigation. Some glitches with text display have been fixed, and many users especially like the feature that allows them to increase the size of the text.
“We have a nice section of regular prayers with nice graphic design − prayers to St. Joseph and prayers to Mary, for instance − so it offers more variety, more ways for people to deepen their prayer lives,” says Sinasac.
“Another interesting feature is that you can also set a time to have the app send you a reminder to pray at certain times of the day, which is a nice help to get you to take little prayer breaks, especially if you’re working in an office and it gets very busy and you lose track of time. This thing gives you a little notice that you should take some time out.”
About 15,000 iPhone users and 5,000 Android users had downloaded the first version of the app – compared with about 65,000 subscriptions to Living With Christ in print.
The Living With Christ Prayer App is the only one that offers Mass readings from the Canadian lectionary, the book of readings that is approved by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) and based on the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible. In other words, they are the same readings that you hear at Mass.
“This is helpful, for instance, if you are a lector and you want to prepare for Sunday Mass, you can call up the readings for that Mass just by using the calendar, so that’s a nice feature,” says Sinasac. “Or priests could use that too, if they were preparing a homily.”
It could be a particularly handy tool for Catholics in the Archdiocese of Edmonton, where Archbishop Richard Smith has issued a pastoral letter, Living in the Word of God, encouraging everyone to make Scripture a part of daily life. The Archbishop himself reaches for his smartphone to open every meeting at the Pastoral and Administration Offices with a Scripture reading and reflection.
Along with the added features in the app, Novalis has also renamed it, adding ‘Prayer’ to the title. “The reason for that is we wanted to emphasize that really this meant to be used as an aid to daily prayer or preparation for worship, and not as replacement for the missal,” says Sinasac.
Unlike a missal or the print version of Living With Christ, the app currently does not include liturgical prayers such as the Gloria, Lamb of God, or Eucharistic Prayer. Sinasac explains that’s because the rights to the liturgical prayers are owned by the CCCB and the International Commission on English in the Liturgy.
“If we were to use those, they’d want to be paid for them, and we’d have to pass on the cost to the people who use the app. At this stage, we wanted to make it a free app. So we were able to come to an agreement with the Canadian bishops on the lectionary, but not on the liturgical prayers.”
It’s a different situation south of the border, where the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has developed a process for granting approvals for digital renderings of the lectionary and their own missal. The result is a proliferation of various apps for American Catholics, many of which are used by Canadians despite the fact that Mass readings are based on a different translation (the New American Bible), and some feast days and church customs are different.
“One significant difference is that the NRSV is known for its inclusive language, and that is preferable by a lot of people,” Sinasac says of the Novalis app.
“The thing that we can do differently than all the other apps is offer the officially recognized Canadian lectionary readings,” he says. “You can find readings all over the place, but if you’re concerned about them being the ones that you’re going to hear at Mass, then you can be assured this is what we have.”
In the U.S. and some European countries, it’s not uncommon for Catholics to pull out their phones during Mass to follow along with readings and prayers, but in Canada the practice is less widely accepted.
“Certainly there are some liturgists, some bishops and even some priests that do not want people at Mass distracted by electronic devices,” says Sinasac. “They see it as an easy way to jump from app to app to a browser or Instagram or things like that, and they feel it could be a distraction. There are also some priests and even some bishops I know that actually have no problem with using electronic devices.
“I think the Church as a whole has to grapple with this issue and come to some kind of conclusion. In the U.S. that debate has already been settled, and there are apps out there that do this. In Canada, we still have some ways to go. Technically it’s quite possible; it’s just that getting the approvals in place to do it will take some time.”
For those considering whether to download it, Sinasac has this message: “Number 1, it’s free. It’s easy to download, it’s super easy to use, so by all means try it. We hope it’s a nice service to people. It complements our Living With Christ missalette and Sunday missal as well, and adds a new dimension to their faith lives, for those who use it.”
This article was corrected on May 4, 2018, to clarify that download numbers referred to first version of the app.