Next time you see someone take out their smartphone at Mass, don't assume they are texting a friend, answering an email or playing games. More than likely, they are using one of the remarkable new apps – small applications or programs – which have been written as aids to faith.
Although most of us are reluctant to use a smartphone inside church, the fact is that many are designed to be used there. So provided you act discretely – having the sound turned off and not ostentatiously displaying what is on screen, distracting others – I think smartphones do have a place in church.
First, a few words for those who have trouble with mobile phones and do not use smartphones. Since smart-phones were released some years ago, they have become almost indispensable to many people, capable of managing a diary, running your calendar, playing music and even reading books.
Smartphones differ from mobile phones in having an internet connection, which means they can be used to download (or upload) information, photos, music or whatever.
Where should you start? This is largely a matter of personal preference but one way to get an idea of what is available is to type the word "Catholic" into either the iPhone App Store, or Google Play (for Android).
Hundreds of apps will come up, covering a whole range of things, from daily prayer meditations, bibles, Mass texts, aids for reception of sacraments like Reconciliation, prayer apps, Catholic news apps and sacred music.
A good place to start are apps which contain Mass texts, daily and Sunday Mass readings, and daily prayers.
Among the best are Laudate (free), iBreviary (free), iMissal ($4.80) and Universalis Catholic Calendar ($14.60).
Laudate, iBreviary and iMissal all use the New American Bible translation of the scriptures for their readings, following the direction of the US Bishops Conference.
Universalis gives the option of either the New American Bible (US), or the Jerusalem Bible/Grail Psalms, as used in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK.
There are subtle differences between the biblical texts and responses. If you are using the app for the scripture readings, it will make little difference which translation you use but if you are using your smartphone for the Entrance Antiphon, Alleluia verse and Communion Antiphon, the differences are exasperating.
Each of these apps are extremely useful.
Laudate, for example, is particularly comprehensive. It contains daily Mass Readings, Order of Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, New American Bible, Rosary and Latin Rosary, numerous rosaries and chaplets, including Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Stations of the Cross, Saint of the Day and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
It also has a guide to the sacrament of Reconciliation, daily examination of conscience, various prayers including prayers in Latin with English translation.
Various podcasts, including Rosary, Stations of the Cross and Daily Mass Readings are available.
You can even bookmark prayers and create own categorised prayers, export/import prayers. It also has the Douay-Rheims Bible for offline use, Second Vatican documents, Code of Canon Law and papal encyclicals.
iBreviary is an app developed by an Italian priest, Fr Paolo Padrini. Although it is free to download, the web site seeks donations for the Holy Places in the Holy Land.
iBreviary brings the traditional Catholic prayer of the Breviary, the Catholic liturgical book, and all the texts of the Liturgy on your iPhone or smartphone.
It contains the Breviary, Missal and Lectionary complete in seven languages and continuously updated (Italian, French, Spanish, Romanian, English and Latin).
It also has some unusual additions, including the Ambrosian Rite liturgical text, the Holy Land text, and others. It also has an extensive collection of prayers.
Among its most useful features is its capacity to store all readings for a day or a week on your device - very useful if you are going somewhere where the internet connection is not available.
iMissal is a complete daily Missal on your iPhone or smartphone.
It contains all the daily and Sunday liturgical readings, as approved by the US Catholic Bishops Conference, together with psalm and Alleluia verse. You can even listen to the audio of the Mass readings.
Additionally, iMissal comes with a large collection of daily prayers, daily Bible verses, and access to Catholic news sources online.
It also has a very clear monthly calendar, containing saints' feast days.
Universalis Catholic Calendar, the fourth Mass application reviewed here, differs from its predecessors in that it is produced in the UK, and allows users to choose either the US liturgical texts or those used in Great Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
It is also the most expensive, but cheap compared to the price of even a basic Mass Book, still less a Missal. A free trial version is available.
While it can be used on both iPhone and Android, it requires at least v.4 of the latter.
Universalis contains not only the full text of daily and Sunday readings, but it has the unique feature of letting you access the full daily Mass text as a single scrollable page, making for the best user experience.
You can also get the full Order of Mass in English and selected European languages e.g. Italian or Spanish, in two columns - a great benefit for travellers to Europe.
Universalis has a good daily calendar, and history of many hundreds of saints.
Apart from its use as a liturgical text, Universalis also offers a complete liturgy of the hours, including Morning Prayer (Lauds), Mid-Morning Prayer (Terce), Midday Prayer (Sext), Afternoon Prayer (None), Evening Prayer (Vespers), and Night Prayer (Compline).
Each of these four apps has particular advantages, but my favourite is Universalis.
There are, in fact, hundreds of other Catholic apps available for iPhone and Android smartphones. I will write another article about them later.