Wherever you are, it is astonishing how many people are using smartphones or tablets which are becoming almost ubiquitous. With the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets, an increasing number of small applications have been written to help Christians come closer to God.
The two main platforms – Apple's iPhone range and the Androids – together comprise about 95 per cent of all smartphones in use, so these are the platforms which have the best range of apps.
People with iPhones can download apps (or music) from the iTunes store, while Android users will usually use the Google Play app.
Many of the apps are free, but some of the better ones require a small payment. You can quickly determine whether other people have found apps useful by looking at the number of downloads of a particular app, and the star-rating given by other users.
A quick way of getting an idea of what is available is to simply type the word "Catholic" in the search box on iTunes or Google Play.
Unless you are a hardened user, you will be astonished by how apps have been written for your smartphone.
Perhaps the most useful Catholic apps are the multi-purpose ones, which contain common prayers, often the full text of the Bible, a guide to reconciliation and other sacraments, and even the Mass readings and responses.
Some of the most popular apps for these purposes are Laudate, iMissal, iBreviary and Pocket Catholic.
To give an example of what is available here, let's look at Laudate.
It contains Daily Mass Readings, Order of Mass, Liturgy of Hours, New American Bible, Rosaries and Latin Rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Stations of the Cross, Saint of the Day, Catechism of Catholic Church, Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), Daily Examination of Conscience, various common prayers and prayers in Latin with English translation.
Through Laudate, you can get podcasts (audio files) of the Rosary and Stations of the Cross, Daily Meditations, and Daily Mass Readings with read-along text and meditations.
You can also download documents from the Second Vatican Council, the Code of Canon Law and papal encyclicals.
Much of this is very useful. But it is worth keeping in mind that this app is written in the United States, and therefore the Mass readings follow the US Bishops' Conference mandate, which uses the New American Bible rather than the New Jerusalem Bible, used in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and other countries.
There are two Mass apps which conform specifically to Australian and New Zealand usage. They are Universalis and Roman Missal (Android only).
Universalis is a very polished app, containing the following menus:
• Full liturgical calendar, including many national and local calendars.
• About Today – pages for every saint and feast.
• Liturgy of the Hours – psalms, prayers and readings from every Hour: Morning Prayer, the three daytime Hours (Terce, Sext and None), Evening Prayer, Night Prayer and the Office of Readings. The readings are from the Jerusalem Bible and the psalms are the Grail version, which is used across the English-speaking world.
• The Order of Mass – The new English translation of the Order of Mass, which came into use in 2011. You can optionally view the text in Latin and some other languages side by side with the English.
• Readings at Mass – First Reading, Responsorial Psalm, Second Reading, Gospel Acclamation and Gospel, plus the antiphons and prayers for the Mass of the day. You have a choice between the Jerusalem Bible readings with the Grail psalms (used in most of the English-speaking world) and the New American Bible readings and psalms (used in the USA).
• Mass Today – A single page that gives you the whole of the Mass of the day: the Order of Mass with all the readings, antiphons and prayers filled in.
Universalis comes from the UK and is priced at £9.99 (about $20).
The Roman Missal app is only available for Android smartphones. Compared to Universalis, it is a little more difficult to use, as it requires users to switch between different pages for scripture readings and responses. It appears to follow closely the layout of the Sacramentary used at Mass. It is available for about $3.
Additionally, smartphone users can download the Bible, which is found in many different apps, most of which are free.
When it comes to Bible translations, it is worth keeping in mind that there are three traditions: the Jewish, Catholic and Protestant. An understanding of these explains why there are different numbers of books in the versions of the Bible, and some of the differences in translation.
Many readers would not notice the differences, but scholars are acutely aware of them.
The Jewish/Hebrew Bible is what Christians refer to as the Old Testament, and uses the Masoretic Text, a Hebrew Bible dating from the 10th century.
The Protestant Bible uses the Hebrew Bible as the foundation for its translations of the Old Testament, and its New Testament translation uses some of the main Protestant translations, including the King James Version and Luther's.
The Catholic Bibles are based on the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible, which dates back to the 2nd century BC, and the very ancient texts of the New Testament, dating from the 4th and 5th century AD.
There are also different approaches to textual translation. As the original documents were written in Hebrew or Greek, the question arises as to how to translate them into English.
The Catholic Church's position, set out in Liturgiam Authenticam, a 2001 instruction issued by the Holy See with the approval of St John Paul II, said that "the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet."