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The tech making life easier for priests

A printed Breviary has a special place in THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS, but mobile apps are the future. By FR JOHN BOLLAN

I’M writing this on the feast of St Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church. I’ve always had a soft spot for Augustine—a fact which will cheer him greatly, no doubt. Volume III of my Breviary (the Divine Office or the Prayer of the Church) tends to fall open at his feast day for a reason which takes me right back to my first days as a seminarian in Rome.

As first years not having much (or any) Italian, we were dispatched to Rome a good six weeks ahead of the start of term to get as good a grounding as possible in the language in which most of our university lectures would be delivered.

We were all very keen to do our best for the lovely young Italian teacher, Teresa, who was to act as our governess as   much as our language coach. ­Thursdays were our day off from the intensive Italian course and Teresa would come up with a series of excursions in and around Rome to help us escape the heat of the classroom and   try out our newly-acquired ­vocabulary ‘in the wild.’

Our first Thursday trip was to the heart of Rome itself. We explored the piazzas and the churches and enjoyed a pizza (although Teresa admonished us that pizza during the day wasn’t really the done thing).

Suddenly, out of nowhere it seemed, the heavens opened and there was a torrential downpour, turning the cobbled streets into fast-flowing rivers and the closely packed buildings into cascading water features as impressive as the Trevi Fountain. When you’re a Greenockian, you reckon you can take rain in your stride, but a Roman nubifragio—a cloudburst—is an altogether different proposition.

The good thing about rainfall during the Roman summer is that it dries up almost instantly in the heat. When we got back to the college I discovered that the rain had also affected the north of the city and my window, which I had left half open, had allowed a fair quantity of water to bounce off the sill and into the room itself.

But that wasn’t the worst part. I had left my breviary open on the window ledge and it had got a proper soaking. The return of the sun in the intervening hours had almost completely dried it out again, but with the topmost pages—for the feast day of St Augustine—crinkled like ancient parchment.

I look back on that day as God’s way of leaving an imprint in my memory and a bookmark in my ­Breviary, so that I can always find Augustine in a hurry.

Nowadays, my Breviary sits somewhat forlornly in a corner of the dining room, gathering a layer of dust until such time as one of the housekeepers runs a cloth over it. I only ever seem to pick it up over the Triduum for public celebration of the Office of Readings on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Now, before ‘apoplectic of Airdrie’ fires off a letter bemoaning my abandonment of the ordination promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, let me make it clear that, like quite a few priests, I have migrated from paper to an app on my phone.

Universalis it’s called and it’s made my liturgical prayer life a whole lot easier, let me tell you. First, there’s no faffing about with ribbons and books and checking which page you’re meant to be on: it’s all there, updated in the twinkling of an eye. Secondly, there’s a neat ­little function available to ­subscribers whereby you can ­listen to the psalms and prayers of the Office.


This has been a particular boon to me, especially since ­Jasmine came bounding into my life. It so ­happens that my ­morning hour round the ­cemetery with the dog also ­coincides with the hour I would be saying my Breviary.

Since getting the app, I’ve had access to the Divine Office on the hoof, but the additional option of listening to the Psalms and saying them alongside the person reading them, means that I don’t have to keep looking up to watch out for cars or open graves.

And that’s the thing: you know the Psalms so well that you’re saying them practically at the same time or a beat after the reader. I also think the app would also be a great help to those with a visual impairment.

Personally, the thing I like most about it is that the solitary recitation of the Office sometimes compounds a sense of aloneness which is quite alien to the spirit of the Liturgy. It’s meant to be prayed in common and, although it’s true that an individual saying the Office is tapping into a global movement of praise and intercession, it doesn’t always feel like that. So it’s nice to have someone to pray with, if you know what I mean.

Speaking of visual impairments, Universalis also helps me cater for those who need a little help on that front. While we use Mass books here at St Joseph’s and the large print versions are adequate for most of those who are ‘hard of seeing,’ we do have one lady who needs a still larger text. Thanks to Universalis, I can present her with the prayers and readings of the Mass in a font and format which is sufficiently large enough for her needs.

I’m not on commission from Universalis by the way, but if they would like to sponsor   me then I’d be happy to discuss terms.


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