CATHOLIC REGISTER PHOTO | ALYSON

While apps are intriguing, they may not replace the feeling of rosary beads between one's fingers.

December 17, 2012
RUANE REMY
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

It was five minutes before Mass, and I could feel my iPhone vibrating through my purse. I gave a quick look around St. Michael's Cathedral in Toronto before guiltily checking my text messages.

Cellphones can be a distraction, so much so that every now and then it's common for a homilist to preach about turning off our technologies as a way of becoming closer to God.

But what if smartphones, iPads and similar technology can actually improve my relationship with the Almighty?

I may not have a direct wireless signal to God, but I do have the App Store on my iPhone, where I can purchase applications (apps). Apps are software that perform specific tasks on the Internet, computers, phones or other mobile devices.

There's an app for almost everything, even one that can be used in church. Though I have yet to summon the nerve to pull out my iPhone mid-Mass, the iMissal app works on the assumption that I can.

With iMissal, missals for liturgical years from 1990 to 2050 are available for Apple, Android, BlackBerry and Amazon technologies, allowing you to follow along during the service.

I tested iMissal on my Monday-morning commute. In the subway, I don't need an Internet connection to access any of the readings or the Roman Catholic calendar. But I would need a wireless signal to access its current Catholic news or watch videos of Mass. And with an Internet connection, I can share quotes from the app on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

At $4.99 in Apple's App Store, iMissal also includes audio of recent readings, My Daily Bread Bible verses and a collection of Catholic prayers, including those for the rosary.

When the rosary was invented, however, I doubt touch screens were on anyone's mind. So I went in search of a rosary app, and the standout product remains iRosary.

CUSTOMIZED ROSARY

Unlike some boring rosary apps, iRosary goes beyond the basic how-to of the rosary and provides a virtual chain of beads. You can customize, to some extent, what your rosary looks like. There are even translucent beads that appear when it's time to say the Glory be to the Father and Fatima prayers, two of my favourites.

For $2.99 I can pray all four mysteries of the rosary in addition to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and Loreto litanies, most accompanied by beautiful pictures.

But I doubt an app could replace the feeling of rosary beads between my fingers. The tactile experience is as much a part of the ritual as the verbal prayer. Without the actual rosary beads in my hands, the prayers still remain meaningful, powerful. But without a bead to hold, my mind can more easily wander.

My favourite app, though, will always be a free app. And in the App Store, the Word of God doesn't cost a cent. A high school student introduced me to the free Bible.is app. With this multilingual app, I can choose from seven translations of the holy text, including one for the deaf.

I was disappointed to find that the 1989 New Revised Standard version only came with the audio of the Old and New Testaments and not with text like most of the other translations. Plus, the background music on the audio tracks is really cheesy.

But the app redeems itself with videos re-enacting Bible scenes. Imagine Adam and Eve, au naturale, getting kicked out of Eden, or Abraham's blade reflecting the sunlight just as an angel stops him from killing his son.

Apps that access information online, however, are great for saving memory space on phones, while still including a lot of content.

The Fulton Sheen Audio Library app is content heavy, but I feel lighter when listening to the archbishop. I first became addicted to his style of preaching through his Life Is Worth Living television show which airs on EWTN. (EWTN has its own media app with live streaming similar to S+L.)

Sheen died years ago, but I can stream, through the app, MP3 audio recordings of his talks. The free version of the app provides access to the first two talks in each of the 22 categories. The full version costs $8.99.

There are so many more Catholic apps, like the Bible Trivia Test to challenge how much I've paid attention over the years or the iMary app ($4.99) that maps out Marian shrines across Canada.

But one app reminded me why I downloaded so many to begin with. The goal of iConfess ($1.99) is to help individuals in their examination of conscience, which is meant to bring them closer to God.

RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST

Whatever Catholic apps I use, they should all be judged on their effectiveness in improving my relationship with Christ. And I certainly could have used iConfess, with all the prayers it lists, the last time I did a formal Confession. There was no place to sit, only a spot to kneel in the old-school confessional, which threw me off from the start. I succeeded in forgetting the words of the Act of Contrition. Only the Lord knows how badly I wish I had iConfess to whip out.

Yet, with my phone in hand and iConfess running, it still wouldn't solve one potential problem: the temptation of answering a text message.