Physical Breviary vs. iBreviary: How is a Person to Pray?

The benefits of technology are countless, but “with great power, comes great responsibility.” Just because we can do something does not necessarily mean we should. When it comes to prayer, (specifically praying the Liturgy of the Hours) there are numerous benefits to praying digitally. But should we?

Personally, throughout the years I have used iPads and iPhones as well as leather-bound prayer books and breviaries. From these experiences I have reflected on this topic and have come up with the following benefits and drawbacks to praying in a digital world:


  • Mobility – The most obvious benefit to praying with digital devices is the ability to pray whenever and wherever. Instead of hauling around a large breviary or hand missal, you can pray with a phone that fits in your pocket.
  • Always There When You Need It – Throughout my life I have lost breviaries, some times never to be found. It is less likely that you will lose your phone and if you do, you can always use a service like “Find my iPhone” to discover that it is hiding in your couch cushions.
  • Price – Breviaries or leather-bound hand missals are an investment. A full-set of the Liturgy of the Hours costs $147, while iBrievary is FREE.
  • Easy to Use – Another great benefit of praying digitally are the easy to use features. If you pray the Liturgy of the Hours or want to follow along during Mass, you do not need to know what day it is on the liturgical calendar. All you have to do is open-up your app and click, “Pray.”


  • Distractions – While it is beneficial to pray on your iPhone, you can also get sidetracked by e-mails or text messages. You may intend to pray, but when go to your phone you end-up spending 15 minutes responding to e-mails, texting your friend, or looking at Facebook.
  • Batteries, Electricity & Signals – Another drawback is the reliance on a device that requires batteries, electricity and signals to operate. If you leave home without your charger, or end-up at a retreat center that doesn’t have wifi and you went past your data limit; your breviary app is useless. You won’t be able to pray according to the liturgical calendar or you simply won’t be able to pray because your phone is dead.
  • Overstimulation & Loss of Focus – Looking at your iPhone can have bad side-effects on your brain, resulting in overstimulation and a loss of focus. This means that during prayer you are more likely to be distracted and even the glow of the screen can make it harder for you to calm your mind and focus on God.
  • Loss of a Connection with the Past – Praying with a modern device can also distance you from the rich past of praying with paper. Priests, monks and nuns have prayed for centuries with large books that were illuminated by hand. They were truly works of art and the modern app comes nowhere close to the experience of prayer that they had.
  • Inability to Hand On to Future Generations – When a relative has passed away from this life, I have become the recipient of many old and worn hand missals. Some are more than 100 years old and are breaking at the seams. On occasion I will use them and pray with something that has been prayed with for decades. It gives me a beautiful connection with my relatives and reminds me of their own faith. I hope one day to pass on my breviaries and hand missals to my own children, who I hope will be inspired by them. They will see a prayer book that has been thoroughly used over the years and hopefully will pick-it-up to pray. I simply can not do that with my phone; it only lasts for 3 years at most.

In the end, my personal opinion is that praying digitally should be the exception and not the norm. I will use a digital device to pray while traveling, but whenever I am home I will always use my leather-bound breviary. It gives me a greater connection to the past and allows me to keep focus on the task at hand.

What do you think? What are your thoughts? 

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • acardnal

    I, too, prefer the pages of the Breviary with one caveat: the Concluding Prayer in the Breviary is not always correct whereas the online versions ARE correct and agree with the Collect prayer in the new translation of the missal when appropriate.

    • Mark Manning

      This is a very good reason. I can’t wait for a retranslated breviary, as the current version is weak in my opinion, and the new collects are much better. So, I will take an electronic version with at least a small improvement versus the old translation in a physical format.

  • Stephanie J Hannasch

    Wonderful observations! I agree that technology should not be the norm. I have prayed both ways and there is something that feels more special and sacred to hold a bound book rather than a phone or tablet.

  • McWhipple

    Most people I know just use the app for convenience, but I prefer the physical books. Technology’s great, but I try to read off a screen as little as possible. It started to kind of bug me when I did a lot of computer programming.

    • Jack

      I wonder if people said something similar when printed prayer books replaced manuscript ones?

      • McWhipple

        I don’t really see the correlation. Reading off a screen starts to mess with my eyes after a while is all (mainly from the illumination). I used to take small breaks when I was still coding a lot, otherwise lines of code would start running together. Reading off a Kindle or something like that isn’t too bad though.

  • Kurtis Kiesel

    This is interesting. I use iBreviary for my morning Lauds mostly because I often read in the dark, and my wife and I say Vespers together with the 4 volume Breviary. We also have a copy of the shorter christian prayer book for visitors who want to join us. I see no spiritual difference between using my phone and the book. If anything my phone gives me access to more additional readings and resources if I want to spend more time in prayer.

  • BHG

    Good discussion except for “‘should be the exception and not the norm.” Why is it not possible simply to state: this is why I like this and why and the problems that causes and why (which was done nicely, by the way, and brought out some interesting things to think about), encouraging discussion without going the extra step of worrying about “norms?” Use what works personally and don’t judge–or regulate–another’s choice. And remember the printed (as opposed to hand copied and/or memorized) text was once “technology.”

    For my part, I use the iBreviary almost exclusively, when I don’t use Divine Office which I like even better. The latter supplies music and community for me, for I am often praying alone. I love books–ask the carpenter I keep hiring to build shelves–but for an office I pray several times a day with complicated uses and multiple volumes–the ease of the iBreviary is just unsurpassed. And distractions are a part of the psyche–I get lost in books very easily and I can put the smartphone on DND while using the app. Problem solved.

    When I do get to pray in community, in my parish nearly everyone–even and old codger like me–uses a smartphone, though one fellow “hides” his in a hollowed out book. Which, of course, I am inclined to do except for the part about hollowing out a perfectly good book…. 🙂

  • MIlwaukee

    I try to usually use the physical book. I did have two sets, one for home and one for work. The at home copy was the black leather bound set, with gold leaf on the edges of the pages. Without of the contents, a work of art. With the contents a connection to things greater than myself. Recent life events have given me the opportunity to make major changes. When I moved I took what would fit in two trips with a Honda Civic. The nicer set, a work of beauty, I gave away. My hope is one day my children see the set I use daily and say to themselves, “yes, he really did pray daily. for us, too.” I gave the nicer set to a theology teacher at a Catholic high school, with the hope of inspiring someone else’s faith.

  • Jack

    An Orthodox priest found a MOLITVOSLOV (Office Book) PRINTED in Pochaev in 1797 in Slavonic. Each office was preceded by a steel engraving, illustrating the general theme. He made this book the basis of a simplified form of the Office in English for his flock–with the help of a photocopier

    It has since been professionally printed and bound and is available as THE HOURS OF PRAYER: A book of devotion.

    So now this centuries old Divine Office book lives in the United States.

  • Paul

    In general, I have a strong preference for reading printed works rather than digital, and so I am inclined to agree with your conclusions. However, I recently got a smart phone and installed the iBreviary app, and I am very impressed with the wealth of Catholic prayers that are at my fingertips at any given moment. I have used it several times already for looking up a certain prayer, when I was away from home and didn’t have any type of prayer book with me. So I can see iBreviary being something that I would use often in the future.

    Also, you mentioned that if you “end-up at a retreat center that doesn’t have wifi and you went past your data limit; your breviary app is useless.” In my experience, this is not true. Many of the standard prayers are available in iBreviary even when I am completely offline, and there is an option to download prayers for particular days in advance. For example, if you were going on a weeklong trip and weren’t sure how reliable your internet connection would be, you could just download that week’s worth of prayers to your phone in advance, and have them available as long as your battery doesn’t die.

  • Eamon Daly

    I am aware of iBreviary but here in jolly old England I have found the Universalis version of the electronic Breviary to be most useful. Yes I have a printed version as well! In the end doesn’t come down to how you ‘prepare’ yourself to pray? An un-settled mind will always make it difficult whether you use the phone or the book surely?

    • Richard A

      I use the Universalis LOH on my e-Reader, which was a Father’s Day gift several years ago. I acquired at the same time a cover for it which looks and feels just like the old book covers of the nineteenth centuries. I think it was worth the $25 for the cover just to approximate the experience of using a real book.

  • TerryC

    For several years now the USCCB & ICEL have been working on a new translation of the Liturgy of the Hours. It uses a new translation of the Grail Psalms and will use the collects from the latest translation of the Mass. Exactly when they will approve this translation is unknown. Its was on the fast track before Pope Benedict’s abdication and seems to be moving more slowly now, but it is still moving.
    What this means to me is that if you don’t yet own a full set of the Liturgy of the Hours, which costs, as our host has said, >$145 a set you should probably save your money at this time. Wait until the new translation is out before you invest the money.
    I expect it will be out before 2020, but that is just a guess based on how fast it is going through the USCCB review process. Rome could sit on it and put it off another couple of years beyond that. Or ICEL could get a burr up its you know what and push it out sooner than that.
    Either way most people won’t want to spend $145 this year and have to invest another $145 within a couple of years.

    • Doug R.

      The updated version was originally supposed to be out in 2018 (or so I heard), but the latest I’ve heard is that it’s been pushed back until 2020. I love the new translation of the Grail Psalms.

  • LizEst

    I haven’t used iBreviary on my phone. But, I can see where it would be useful when away from home in some way.

    What I want to know is: Who moves the ribbons for you on your home set when you are away…so you automatically fall in step with the right page when you return? At the end of a busy day, I can see where this little detail would mess with my head…and cause me to “re-pray” some things. Not that there is anything wrong with it ’cause I can use all the extra prayers! …but just sayin’!

  • Doug R.

    I vastly prefer my bound breviary and missal. With them, I can immerse myself and lose an hour in prayer without even realizing it. That being said, I also have the digital breviary on my phone and tablet for those occasions when I’m NOT able to sit down with the peacefulness of the physical books (i.e., when I have to be on the road at 5:00AM and I just can’t drag myself out of bed at 3:30 so that I have time…)

    On the other hand, my wife also has her own copy of the breviary, but prefers to use the digital on a daily basis.

  • Bill

    I have no idea what Breviary means. Please allow those of us who are not very smart to participate!

    • Philip Kosloski

      Bill, “Breviary” is a word for the prayer book that contains the “Divine Office” or “Liturgy of the Hours.” You can read the previous articles in this series for a complete description. Look under “Read Entire Series” for the links.

    • disqus_NAVsMmJ24g

      iBreviary is an app on your smartphone. It is free.

  • Esa

    7 or 8 years ago our previous pastor gave copies of Shorter Christian Prayer to the members of the Men’s Prayer Group. After a number of months of trial and error we were sufficiently proficient to at least have 2 or 3 members willing to take a stab at leading. Today there are still some of us who established the discipline to continue on alone; one bought a printer set of volumes, the rest all use IBreviary. It is beautiful, simple to use and so portable there can be no excuses. I prefer it’s translation to that used in the Universalis.

  • disqus_NAVsMmJ24g

    I’ve used both the Shorter Christian Prayer book and the Christian Prayer book. I taught myself how to use it, flipping back and forth, etc. And holding a book in my hand is special, BUT I found it very distracting and time consuming to be flipping back and forth, especially when it was a special day. It wasn’t until I got the iBreviary app that it became a real habit to pray it every day. I never could do the Office of Readings with the other books because they don’t include that, and had no idea of what readings I was supposed to do. So now, every day usually, I pray at 5:30am the Morning Prayer, then the Office of Readings. I usually download the entire week with wi-fi, though if I forget it doesn’t seem to be much data to download that day’s prayers with my data plan, if need be. I use the iBreviary to read the readings at Daily Mass, since they are not in the missalettes, and actually find it more convenient for Sunday Mass too. I love the “scroll” feature and that I can set it at the speed that is comfortable for me to read. It helps me focus not to be moving the text forward on my own. Because it is a very classy app, and you can change the look of it to look like old paper I don’t think of it as being cold and technical. And, of course, FREE, is great. I recommend it all the time to people when they ask me about it. Honestly, I would hate to have to go back to the books. Elderly ladies before daily Mass have the books and they are always getting confused and off track because they have to find X page for a certain saint. I’m very happy with the app.

    • disqus_NAVsMmJ24g

      Also, about some of the drawbacks you mentioned. I rarely have trouble keeping my phone charged so that is not a problem and about old breviarys, I have some, they are falling apart and out of date or use an old translation, etc. and while they are interesting to look at, they are otherwise not compatible with today’s books. I also don’t get texts and notifications early in the morning so that is not a problem.

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  • Terrance Shuman

    I have the four-volume set, and while I enjoy physical books (and in particular the attendant rituals of moving the ribbons, bookmarks, etc.), I would welcome a well-done Kindle version, or possibly an Android app (I would use the latter on my Nexus 7 tablet, not my phone). I’ve been working on trying to get the Divine Office hymns put together on my iPod to sing along with, and I could do that regardless of which form of the breviary I was using, but it would be glorious if I had an electronic version that could play the correct hymns at the correct times without my having to fuss with a second device.

    That said, all of this is a first world problem, eh? 😉