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?
Read the Entire Series:
- The Digital Breviary: A Guide to Praying the Divine Office in a Digital World
- 5 Reasons to Pray the Divine Office Daily
- 5 Practical Ways to Prepare for Mass
- How to Actively Participate in Mass
- 3 Ways to Imitate Jesus’ Vocal Prayer
- How to Pray Like Jesus: The Ultimate Checklist