iPray: Smartphone apps for the faithful

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Article Reviews
No need to lug volumes of spiritual readings around—God’s on your smartphone.

It took me months to save up the money to buy the four leather-bound volumes of the liturgy of the hours. As the 28-year-old primary breadwinner of a family of five, the $39.99 per volume set was not a high priority in our budget.

But after pinching every penny, I purchased all four volumes in a pristine white box. The next day I proudly showed off one volume, with its eight bookmark ribbons, to a friend.

"Isn't this great?" I asked.

"Oh yeah," he said, "I love the liturgy of the hours. Ever since I've been able to access them through my cell phone, I've gotten into praying them almost every day."

"Your cell phone?" I asked, sure that he was mistaken.

"Didn't you know?" he grinned. "There's an app for that, and it's free."

The Internet has given us access to an unimaginable amount of information. More recently smartphones, such as Apple's iPhone and Google's Android, have placed this access into the palm of our hands. Users can download countless applications that do everything from tracking their daily calorie intake to editing silly photos of their cats.

Like many, I've been quick to embrace technology in the way I communicate, play games, and consume news, but I had never thought about how it could affect my faith.

Pope Benedict XVI has called Catholics to "bear witness to [their] faith through the digital world." But in the seemingly endless sea of information out there, how do you know where to start? Lucky for you, I've navigated these waters. Here are some of my favorite apps.

iMissal
$4.99 (iPhone and Android)

iMissal is the best resource for daily Mass readings, helping you follow along and fully appreciate the church's liturgical year, even if you're unable to attend daily Mass. While many other apps include links to daily readings, iMissal is the easiest to use and offers the most polished user experience.

Recent updates to the app include videos of daily Mass provided by CatholicTV.com. Other functions of iMissal duplicate those that can be found in other applications, including a helpful collection of Catholic prayers.

iMissal does not require an Internet connection to download daily readings, allowing you to turn your phone on airplane mode to avoid receiving calls, e-mails, and texts if you want to run the app at Mass. Warning: Pulling your phone out in church may earn you some suspect glances from your fellow parishioners.

iConfess
$2.99 (iPhone only)

Unlike iMissal, iConfess is effective because it does one thing very well. iConfess includes prayers for confessions, resources for examination of conscience, and a helpful "Frequently Asked Questions" section with an overview of the sacrament.

iConfess, however, also serves as a true assistant in helping the devout practice the sacrament of reconciliation. It includes a notepad for keeping track of things you'd like to remember for your next confession and a log of when you made your last confession. The option to password-protect the application is a thoughtful addition if you want keep this information to yourself.

3-Minute Retreat
$0.99 for iPhone application or free online at loyolapress.com

If you've ever found yourself needing a few moments of spiritual renewal in the midst of a hectic day, Loyola Press's 3-Minute Retreat is your invitation to remember the presence of God and to place yourself therein.

Each retreat begins with a prompt to clear your mind and focus in on some attribute or promise of God, followed by a short scripture reading, questions prompting meditation, and a final prayer. Soft music plays in the background, but this can easily be turned on or off based on your preference.

Magnificat
Free iPhone download, $1.99/month subscription Online edition: magnificat.com for a $19.99/year subscription

The recent incarnation of the Magnificat's iPhone and Internet companions are a most welcome addition to the print version of this popular tool for daily devotions.
Including morning, evening, and night prayers, as well as daily meditations, Magnificat devotions are modeled on the liturgy of the hours, observed by priests, deacons, and those in religious life. Daily meditations are both deeply challenging and yet easy to understand.

Whether you've used the Magnificat for years or are just looking for a quality daily devotion, on-the-go Internet or iPhone access is a must-have.

iBreviary
Free (iPhone and Android)

iBreviary offers the next step for those interested in observing parts or all of the the liturgy of the hours. Plus, as I learned, iBreviary is an obvious solution to avoiding the costly purchase of the liturgy of the hours volumes.

If you're looking to dip your toe into the waters of the liturgy of the hours without jumping in fully, check out the daily office of the readings, which includes scripture readings, sermons of early church leaders, and daily reflections on the lives of saints.

Sacred Space
Online only at sacredspace.ie

While we all fight against the realities of busy lives and hectic schedules, Sacred Space lets you spend 10 minutes praying at your computer, with on-screen guidance and scripture chosen specially every day.

Available in more than 20 languages, Sacred Space devotions are as profound as they are emotionally rich, providing an opportunity to quiet your mind and recommit the day to Christ.

VerseWise Bible, Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition
$4.99 (iPhone only)

Of all the resources available to Catholics, there is, of course, none better than the Bible. While many applications contain full text versions of the Bible, many of them are less popular translations.

The Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition is a clear and easily readable translation that most Catholics will find familiar. Extra features in this application include the ability to highlight favorite verses, copy verses to the clipboard, and e-mail verses.

Daily Sermonettes on Catholic Faith & Scripture with Father Mike
$5.99 (iPhone only)

Easily qualifying for the prize of longest application name, Daily Sermonettes on Catholic Faith & Scripture with Father Mike, is produced by and supports the Vatican Observatory Foundation.

As promised, the application includes daily sermonettes, five to seven minutes in length, perfectly suited to provide a miniature spiritual retreat. The application works because Father Mike Manning is incredibly engaging and uplifting, offering a glimpse into the readings of the day and prompting deeper meditation on them.

CatholicTV
Free (iPhone only)

Whether or not you're familiar with CatholicTV, their application provides well produced video content, including reflections and videos of daily mass. The real feature of the CatholicTV application, though, is the daily rosary. There are more iPhone applications dedicated to the rosary than any other Catholic topic or devotion, but many are poorly produced and distracting. The CatholicTV daily rosary allows you to follow and pray along with less risk of distraction.

Catholic Mass Times Search Directory
Free (iPhone only)

For those truly on the go, the Catholic Mass Times Search Directory is the perfect resource. Using the GPS abilities of the iPhone, the application will show you all of the parishes near your location or any other address and provide you with a phone number and website.

With one tap of your finger, you'll be connected to Google Maps for walking or driving directions to Mass.

Scripture Catholic
Online only at scripturecatholic.com

St. Peter challenged Christians to "always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope" (1 Peter 3:15). In the spirit of this call, Scripture Catholic helps equip Catholics with myriad scriptural references that support various doctrines of the church.

Whether you've studied church apologetics or are just looking to learn more about the biblical roots of our faith, Scripture Catholic is sure to help you be more equipped to give an explanation of church doctrines.

Much of my devotional life has moved into the digital age. Still, the four leather-bound volumes of the liturgy of the hours sit prominently on the bookshelf in my office, reminding me of the sacrifice I made to acquire them and, perhaps, waiting for a power or Internet outage to necessitate their being pulled down and used again.

This article appeared in the September 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 9, pages 35-36).

Image: Tom Wright