The Church has been a driving force in progress and the development of technology for hundreds of years. Despite this, the Church is often portrayed as being opposed in principle to technology.
In a recent talk, Cardinal Sarah appeared to weigh in against the use of modern technology when he criticised the use of mobile phones for praying the Office, because of the distraction that mobile phones provided, and the fact that we use mobile phones for other, more profane purposes.
I believe he is mistaken on this point.
Certainly I think that we will always have a need for the physical liturgical books, if only because they don’t run out of battery! And I understand the Cardinal’s point about the books being set aside for the worship of God. But I think that mobile phones (and e-readers) do have a place in helping people to pray “in every place” (1 Tim 2:8).
To begin with, there is the sheer convenience of using one’s mobile phone. For many years I carried my copy of the Office around everywhere with me. This had all sorts of knock-on effects, not least the necessity of having a very large handbag. Now, not only can I manage without a handbag, I can have the Office, Missal, Graduale, Bible, catechism and any number of spiritual writings of the Saints available at the touch of a button. Cardinal Sarah himself admitted the convenience of prayer using a mobile phone.
Of course, given the number of social media apps available on mobile phones, there is a need for self-discipline. I suspect that this might have been one of the aspects the Cardinal was thinking of when he declared that praying the Office on mobile phones was not something he would encourage.
But phones are extremely sophisticated now. Not only can notifications be silenced or turned off while in church, but the internet can be disabled completely (“flight mode” is an easily accessible, one-touch control for most phones) or, if the particular resource needs internet access, a do-not-disturb option can generally be set if someone is concerned about their ability to resist following up on the number of Twitter notifications they have received while in church.
Some people can be shocked at the sight of someone else using a mobile phone in church, but as more and more people use their phones for reading, I think this will become less of an issue.
As for phones being put to profane uses, maybe it is more helpful to think of it the other way around: having prayer apps on your phone helps to bring the Sacred into our everyday lives.