About Cardinal Sarah’s caution on using an iPhone in prayer

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 21, 2017

Cardinal Sarah says that “it is not worthy” to pray the Liturgy of the Hours using a smartphone or tablet. He’s right—as he usually is—that the use of a book, dedicated to that purpose, heightens the sense of the sacred. But what’s better: saying the prayers with the help of an iPhone, or not saying the prayers at all?

It’s always prudent to try to arrange things so that prayer can be offered under appropriate conditions. That’s especially true for the Liturgy of the Hours—which is, remember, the official liturgy of the Church—and also for priests and religious who have dedicated their lives to prayer. But many of us have difficulty achieving ideal conditions, and conclude that prayer amid distractions is better than no prayer at all.

I’m reminded of an old story about two Protestant ministers. (As I heard it, the story involved two renowned Evangelical preachers, but I’m not sure it’s true.) They were relaxing with cigars after dinner, and the younger man asked the older: “Do you think it’s proper to smoke while you’re praying.” The older man took a puff, reflected for a moment, and answered. “No. But it’s OK to pray while you’re smoking.”

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: fwhermann3492 - Sep. 27, 2017 2:49 PM ET USA

    “No. But it’s OK to pray while you’re smoking.” Love it!

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Sep. 26, 2017 2:01 PM ET USA

    Really - I mean really. You need to move on to something more prominent and useful. This is what we are concerned about now? If this is a way to get the lay folks more aware of God's presence and making use of the time we have given the hectic world in which we live...then use technology for God's greater honor and glory. There are worse ways folks could be using the internet and various apps...

  • Posted by: edward.hadas2857 - Sep. 23, 2017 5:49 AM ET USA

    I have heard that story, but about Jesuits and Dominicans. Free to decide which side endorsed praying while smoking...

  • Posted by: Erusmas - Sep. 22, 2017 9:28 PM ET USA

    Sometimes I am almost too weary to pray. If I am alone, in my own home, YouTube can help. It is easy to rest my eyes and my back and listen, just for instance, to the Litany of the Saints, or the Te Deum, or many other fine hymns, sermons, etc.

  • Posted by: Bronco Pete - Sep. 22, 2017 6:25 PM ET USA

    I use my iPhone to pray the Liturgy of the Hours each day. I wish I could do it with the fine set of books I've purchased however I've never been able the master the flipping back and forth. That said, I never use my iPhone at Mass. Others might infer that I'm surfing.

  • Posted by: dom6938 - Sep. 22, 2017 6:09 PM ET USA

    If you subscribe to the notion that electronics, phone, tablet and computer screens can create initial obstacles to getting into the presence of God, then using the traditional, printed breviary would help avoid any distractions from technology as you head into prayer. Some merit to Cdl. Sarah's thinking from that perspective alone, but just my two-bits.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Sep. 22, 2017 1:18 PM ET USA

    I use a hand missal to follow the Mass---a habit that dates to when one side was Latin and the other English---but I have noticed a number of younger people following on their phones. And one of our priests regularly looks at his phone during his homilies. Not, by the way, a younger one: he's listed as retired.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Sep. 22, 2017 11:54 AM ET USA

    For private prayer I'd think an iphone would be fine. For public prayer, perhaps not.

  • Posted by: feedback - Sep. 22, 2017 11:40 AM ET USA

    One of the hidden blessings of using electronic Breviary is not having to flip back and forth through many pages while searching for the proper antiphons or readings for the day; each prayer hour is completely laid out in a single page. The other blessing is that, without any extra weight to carry, it is always in the pocket and available. If electronic text helps clergymen (and I think it really does) to stay faithful in their duty of praying the Breviary, then it is a good thing.

  • Posted by: Philopus - Sep. 22, 2017 8:49 AM ET USA

    I suspect that similar advice would have been given about books after the printing press was invented. Books have been used to spread great evil as well the Word of God. I pray Lauds and Compline daily in Latin using Universalis and I can do it wherever I am thanks to digital media. I'm inclined to file this advice in the same folder with advice offered by Pope Francis on climate science.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Sep. 21, 2017 2:54 PM ET USA

    Kudos to him for having the courage to encourage that it's meant to be prayed with an actual book. Clergy have managed to carry around an actual book for the Divine Office for centuries. When they are silently praying the office, the faithful can notice that's what they are doing because they are using the actual book for it. Not so much when they are looking at their iPhone. In fact maybe it would be for the best for them not to have an iPhone.