Q Recently, my wife and I attended Mass at a small church parish in the southwestern part of England. The priest’s homily was fine, and the congregation participated with enthusiasm. In fact, it was the first Mass I can remember where no one left church until the priest left the altar. But here is my question: The priest used an iPad for the liturgical readings as well as for the Mass prayers. There were no liturgical books in sight. This struck me as very different, although it clearly accomplished the task. Is it permissible now to use an iPad instead of the Lectionary and Roman Missal? (Roanoke, Va.)

A The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which serves as a preface to the book you see at the celebrant’s chair and on the altar during Mass, provides the “rules” for the celebration of the liturgy. That instruction (not surprisingly) makes no mention of iPads or other electronic media but refers only to the “liturgical books.”


Prior to Mass, the priest is directed to set out the Roman Missal at the presider’s chair and the Lectionary on the ambo (reading stand). It is noted in No. 349 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal that these books, used to proclaim the Word of God, should be “truly worthy, dignified and beautiful.”

In 2010, Father Paolo Padrini, a consultant to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications, designed an iPad application, which offered the text of the Roman Missal in several languages.

At the time, he said the use of the iPad would not detract from liturgical decorum, noting that “as far as I can see, there is no liturgical rule saying a printed instrument must be used,” and that is where the matter still stands.

I have participated in many Masses where, instead of using a Lectionary, all of the readings were typed ahead of time and included in a plain but presentable loose-leaf binder placed on the lectern. This seemed to contribute to the smooth flow of the service because readers did not have to flip through the pages of a large book to find the proper place.

Recently, I led a church pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Italy, and the deacon who accompanied us had downloaded the Lectionary and the Missal onto his iPad. This proved to be invaluable since we couldn’t find English-language liturgical books in some of the places where we wanted to celebrate Mass. Still another advantage (for the graying clergy population) is that the font size on an iPad can be expanded.

Objectors may point to the Vatican’s 2001 document “Liturgiam Authenticam,” which requires that the liturgical books “should be marked by such a dignity that the exterior appearance of the book itself will lead the faithful to a greater reverence for the word of God and for sacred realities.” But it would seem that aim could be achieved by covering an iPad in a red leather case (which would also mask the manufacturer’s logo).

At one point in history, with the invention of the printing press, worship aids changed from hand-lettered scrolls to bound books. In recent years, Pope Benedict XVI has called repeatedly for creative use of new media in efforts toward evangelization. It may well be that, after an appropriate period of adjustment, the use of an iPad at Mass could actually enhance the experience of prayer.

Q I am inquiring about the possibility of having a marriage blessed by a priest. Here is the situation: A Catholic woman was married to a non-Catholic man 25 years ago in a garden ceremony with a civil judge officiating. She has not attended Mass or received the sacraments since that time.

Now she would like to have the marriage blessed so that she can be in full Communion with the church. However, her husband will not agree to go with her for a blessing by a priest. What options does she have? Could the marriage be blessed with only the woman being present, not her husband? (Northfield, N.J.)

AThe church’s Code of Canon Law envisions just such a situation and provides a solution. Normally, a civil marriage can be “convalidated” (i.e., blessed) by the church through a quiet ceremony in a Catholic church (even years later). The couple exchanges vows in front of a priest and two witnesses.

In the circumstance you reference, the woman can have her civil marriage blessed by the church without a new ceremony, without the marriage vows being pronounced once again, without her husband knowing about it.

The solution comes through a process described in Canon No. 1161 called “radical sanation” (literally, “a healing at the root”). Here the civil marriage is blessed retroactively by a competent church authority (usually the local bishop). After that, the garden ceremony 25 years earlier would now be recognized by the church as a valid marriage.

This assumes, of course, that neither party has ever been married to anyone else and that no other impediment to the marriage exists. It also assumes that the consent endures. In other words, both parties still desire to be married and still intend an exclusive and permanent commitment. Canon No. 1161, in part 3, says that “a radical sanation is not to be granted unless it is probable that the parties wish to persevere in conjugal life.”

It may be that the husband in this situation has a strong objection to a new exchange of vows because he believes the original ceremony made the marriage valid from the start. Whatever the reason, in the interest of domestic peace, church law provides in Canon No. 1164 that the spouse needn’t be told about the sanation by the church.

What the woman should do is to contact the marriage tribunal in her diocese regarding the process for obtaining a sanation.

Father Doyle is chancellor for public information and a pastor in the Diocese of Albany, N.Y. Questions may be sent to him at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.