Wouldn’t St. Benedict be surprised to find people praying the Divine Office on their smart phones? Okay, he would be surprised if he even heard about smart phones. Or not-so-smart phones. Or telegraphs for that matter.
As I describe in my book, Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers (InterVarsity Press 2012) the practice of praying along with the Church, with a liturgy and on a schedule, can have enormous benefits to your spiritual life, even if it is miles from the experience of many Protestants.
However, anyone wanting to try it out faces significant challenges. You have to find a prayer-book or breviary that has the office, and in a style that suits you. Then you have to figure out how to get through even one “hour” or service while flipping pages to as many as four different parts of the book. Meanwhile, you are supposed to be praying.
There’s an app for that. In fact there are quite a few. I’m going to review four of them.
Praying this ancient way on a smart phone, iPod, or tablet has a lot of advantages. All the confusion, searching and page flipping are gone. Every prayer, psalm and reading comes up effortlessly, freeing you to pray the words.
Here is a quick run down on four solid apps: one Catholic, two Anglican, and one Presbyterian. (And by the way, these are unsolicited and uncompensated reviews.)
1. “iBreviary: Pro Terra Sancta.” ****1/2* (out of five)
Tradition: Roman Catholic.
Platforms: iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Web.
Languages: English, Italian, Latin, Spanish, and Romanian (Soon in Portuguese, German, and Arabic).
This is my favorite daily office app.
I love the fact that without any cost I can pray the full Liturgy of the Hours. The richness of the readings, both biblical texts and a range of commentaries on them from the saints, are a great blessing. The interface is beautiful, with rubrics in red and the text to be prayed in black, all on a parchment background. You can choose the size of the font. A great feature is that if you are going to be traveling and can’t count on wi-fi you can download an entire week at one time.
The first downside of iBreviary (or any full version of the Liturgy of the Hours) is that it is hard to get a well-rounded diet of prayer unless you take on the whole daily cycle. That can be a problem if you are just starting out, using only one of the hours, or if your personal discipline includes just a couple of hours.
- Substantial readings from Scripture other than the Psalms are only in the “Office of Readings” (a.k.a. Matins or Vigils)
- Unlike the Anglican office one only encounters the Confession of Sin in “Night Prayer” (a.k.a Compline).
- Little in the way of intercession will be found outside Morning and Evening Prayer.
Another drawback is specific to the app: it does not automatically retrieve the current day’s Office. There is far more on iBreviary than the Office, so you have to navigate through lot of content before you can pray:
- You click “Today” to begin the download.
- You then click “Pray” to pull up the menu.
- You then click “Breviary” on a list of five options.
- You then click the specific hour you want to pray.
The clicks aren’t going to wear our your fingertip or anything, but it would be better if you could just click “PRAY!” and have the right hour of the current day pop up. Other menus could get to all the rest.
It is created in Italy, and the English translation includes errors fairly frequently. However, since these are obvious and often kind of funny I don’t mind.
2. “Mission St. Clare.” *** out of five
Tradition: Anglican (Episcopal Church, USA)
Platforms: iOS, Android, Kindle, Nook
Languages: English, Spanish.
To my own surprise I’m giving the fewest stars to the two Anglican apps here. This is no slam on the Anglican versions of the Office itself. I was raised Episcopalian and have spent long periods of time praying with American, English, New Zealand and West Indies versions of the Book of Common Prayer. While I like aspects of both these apps, they just do not contain the full Anglican office as found in their own paper resources — and there are other limits as well.
I’ve heard from a number of people who really like the “Mission St. Clare” app. Mission St. Clare has been providing the Office online since 1995, as found in the Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The app does a clear clean job of aggregating all elements of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, with Scripture readings in the NRSV and the possibility of clicking through to the Coverdale version of the Psalms.
The app’s appearance on the iPad is less than ideal. It is a good layout on a parchment-like background, but the header (which remains in place throughout) is pixellated rather than crisp. I suspect they just need to update to the retina display.
More problematic is that the app includes only Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, and has those only in the modern language “Rite II” version. There is no access to the noonday office or to Compline. For many, Compline is the best introduction to the Office, and people often develop a particular love of that short, gentle hour that sends them off to God’s care through the night.
Navigation is a bit odd, since to get back to the directory you have to click an unlabeled icon in the header. Till you figure that out you can end up closing it and opening it just to get back to the start.
And while it is great that the current day loads up automatically, on any given day you can only access that day or one day immediately before and after. There is, for instance, no way to skip to a particular day of the Church year and see what texts might be coming up.
Mission St. Clare’s website has more resources, including an audio version of the office and links, such as to the groovy New Zealand Prayer Book office. If music rather than reading helps you pray, or if you have a visual impairment, this is really useful stuff — but it isn’t on the app.
3. “Common Prayer.” Anglican (Church of England) ***1/2* out of five
Tradition: Anglican (Church of England)
Platforms: iOS, Android
The “Common Prayer” app is an unofficial route to access two different versions of the Church of England’s office. One is the antiquated “King Jamesian” language of the English Book of Common Prayer. The other is modern language from the 2005 Common Worship: Daily Prayer.
The layout is simple and crisp — unadorned, but it leaves behind the nostalgic parchment of iBreviary and Mission St. Clare so you feel like a (post)modern person at prayer. Navigation could not be more straightforward.
My first note of criticism is not with the app but with the Church of England’s modernization, which changes the content as well as the language.
The older version will lead one to a confession of sin in each of the three hours included (Morning, Evening and Night). The new version, like the Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, will include a confession only in Night Prayer, or Compline.
I’m not obsessed with the need to confess my sins. The issue goes to how many hours one chooses to pray on a regular basis. One of the great benefits of the traditional Anglican office is that however limited one’s participation in the hours, one is always led to pray in every necessary way. To get that same complete diet of prayer in the newer office one has to pray more than one of the hours each day.
Like Mission St. Clare, the only days you can see are “Yesterday” “Today” and “Tomorrow,” with no way to look further back or further ahead. And though Common Prayer does include Night Prayer, like Mission St. Clare it includes no midday office.
4. “Daily Prayer.” Presbyterian Church (USA) **** out of five
Tradition: Reformed (Presbyterian Church USA)
Cost: $2.99 USD
This is the only app I’m reviewing that costs money. I’m Presbyterian. This is my team’s offering. And it may be worth paying for.
It is a new thing for Presbyterians to have a daily office liturgy. It came out in book form in 1993 and has been received very well — in this tradition, where we depend so heavily on extemporaneous prayer privately and in worship, having liturgical forms has seemed to many people as a great improvement.
And it is a liturgy with some nice features, most noteworthy being cycles of prayers that prompt you to intercede for all regions in the world and for a wide range of Christian faith traditions. Any version of the Office will stretch you to pray for more topics than you would on your own, but I don’t know of any version of the office that does this so deftly in the directions of ecumenical and global prayer.
Another distinctive feature of this Presbyterian version of the Office is that it is brief. Morning or Evening prayer in an Anglican Office is quite a lot longer — maybe twice as long, though I’ve not counted the words. The same applies to Matins/Vigils/Readings or Lauds in the Catholic version. It can be much easier to get started praying the Office using the Presbyterian version.
On the other hand, while this is Presbyterian liturgy at its best, Presbyterians are not famous for their liturgical language. The Anglicans and Catholics are still going to take all the points for beautiful, theologically rich phrasings. It won’t bother everyone, but some are going to stumble on passages here, whether you use the book or the app.
In relation to the other apps, this is stylistically like Common Prayer, with a clean crisp interface. It is the only app here that navigates like an iBook, with skeumorphic graphical page turns.
Functionally it is like the Anglican apps in that it automatically brings up the current day. In fact it goes beyond them by discerning the current time of day and setting you up to pray the appropriate hour.
Like the iBreviary, Daily Prayer allows you to manually pick any day you want to see if you don’t want today. And navigating to any hour, or any portion of an hour, is easy with a click on a menu button enigmatically labeled “Readings.”
A useful oddity of this app is that in every hour it brings up the Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel readings of the Presbyterian Daily Lectionary. That means that even if you are only praying one of the hours you are prompted to include a full range of biblical readings.
The app improves on the print version of the Presbyterian office in another crucial way: the app’s Psalms are taken from the NRSV, rather than being edited as many were in the hard copy, presumably lest the youth be caused to blush.
Summary: None of these apps provides everything I like, but they all are useful for praying the Office. Any one of them can provide a user-friendly introduction to the Divine Office, and when used fully can facilitate a well-rounded life of prayer.
Do you use an app in your prayer life? What is it and what are the pros and cons?
What draws you to (or repels you from) praying the Divine Office?
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