Evangelical churches have made use of technology like PowerPoint for years, but now some Catholic priests think the stodgy environment of older parishes might be enhanced by installing LCD screens in the pews. The New Yorker reports:
Monsignor Donald Sakano, of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in Little Italy … has long since stopped feeling embarrassed when people ask him tricky theological questions and he has to Google the answers. “Before, I would just have to look smart and try to respond to them,” he says. Now he never gets it wrong. Sakano sees tremendous potential in the Catholic Church’s embrace of the digital. He is currently working on a project to outfit Old St. Pat’s sanctuary with flat-panel monitors in a way that won’t disrupt the vertical sight lines of the Gothic design. “Ideally,” he told me, “we’d have tiny screens on the back of the pews, like at the Metropolitan opera. Can you imagine? We’d be able to send parishioners personalized messages.” He wonders if a digital offertory could be incorporated into the mass somehow, so that the moment of giving would be preserved, but people wouldn’t have to carry cash. And he thinks that digitizing all the books in the church would help with the clutter problem: the Catholic Church is currently making changes to the mass (a version “more faithful to the original Latin” goes into effect on November 27th), he told me, and new books and hymnals have been pouring in. Wouldn’t it be better without “these big, fat books?”
Msgr. Sakano is probably also excited about the iPhone app for confessions, which is billed as the “the perfect aid for every penitent” — until the penitent gets a notification about the latest sports scores or Facebook updates while receiving the sacrament.
Catholic mass is one of the few public places where people still look askance at smart phone usage. The individual screens would seem a detriment to a central goal of the mass: bringing a parish community together to celebrate the mystery of the real presence that takes place up on the altar — not on some pocket or seat-back LCD screen.
There’s also an argument for tithing via old-fashioned cash or check, so Visa or Mastercard won’t be taking a cut from the church.
So no, it wouldn’t be better without those “big, fat books.”