When Catholic churches nationwide reopened last summer after a months-long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parishioners followed along empty handed, as the missals typically found at each pew were removed so people wouldn’t touch the same surfaces.

That protocol remains. However, the Oregon Catholic Press – publisher of the annual Breaking Bread missal – has created a new digital format, an alternative to the print book, so parishioners can once again follow along with the liturgy.

“We had been thinking for some time about developing an (application) so when the pandemic hit and people were struggling again to have resources that they need for Mass we thought now is the time,” Wade Wisler, publisher of Oregon Catholic Press told Crux. 

“It’s making those prayers and readings and now the music available to people because when we have the word of God available ahead of Mass and even during it, you can follow it along more closely and therefore engage in the Eucharist,” he continued.

The company’s Breaking Bread 2021 eMissal App is now available in the Apple App Store and Google Play for $4.99.

When a user opens the App, it automatically opens to the upcoming Sunday. Everything – the prayers, antiphons, readings – are in order ready for the parishioner to follow. A calendar function also allows the user to look backwards or forwards to another Sunday’s Mass order through the entire 2021 liturgical calendar.

What makes the tool unique, Wisler said, is the 850 songs, psalms and Gospel Acclamations available, which a user can tailor to the Mass order of their specific parish.

“The idea is that if I’m participating in the Mass, either in person or at home, I know either in the moment or ahead of time what songs or hymns are going to be used so then I use the App to set those songs so I can follow along with the hymn,” Wisler said. “Or, hopefully, we’re called to participate in the sung worship of the church and so then we can sing along.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops signed off on the App before its launch, but its concerns about the use of phones in church, particularly as a distraction, are something both entities continue to monitor.

As for a version for the 2022 liturgical year, Wisler didn’t rule out the possibility, but said they’re “still trying to read the tea leaves” and the USCCB has to greenlight the project.

“What they deem is best for the church we will do,” Wisler said.

The publisher is confident, however, that this kind of technology could be embraced in the church in the future. He noted that this App is “very easy, very user friendly, very practical” and the type of resource people look for nowadays.

“It does seem that there could be changes over time where technology like this is embraced. I heard a wise person say once, ‘Well, books were a disruptive new technology at a point in time that people had to get used to,’” Wisler said.

“People always have their phones with them, and it just makes the Holy Scriptures and all of the other things we need to participate in the Mass. It makes them very accessible. It puts them right into our hands,” he continued.

For now, until the missals return to the pews, Wisler said the App allows parishioners to do “what the church calls us to do.”

“We’re not supposed to be just passive spectators. We’re supposed to have our intellect and our hearts, and our minds engaged fully in the liturgy,” Wisler said.