HARTFORD – More than ever, today’s Catholics are using contemporary technologies on mobile devices to enrich their spirituality. Throughout the Lenten season, many will use specialized apps to strengthen their faith and prepare for the holiest day in the Catholic Church.
App, a term that is short for application, is typically a small software program that may run on any hardware platform, but is most often used to describe programs for mobile devices. There are countless Catholic apps built for smart phones or tablet computers, and a significant number of Catholics say they use faith-based apps.
In a recent survey of American Catholics, funded by the country’s largest wireless service provider, Verizon Communications, 24 percent of respondents reported using a faith-based mobile app. Among Spanish speaking Catholics and millennials, usage was even higher: 36 percent of Spanish-speaking Catholics and 40 percent of millennials use a faith-based app.
Using apps is generally easy; determining which apps will best meet your needs and enrich your journey throughout the Lenten season is more challenging. Personal preferences in mobile apps can be as individual as preferences in art, music, language and style. Several well-known apps, all rated four-star or higher among users, could enhance spiritual practices like prayer, fasting and almsgiving during Lent. All of those listed here are available for both Android and iOS platforms.
Father Stephen Sledesky, pastor of St. George Parish in Guilford, says his favorite app is titled Pray as You Go, which is developed by Jesuit Media Initiatives in London. Father Sledesky likes the app because it includes meditations for each weekday and weekend, for the entire year.
According to Pray as You Go developers, the materials are written by Jesuits and other experts in the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola and are designed to help users reflect on God’s word and grow in their relationship with God.
Although not specifically designed for Lent, “each audio meditation lasts about 10 minutes and includes music, readings and prayers,” said Father Sledesky. “During various liturgical seasons [the developers also] include a retreat.”
This year, Pray as You Go is providing a Lenten retreat titled "A Year of Mercy, a Lent of Healing" and written by Jesuit Father Nicholas King. It consists of an introduction followed by six sessions (one per week), each focusing on one healing instance in the Gospel of Matthew. Feb. 8 is the scheduled release date.
The free Pray as You Go app also includes The Examen, reflective prayers that can help children, teens and adults prepare for confession. The app enables users to download prayers for a week or longer, which is a welcome function for vacationing or traveling Catholics. It also provides the ability to set personal prayer reminders.
Give Us This Day and Laudate are also among Father Sledesky’s favorite Catholic apps that can help “draw us into a deeper relationship with God” and add to spiritual practice.
Give Us This Day is a daily prayer app developed by Liturgical Press, a publisher of liturgy and Scripture founded by the Benedictines of St. John’s Abby. This app provides the same content as the print version of Give Us This Day, which includes both morning and evening prayers, complete Mass texts and reflections on Scriptures. In addition, inspirational mini-biographies and hymns with musical scores are also provided for each day. This text-only app costs $2.99 per month; you can download a one-week trial version for free. Developers boast that if you have just five minutes or a half-hour, the app will support your prayer life and enhance your existing prayer practices.
Laudate, described by many as the #1 Catholic app, is a large (21MB) reference app that developers say is the most comprehensive Catholic app available. It is available in English, Spanish and more than a dozen other languages. Several individual apps and other resources can be accessed through the Laudate app. (For example, The Confession function in Laudate accesses The Examen options of the Pray as You Go app described above.)
Laudate includes daily readings, reflections, Bible verses and all kinds of resources to enhance your faith journey during Lent and throughout the year. The Laudate app also provides a saint of the day, Liturgy of the Hours and several interactive rosaries and chaplets. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, both the New American and the authoritative Douay-Rheims Bibles, and more than four dozen Vatican documents are packed into this Catholic resource app.
Another comprehensive app, US Catholic Church, was introduced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last summer. While the app provides daily Mass readings and links that connect users with other spiritual references, its distinctive feature is its focus on bringing together information from all Catholic sources. The app allows users to keep abreast of Pope Francis with news, videos and photos and to receive Vatican and Catholic News Services updates. It also lets users connect to Catholic events and share content with social media platforms, including Pinterest, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.
The free app, made possible by donations to the annual collection for the Catholic Communications Campaign, provides content in both English and Spanish. Future developments for the US Catholic Church app will enable users to access a location-based “church finder” function and connect with local parishes and dioceses through individual pages.
While accessing Catholic resources and following activities of Pope Francis throughout the Lenten season may help draw Catholics closer to their faith, two other popular apps may also be helpful.
The CRS Rice Bowl app, developed by Catholic Relief Services, taps into an almsgiving program that has been used in Catholic parishes during Lent for more than 40 years. The app, a hand-held technological version of the humble cardboard box, has a five-star rating among users. Available in both English and Spanish, the free app provides prayers for each day throughout the Lenten season, inspiring stories and a collection of simple meatless recipes from around the world. It also includes a unique feature that enables users to track sacrifices, make pledges and donate electronically with PayPal or a major credit card.
Lentsanity is a lively mobile app developed by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, FOCUS, a national Catholic outreach for college students. The app offers daily reflections, clever info-graphics and unique articles. Among infographics provided last year were an illustrated guide to the Triduum and another that explained fasting and abstinence. Articles posted for Lent 2015 included a review of fast-food fish sandwiches and Pope Francis’s eight reasons to pray the Stations of the Cross.