Liturgy on an Android Tablet Device: a users guide

Although I have a reputation as an early adopter, and a willingness to use any technology to support the liturgy and witness of the Church, I have been careful in my use of electronics as a paper substitute for the priest. I have over time preached from a Kindle device and nowadays almost exclusively say my Daily Office from a Smartphone (extremely useful for Home Communions!)  but this season, I exclusively celebrated the liturgy using my Android Tablet. Here is how it all fits together…

Daily Office: Universalis Email

The excellent Universalis website (http://www.universalis.com/) provides web, desktop and email versions of the Readings for Mass and the Texts of the Divine Office each day. You can have this for free, but for a small subscription, you can get the whole package sent as one convenient email. No more losing ribbons, no more forgetting that obscure Saints day or getting the antiphon wrong because you have forgotten what day of the week it is. Perfect for prayer on the move, you can have the text whereever you have your smartphone. This is what I use for Home Communions now, and it is very convenient.

Kindle (for the benefit for those still using one)

I don’t use my Kindle as much as I used to, which is an indicator of how fast the technology has moved on. Two years ago, I took my Kindle to the Holy Land and thanks to its Whispernet, used it to email home, update FB and Twitter all for free – no expensive data charges!

The brilliant Fr Edward Green worked out the ideal word document for displaying a homily on a Kindle. Here it is: kindleblank

If you were to save that docx document as a dotx template and put it in your Microsoft Word Teemplates folder, then you can have a new template which you can then email to your Kindle and preach from it. Create your texts in Microsoft Word as if it were paper, but using this special size and there you are!

Android Tablet

This is the where I am at the moment. The power and flexibility of a tablet is amazing: they have come on so far recently. My tablet is the Google Nexus 7: a powerful 7 inch tablet. I highly recommend this one to you all, and at under £200 it is a real bargain. I prefer the 7 inch size because it will fit in my cassock or my hoodie pocket.

I create all my liturgy as I have always done, on a PC on Microsoft Word (service sheets and posters tend to be done in Microsoft Publisher, but for my use at the altar, it remains in Word).

I save all of my key documents in the cloud using Dropbox . This is a free service and if you sign up for you free 2Gb of storage using this link, I get a little bit of extra space for a referral (please!). The advantage of saving documents in the cloud is that they are available across all your devices (in my case, a couple of laptops, my tablet and a smartphone). Update the document and the update is automatically replicated across all your devices very quickly. I also use this to share key documents securely between the staff team: you can create folders which named accounts have access to and so rotas, liturgy and other such essential admin can be properly shared: no more “oh, I didn’t get that version” because as a document is edited, all versions are updated. This is therefore a seemless way to transfer documents to your device.

I have Dropbox installed on my tablet, so can easily access ALL my Word documents (and Excel Spreadsheets etc) as and when I need them. Anywhere.

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I simply select the document I want, and Android asks me with what I wish to view the document in. There are lots of apps on the Market, and some of them may be bundled with your tablet. However, I have found that the best reader is not necessarily the best editor. I have used my tablet to write quite a lot (on the train usually) and to blog and for that OfficeSuite Pro is by far the best, but an app designed to write has the annoying habit of going into edit mode if you accidentally touch the screen. For writing and editing documents, I wholeheartedly recommend it. See here (currently only £6.20). As you will realise, if you edit a file from Dropbox on your Tablet, it becomes available everywhere – perfect!

However to view the document, ie to just read from it, I recommend the wholly free version of OfficeSuite: the OfficeSuite Viewer (download here)

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This also will view PDF files for you so is even more useful. There is no problem having both on your system, because it will ask you how you want to use it. I always select “Just Once” so I can choose whether I am viewing or editing a document.

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Once you have the document open in the Office Viewer, you can look at it two ways: as it looks on the page or as a web page. At the top, select the Menu (three dots to the right of Word Count) and select View

The Page View is exactly as the Word Document is. If you pinch-zoom the document to make it more readable, it will not wrap around. This keeps the format.

The Web View is even more useful for this purpose, because it fills the whole screen and wraps according to the size. I can therefore pinch-zoom the page to a convenient size for reading (and to fit a decent amount on screen so I am not scrolling in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer) and it wraps!

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The Reader will cope with a lot of Word formatting, including TextBoxes, which can be quite useful. In my wedding liturgy, the bride and groom’s response “I WILL” is in big letters in a box upside down. This means that I just have to tilt the tablet towards the couple to prompt them for their response.

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With Marriage, Baptism and Funerals, I create a bespoke document with all the names and prompts in place of N and M so avoiding little bits of paper getting in the way – so elegant.

If you don’t have an MC, then you can hold your tablet yourself, place it on a legillium or on the altar. Missal Stands are perfect for a Tablet, but I have also used a cushion on the altar (as some Churches do) and have also simply put the Tablet on the altar by the Corporal. At Midnight Mass the MC held my Tablet for me whilst I proclaimed the Gospel. I must admit, I was a little worried I might clonk the tablet with the thurible, but it was fine (and I am so skilled with the thurible anyway!) We both reflected afterwards how the signing and kissing of the Gospel was affected by a touch-sensitive device, but it was fine.

My Tablet has a Wake-Sleep Cover, which turns the screen off when you close it. This does mean you have to hold it carefully but practice sorts this out. I don’t set a password so if my device does accidentally sleep, then it wakes instantly into action. I did try it without a cover, and it was okay, but I was a little anxious about dropping it (and dropping it into the font).

In summary, I can’t see me ever going back. You don’t need a torch during the Easter Vigil or Nine Lessons and Carols because it is backlit. It wastes no paper, it can be totally personalised to the service and changes can be incorporated really quickly.

I have been working from this template (with appropriate seasonal variations) for most Sundays, cutting and pasting in the collects, introductions etc Download: Sunday Mass Template for Tablet

A**le Tablets

I have always said that Blesséd was the last truly radical and subversive alt.worship group simply because we use PCs instead of Macs. I am not (as you will tell if you read this blog or follow my tweets at @frsimon) an Apple Fanboy, although I have had an iPhone (ugh!) and a Mac Mini and a Macbook, so I know how beautiful and utterly useless they are: noddy machines with expensive pricetags. If you can afford one of these things, then quite a lot of this is directly transferrable. You can still use Dropbox, (or indeed any cloud software – there is Google Drive and Microsoft Skydrive and I am sure Apple has an equivalent). I am also sure that the iPad will have a viewer that will expertly read a Word or Pages document. Take these principles and apply them as appropriate for your system.

I’m delighted with how my setup works, and I hope it works for you.