The Mass Explained Volume 1 [App o the Mornin']

The full title of this amazing app is The Mass Explained Volume 1: The Introductory Rites & The Liturgy of the Word (iPad: $25), and its title page lays out its goals: “Fostering a deeper understanding of and appreciation for thee Ordinary Form of the Roman Catholic Mass.”

And boy does it do that: in spades.

I’ve had The Mass Explained for a couple weeks, but I wanted to make sure my initial gee whiz impression of the technical aspects wasn’t influencing my appreciation of the content. This is, really, a book, but it’s a book for the digital age. It does things you wish some books could do, and it does them extremely well.

The author, Dan Gonzalez, merges solid research with a strong catechetical style and a superb sense of design to create something new in Catholic circles: a high-end multimedia learning experience that fulfills the promise of new media in the new evangelization.

The book itself begins with an introduction by Mike Aquilina, and then walks through–step by step–the origin, meaning, development, and practice of the mass from every angle. We begin with a look at the passover seder, then take guided tour through the practice and meaning of the Liturgy of the Word all the way to the Prayer of the Faithful in the course of about 330 pages.

A quick guided tour of Chapter 12: The Gloria should give you a clue of what’s inside:

The main part of the screen is book text, which explores in some depth the meaning of the Gloria. Footnotes are on the left, and flesh out certain elements of the main text (in this case, the sacred music of Vivaldi). At the bottom of the first page, you’ll notice a sound icon. This brings up examples of the Gloria from Palestrina, Vivaldi, Mozart, Schubert, and Puccini.

Page two continues the lesson by adding more audio file as well as an embedded video of a priest reciting the Eucharistic Doxology:

Page three of this chapter shows an example of the art elements, which can be zoomed and scrolled to examine the details:

The chapter (which is about 13 pages long) ends with a summary of its content:

Some sections also include fully panoramic views of locations such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher…:

…as well as 360 degree views of certain objects:

The book is undeniably impressive in both content and execution. It’s a catechist’s dream, at least if the catechist is teaching a room full of people with iPads.

Here’s where we come to my one reservation: at $25, it’s expensive for an app and even expensive for an App Store book. As they say of big budget movies: it’s all up there on the screen. The production values are top notch and the writer has done a great deal of work producing the text and adding multimedia content. There’s no denying it’s a slick piece of work. I don’t begrudge the creators their price point, but it does limit the audience.

The good news is that, purchased in volume (20 or more copies), it qualifies for Apple’s Volume Purchase Program, which offers a 50% discount.

Honestly, though, the price is my only reservation. This is an excellent app that explains the richness of the mass in the format and depth it deserves. It’s one of the best Catholic apps I’ve ever used.

And for those concerned with fidelity, don’t be. It’s a faithful catholic work with a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur:

The app has received two declarations from the Church assuring that it is free of doctrinal or moral error. The Nihil Obstat was granted by Monsignor Terence E. Hogan, SLD, Dean of the School of Theology and Ministry at St. Thomas University. The Imprimatur was granted by The Most Reverend Thomas G. Wenski, Archbishop of Miami, FL on October 14, 2013. The app was also reviewed by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Approval from the USCCB was granted on December 20, 2013 by Monsignor Rick Hilgartner, Executive Director, Secretariat of Divine Worship.

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • DAN

    Thank you so much for this review! As the creator of the app, I just wanted to make a comment regarding the price:

    I realize that $24.99 is not the average price for a mobile app. Many people are used to apps being free, 99¢ or perhaps $1.99. This app could have been created to fit that price point. However, I do not feel it would be my best.

    In order to create an app to the best of my ability, I needed to source content that I pay for every time the app is downloaded. This includes:

    • Royalties to music houses for use of their chants and other liturgical music throughout the app.

    • Payments to panoramic photographers, still photographers and videographers for their contributions.

    • Licensing fees to ICEL (The International Commission on English in the Liturgy) for the inclusion of excerpts from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and several other liturgical texts.

    • Also, despite creating a revenue stream, I chose not to include banner or pop-up ads which would, in my opinion, comprise the learning experience.

    • In addition, I chose to enroll in Apple’s VPP program where educational institutions receive a 50% discount.

    • Whether it is a discounted download or not, Apple keeps 30% of all app revenues, which has contributed to the app’s final price.

    This app is not the result of a publisher’s board meeting or an in-depth market analysis, it is purely one person’s act of gratitude. It was personally funded without help from a parish, archdiocese, corporation or institution. I purposefully turned a blind eye to the budget. I pulled out all the stops to create a beautiful app that would hopefully help people fall in love with the Mass, the One who instituted it, and the Church He founded. I returned my talents to Him. It is the best I could offer, my first-fruits.

    I know that $24.99 is more than what some are used to paying, especially in these tough economic times. Unfortunately there is nothing I can do to remedy this. I just hope your readers would agree that the price of the app is not a product of avarice or arrogance, but of arithmetics.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Thanks for commenting. It’s pretty clear that value is right there in the app with work and rights and everything else. We’ve all just been conditioned to expect cheap apps, even though something like this, released on computer 6 years ago, easily could have gone for $50, or as a hardcover book–without the media content–for $25.

  • DAN

    Thanks Tom. We have grown accustomed to free or low-cost apps. Here’s a post from someone who originally felt the app was expensive, but then recanted:

    “I noticed on Twitter a week or two back that Patrick Madrid, Catholic apologist extraordinaire, sang the praises of an app called “MassExplained.” I took a look at the app, noticed the $25 pricetag and tweeted back: too expensive. And he tweeted back to me: some things are worth it.

    He was right.

    I downloaded the app. It is worth every penny. Not only does it do exactly what it says (explain the Mass, step-by-step), it includes art, history, Scriptural references, definitions, saints’ quotes, music and more. I am enthralled, and I know that I will be referencing it often. I also know that my sister, who is working her way back into the Church, will be able to use this.

    So, if you have an Apple or iOS device, get this. Patrick Madrid was right.”

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    I’ve been asked if you have any plans to port it to other tablet platforms

  • DAN

    The iOS and Android version of the tools I used to create the app—Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite (DPS)—do not mirror each other exactly. I would need to take the iOS (Apple iPad) version and remove panoramas, inline videos, horizontal swipes and a host of other features for it to work on Android devices.

    I know this is frustrating for Android users based on emails I’ve received. They feel like second-class citizens who often get crippled versions of popular apps. I apologize.

    However, I would rather there not be an Android version of Mass Explained than put one out that has been “dumbed down” with a compromised user experience. That, I feel, would be more of a disservice.

    As soon as Adobe works out the disparity between iOS and Android, an Android version of Mass Explained will be available as soon as possible! Promise!

    But alas, it is out of my hands and I cannot provide a timetable.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Android just isn’t as good an OS.