MIAMI (CNS) — Want to learn more about the Mass? As the ad says, there’s an “app” for that. And what an app!
Called “Mass Explained,” it was created by a local Miami Catholic, Dan Gonzalez, who made it completely interactive, with pictures, sounds and links to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, church documents and much more.
Want to hear the Jewish blessing that precedes the breaking of bread, a blessing that finds echoes in the first prayer said by the priest during the Liturgy of the Eucharist? Touch the link on the app. Or spin a 3-D image of a sixth-century Byzantine cross. Or listen to the Kyrie (Lord have mercy) as set to music by Bach and Haydn. Or zoom to explore a detail in Caravaggio’s “The Supper at Emmaus.”
At the end of last year, “Mass Explained” became the first app to receive an imprimatur — seal that it is free from doctrinal error — from Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, as well as an OK from the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship.
It is now selling on the App Store for download to any iPad running IOS v6 or higher. There is a website for the app, where a video can be viewed to learn all of its features.
Gonzalez, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Lakes in Miami Lakes and a graphic artist by training, has devoted the past 20 years of his life to this “deeply personal” project, which grew out of his own ignorance and quest for answers about the Mass.
“If people would understand the Mass, they wouldn’t leave the church,” he said matter-of-factly. “Once you understand the Mass it’s like St. Peter said, ‘To whom should we go?’ You can’t go anywhere else.”
It was Gonzalez’s own experience in college that triggered his quest for answers. A Miami native who had never seen snow, he found himself completing his bachelor’s degree in graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design, after graduating from Miami’s New World School of the Arts.
Immersed in snow and culture shock, he became friends with a fellow student who was not Catholic. Gonzalez was a cradle Catholic who had attended public schools and received religious education at his parish — but not much more.
“I had never been involved with my faith at all. I went to church because my mother wanted me to,” he recalled in an interview with the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Miami Archdiocese.
His friend, on the other hand, knew everything about the Bible. He could quote chapter and verse and “what he was saying was very interesting to me.”
Gonzalez began attending a nondenominational Bible study, then Sunday services, with his friend. He recalls that the preaching was great. For three months, he stopped going to Mass.
But inside, he felt something was missing. One night, he had a dream.
“I’ve never had a dream like this before or after. I’m not crazy,” Gonzalez said. “The dream said, ‘The reason you’re not comfortable is because I’m not there in the flesh.'”
Spooked, he shared his experience with a Franciscan priest at nearby Brown University — where he used to attend Mass. The priest told him about the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
“We really believe this?” Gonzalez asked him. “I’d never heard that before. At that point, I said I need to learn as much as I can about this Mass.”
He started in 1993, consulting priests and religious, reading books by liturgists and theologians. He learned that “there is a historical meaning for every prayer, every gesture, everything that we do at Mass. Understanding that makes the Mass come alive.”
The research has taken up most of his spare time — and money — for the past two decades.
He originally envisioned a 23-chapter book, with volume 1 — on the first part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word — taking up 400 pages. But self-publishing a tome that big proved “outrageously expensive.”
When the iPad came along, he thought, “This is the perfect way that I can re-purpose the content of the book,” not to mention add videos and music and other links.
He’s made it as “visually compelling as possible,” he said, and wants people like him “to fall in love with the Mass.”
In fact, the “Mass Explained” app is being sold individually on the App Store for $24.99 and through Apple in Education at a bulk price of $11-$12 per student.
“My main thrust is education and having it in the parochial schools,” said Gonzalez, who is now married and the father of a 5-year-old and a 4-year-old.
“This new app on the liturgy will be very helpful to both those not only in high school but also those involved in adult religious formation,” said Msgr. Terence Hogan, director of the Miami archdiocesan Office of Worship.
He spent three months vetting the app for doctrinal accuracy at Archbishop Wenski’s request. “It is well-researched and presents the history and theology of the holy Mass in a very informative way, using the latest in technology which will be appealing to all ages,” Msgr. Hogan said.
Eventually, Gonzalez hopes to create an Android version, but 3-D images are not possible yet on that platform. And if volume 1 sells, he hopes to complete volume 2: the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
“This project is the fire that gets me out of bed each morning and gives purpose,” he wrote in an email. “I really hope, being that it is on an iPad, that it will strike a chord with a younger audience — maybe some who have strayed away from the Church or see little relevance in the Mass.”
Rodriguez-Soto is on the staff of the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami.