Electric Prayer

The Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, and other things.

July 2020 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 21 July 2020

As this strange time grinds on there seems to be less and less that one can actually say about it. But it is encouraging to hear that Universalis is still being a help and a support. People are reading more, and many of them are listening more, as well. It is good to be able to help.

There is one big new feature this month. It is rather speculative. Perhaps it will fall into the category of “How could we ever have done without it?”, perhaps into the category of “Whatever is the point of it?”. Perhaps it will end up half way between these extremes, as most features do. In any case, if you are using Universalis on iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch or Windows, do give it a quick look.


Books are good but there are two things that can go wrong with them. One is when you don’t finish a book you have started. The other is when you do. Not finishing is bad because you have missed something; finishing in a great hurry, just so you can say you have finished, is bad as well.

Seeing how well sacred and devotional texts work when carved up into digestible daily pieces in the Mass readings and in the Divine Office, we thought it would be worth trying the same with other books. Reading a little each day avoids the “didn’t finish” problem, because if you endure for long enough you’ll get there, and it also avoids the problem of “finished too fast” since each day presents one instalment.

If additional justification is needed, I could adduce the practice in monastic refectories, where a book is read out at mealtimes so that the monks get a certain amount of it each day. (We used to be told that in the summer holidays at Downside, a Dick Francis thriller was read in this way; but I think the monk who told us was having us on).

Accordingly, Universalis now lets you add a “book on the instalment plan” to your daily reading. This only works on the iOS and Windows versions at present, because the whole thing is still experimental and it could change shape before it is definitive. Once things are more settled and final, Android and Mac will get the feature too.

The books are available in the “About Today” and “Spiritual Reading” pages. Just go to the end of either of those pages and you will find a toolbar marked “Books”. Tap the button, and try.

In the first instance, there are three books to choose from:

  • “Resurrection Is Now”, by Dom Aelred Watkin, monk of Downside. Because of its subject this is set to appear on the 30 days of November, but you can reschedule it for any time of year you want. This, and the next book, are reproduced by kind permission of Downside Abbey Trustees.
  • “And So to God”, the final book by Dom Hubert van Zeller, monk of Downside. Dom Hubert was a talented artist, a prolific author and much in demand as a retreat-giver, especially in America.
  • “St Francis of Assisi”, by G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton was a writer and journalist, a poet and essayist, and the greatest Catholic apologist of his age. This book sets out to make the saint and his world understandable from the inside and not just as a collection of facts and events. It is also the response of one great soul to another.

The way this feature works ought to be self-evident, but programmers always say that and it isn’t always true, so you will find some instructions here.

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