Catholic Educator? Parent? Check Out My Review of the Mass Explained App!

Catholic Educator? Parent? Check Out My Review of the Mass Explained App!

Hey everybody, it’s Catholic Schools Week, that magical time of year when Catholic theology teachers such as myself come out of the woodwork to share 1) reflections on our craft or 2) the next big thing.

This year: the next big thing.

I know, I know. You were all looking forward to some reflection on what it means to be a teacher in the 21st century or some Catholic Identity vs. Common Core grudge match. I get it. You really never can have enough case studies or long-winded drivel about stuff you already know. Yeah. If you want to continue to be bored with the likes of that, just stop reading the post right now, because I’ve got something SUPER exciting to share with you all.

massexplainedBehold, the Mass Explained app.

As regular readers know, Andrew (T&C’s editor) and I are theology teachers at Loyola College Prep, a leading 1:1 iPad school. Like other theology departments across the country, we use a classroom set of textbooks our students are unable to take home with them, limiting their ability to do effective, meaningful homework. The iPad promised a solution to that problem, but we’ve been left waiting as textbook after textbook on math, science, and history filled iTunes’ shelves, but Catholic companies failed to deliver. At one desperate point, we even considered writing our own textbooks, but hit roadblocks with the USCCB’s highly restrictive copyrights. Well, my dear educators, the textbook industry has kept us waiting long enough. No more.

Developed by Dan Gonzalez, a Catholic revert moved by his passion for liturgy, Mass Explained meets the needs of teachers with the kind of abundant information, engaging interactivity, and cultural immersion we’ve come to expect from the vast resources of the information age. The best part? It’s all at your fingertips.

Pros:

There are TONS of pros.

Within the first few minutes of playing around exploring the app, I’d discovered not only a sound, orthodox description of the Liturgy of the Word, but a highly functional, beautifully designed format that features all the familiarity of a textbook without the static flatness teachers and students are so accustomed to. The informational content is rich: a quick survey will reveal quotes from conciliar documents, the Catechism, Scripture, and a plethora of Early Church Fathers and saints. The content sequence is well-ordered (it follows the Mass) and the scope is deep. The Mass Explained outperforms many traditional textbooks on the same topic.

Heard enough already? Buy it here!

Heard enough already? Buy it here!

Quite the opposite of a traditional book, however, these pages come alive; from tabbed windows and sliders featuring different sidebar factoids, to chronological samplers of different liturgical music, to Renaissance paintings and high-quality panoramas that allow the user to scroll and zoom for a greater appreciation of the real-world art they represent, to 3-dimensional objects you can turn with the flick of a finger or get audio descriptions of with a simple tap, to embedded videos explaining ancient customs that find their fulfillment in the Mass, this app surpasses its aim to stimulate minds young and old with holy learning. Don’t believe me? Check out some of my favorite screenshots below.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Speaking as a teacher, the book could be used as an extremely thorough introduction to the Mass, although most high school curricula simply wouldn’t allow enough time (this is what we call “a good problem to have” – the book is just that stuffed with great content). What might be a more useful approach is for teachers within a single theology department to use the app as a supplement. Basic overviews could be done in freshman theology during the unit on the Mass. A scripture teacher, such as myself, could utilize references to the scriptural foreshadowing of the Mass when studying the Passover. A Church history teacher could go over the development of the Mass and liturgical music. There are perhaps far more options here than in using the book straight through in a single series of lessons. (See my note at the bottom of the post.**)

Cons:

I found only a small handful of downsides, the first two of which could be/will be resolved easily enough.

  • It’s only Volume One. This app covers the Introductory Rites and the Liturgy of the Word. The app covering the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Concluding Rites is still in production. That’s not a huge negative, but incomplete materials do make it difficult to use the book in an educational setting for the time being.
  • It’s not on the USCCB textbook conformity list. While I suppose it’s not technically a textbook, that’s hairsplitting. The fact is that many bishops require textbooks in their schools to be on this list. Dan Gonzalez, the developer, has expressed to me that he intends to work out a curriculum.
  • Cost. At the stand-alone cost of $25 – a price tag justified by licensing for all the great features and the exclusion of in-app ads – it’s a bit steep for some school budgets. Never fear! Schools can utilize Apple’s 50% bulk purchase discount for a more reasonably priced product. The bulk price runs just under Apple’s price cap at $14.99/book. On the one hand, $12.50 is very affordable for what is an AWESOME text. If it were a traditional book, folks would understand a text of this quality being much higher priced. On the other hand, apps tend to run at a lower cost than “real life” books, and purchasing this whole app for what amounts to a single unit in the typical freshman theology course – not that I like that fact – makes it perhaps a bit on the cost-prohibitive side for many schools. That’s a shame, too, because it really is brilliantly made. (Catholic app developers: see one solution I found to this problem at the bottom of this post.**)
Remember these?!

Remember these?!

Overall, the Mass Explained app is an impressive endeavor featuring info-packed digital pages chock full of embedded media to capture the attention of any reader. I was struck several times by how the app reminded me of the fun and informative DK encyclopedias I used to get lost in as a child. I’m very familiar with the Mass. I have a degree in theology. I teach religion for a living. The app was still very engaging and informative. I learned from it. So can you. So can your students.

massexplainedappYou MUST check it out. It. Is. The. Future.

Buy it here.

Now, if we can just convince them to make apps for other sections of high school theology curriculum.

Happy Catholic Schools Week!

*The Mass Explained app is exempt from Apple’s price cap because it is sold as an app through the App Store rather than as a book through the Book app.

**If I may make one humble marketing suggestion to developers of this and similar apps: Target college students, homeschoolers, and theology teachers themselves. If you want it in brick-and-mortar high schools, here’s an approach that might make it better for you in terms of revenue and better for teachers/students in terms of use and affordability: Make a cheaper version that allows in-app purchase of materials by chapter, so that teachers may use them as supplementary content. Many teachers won’t get budget approval for a whole class-load of apps, so they’ll buy the app one time and show it on the projector. That’s only $25 for you. Instead, if you follow my advice you’ll get a teacher requiring, say, 25 students to purchase just 2 chapters at $1 each. That’s $50 for you. More importantly – you’d get this awesome content into the students’ hands directly. Plus, all theology teachers in a department could have students purchase chapters relevant to their own topics (as I outlined earlier). AND as a supplementary text, a lot of teachers could get around the fact that it’s not on the USCCB conformity list. Who knows: maybe some students would happily buy more of the content.

11 Comments

  1. As a homeschooling mom, I’m intrigued. My husband is a liturgust, and would probably consider this an invaluable resource. However, we are 1. not Apple people. Android format would be fantastic; and 2. homeschooling on a very limited budget. $25 for half a text is pretty steep. Thanks for the review!
    I’ll keep monitoring this for further development!

    • Hello Deborah!

      Thank you so much for your interest in the MassExplained app and for taking the time to leave a comment!

      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.

      In regard to 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 you agree that the price of the app is not a product of avarice or arrogance, but of arithmetics.

      Again, thanks for taking the time to write Deborah and please let me know if you have any other questions!

      God bless,

      -Dan

      • “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.”

        I think it’s completely ridiculous and wrong that you had to pay for permission to quote the text of the Mass!

        This app sounds neat. For those of us who don’t have a smartphone and have no desire to get one, do you have any plans to make similar content available on a web site?

        • Paul, the copyrights and associated fees are something that a lot of us Catholic teachers and bloggers HATE. I’ve written about it before here and Brandon Vogt (who is much more connected than I) has started a movement here.

  2. Not many people will buy this. Too expensive (regardless of arithmetic) and incomplete. And not available to half the market. A for effort, though.

  3. Dan,
    This looks like something I would be interested in. I teach First Sacraments and at this time 3rd Grade Faith Formation. Both of which include lessons on “the Mass”. I do my best to make the lessons interesting and give the children more than what is in the text.

    I love the art work and would love to see more of what this project is about. Is this made more for an older audience of students?

    I am limited on the “tech” schooling of Apps and I do not have an Ipod, Ipad. Is that your only method of distribution?

    It was exciting to see this article and I am willing to pay this price for the gift of your knowledge and “know-how” concerning the Holy Mass.
    Just called to learn more each day. Thanks, Emily Pappadakis

    • Emily:

      Thanks for writing! Yes, the iPad is the ONLY method of distribution.

      There are already a number of websites that talk about the Mass and I didn’t want to replicate their worthy efforts. In addition, there are elements in the app that would have to be eliminated in order for it to be a webpage that would compromise the user experience. Then there are licensing and royalty issues if it were a webpage! So no, it will not be a webpage.

      I would love for you to experience the app. Are there any family members or friends that could lend you one?

      Our local library has iPads that you can use on site. Do you have a similar program at yours?

      To answer your question, it is definitely geared towards young adults (high school) and adults. The language is too advanced for lower grade levels. The videos, drawings, animations and panoramas, however, could be used as visual aids when talking to a younger crowd.

      Also, when the app is ordered in 20 or more downloads, there is a 50% discount making it $12.50.

      I hope this helps! Please let me know if you come across an iPad2 or newer!

      Blessings,

      -Dan

      • Thanks Dan. I’ll try your suggestions.
        Emily P., CO.

  4. Dan – fantastic app! Thank you for putting all you have into this project!

    Woops – Dan’s explanation was well-put and well-reasoned. As for half the market missing out… unfortunately, sometimes the trade offs are negative when using inferior products. I’m certain the ride and handling of my Mazda pales in comparison to that of a Mercedes, but that’s something I’ll have to learn to live with (or get a Mercedes).

    • Thank you Dwight! If you think the app would help others learn about the Mass, a review in the App Store would sure go a long way! Thanks!

  5. It is a very interested page, it`s educative, as a priest I have learn a lot of things.
    Thanks.

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