By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio – articles – email ) | Jul 01, 2022 | In reviews
I admit to being rather curious to find out what all the fuss is about the new Catholic prayer app. Is it really all the hype says it is?
I’m a regular iPhone user and have written a few articles in the past about how I find apps and different technologies that help our liturgical life and prayer life continue (see mid-Lenten technology helps to avoid crisis and summer; more time for the Lord, not a vacation from him and Angelus Bells). Smartphone, iPad or computer can be used as an aid to prayer, rather than an obstacle. I like being able to listen to the readings of the mass, the divine office, having the spiritual reading and the music at my fingertips. I usually use free or low cost apps, so I was keen to see if I could incorporate Hallow into my already comprehensive routine, and would it be an addition or substitute to what I have, or maybe both ?
The Hallow app claims to be “the #1 Catholic app for meditation, prayer, and sleep.” There’s a 2-week free trial option and monthly payment option starting at $8.99, with some current annual offers at $4.99 per month. I’ve been using the app for a week, so I can really feel it and incorporate it into my daily life.
Hallow is an app that gives people the tools to slow down and bring God into their daily lives, and learn what real prayer is – being in the presence of God, listening to Him, and talking with Him. But the most important thing here is to listen. Hallow encourages making time for God throughout the day. There is less emphasis on reciting prayers and more openness to conversation with God.
Most app information is delivered through audio bytes. The images are simple and the text, although sometimes offered to read, is not always available, leaving the strength to the audio. The app provides the auditory sense with beautiful and meditative sounds in a loud, fast-paced, and anxiety-filled world. Hallow aims to replace the negative with positive sounds and to fill those empty spaces with something beautiful for God.
At first, I didn’t find the app very intuitive. The home screen does not provide a written “how to use the app” section. The only option is a section called “Not sure where to start?” which provides an introduction to get started with the basics. There are 9 sessions that run through samples of the 3 prayer methods: Christian Meditation, Examination and Lectio Divina. I prefer to read my instructions before I start, so I really didn’t want to spend more than 20 minutes listening, trying to find my way around. I have since found out that if you go to the website, there is a “How to Pray” page which has multiple explanations of every aspect of prayer that is on the app. Personally, I prefer having how and why pages, but that probably reflects my age.
On the main page, there is a short questionnaire to help you configure the application. There are questions about why you use the app. One of the answers was for better sleep and another for reducing stress. The sleep and stress aspect surprised me, but after asking family members who already use the app, this was the number one reason they started using the app and have been hooked ever since. I realized that this Catholic app can really excel (and replace) the heavily marketed Calm and Sensa apps. And Hallow can not only help build sanity, but it also helps build a relationship with Christ!
The app itself is not so intuitive. There’s no clear list of categories, which is good, but it takes a while to use. I keep discovering new items. It’s not that easy to navigate, and the app doesn’t remember where I was after closing an area. It always brings me back to the home screen.
There are three main types of prayers that Hallow provides: Daily Review, Christian Meditation, and Lectio Divina, with the following categories: Daily Prayers including the Rosary and Stations of the Cross, Short Reflections, Gospel Readings and Reflections , spiritual reading, readings from the saints, praying with music, praying with children, and much more. Even Father Mike Schmitz’s Bible in a Year podcast is included in this app. The episodes are actually organized by sections, so following is more in context than just clicking to the next podcast in the list.
There is a music section, and the current feature is summer music selections. At first I thought I wouldn’t be interested in music, but there really is something for everyone: Praise and Worship, Catholic lo-fi to study and relax, folk worship with music including Hillbilly Thomists ( listen to the Catholic Culture podcast interview with Thomas Mirus and Fr. Joseph Hagan, OP). There is also instrumental music and Gregorian chant from the Norbertines of Saint-Michel Abbey.
There are guest “voices” like Dr Scott Hahn, Mark Walberg, Jim Caviezel, Sr Miriam James Heidland and many more. These guests read and lead meditations or prayers. Having a variety of ways to follow the rosary with different voices is a great option.
One feature I particularly like is the offer of spiritual reading, about one chapter for each session. The books currently read are Introduction to the Devout Life by Saint Francis de Sales, Seek and keep peace by Father Jacques Philippe and The practice of the presence of God by Brother Lawrence. Each “session” is approached as a time of mental prayer, beginning and ending with the sign of the cross. I can choose to read on my phone to help me focus on the text better.
There are suggestions for morning and evening routines, including the incorporation of aspects of the liturgy, including Mass and Divine Office. Right now there is night prayer, and I would love to see it expand to include morning and evening prayer and the office of readings. (I know there are copyright issues with the text, so I won’t hold my breath.) I can customize the app to set reminders and schedule a prayer routine for the day. He can read the next chapter from which I left off last time. There is also a feature for some of the meditations that I can choose a shorter or longer duration, and I can “skip the intro”. It makes it easy to compress sound bytes no matter how little time I have.
One part of prayer that is not as emphasized is how we are all connected as a community. With Jesus as the vine and us as the branches, everything we do influences each other. Through the app there is a simple view to see how many others are praying with you as a community. But there are also community options to complete challenges and you can join an existing group or gather your own to create more community.
What I don’t really like is the super slow speed of most vocals. I know the app encourages me to slow down, but I find that speaking too slowly and in an affected manner is actually more distracting. Fortunately, there are options to change the playback speed up to 1.5 times. It’s a great option, but it doesn’t remember my settings. I’m used to podcast apps that allow me to choose a speed on the platform, but also change speeds (and store that information) for particular podcasts. Having my settings saved would be a welcome improvement.
There are mental health meditations and sleep aids, all with a sleep timer to help wind down at night. You can choose background sounds in any module (and this feature is remembered), so I can have white noise, rain, nature sounds, ambient tones, Gregorian chant, waves oceans, etc. Another improvement I would suggest is to allow me to “schedule” multiple prayers or meditations to play one after the other, especially at night, instead of having to choose a new thing each time. If I fall asleep, I don’t want to pick up my phone again.
After a week of use, I’m hooked and highly recommend this app. I keep expanding its uses and actually prefer its options to what I use now. I think it’s a powerful daily tool for prayer, and helpful for health and sleep, too. These beautiful audio octets for God can help us in an authentic conversation with Christ and deepen our relationship with Him.
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