Cellphones, Church, Hell and You

I have actually seen with my own eyes a priest answer his phone during Mass.

What shall his fate be?  I shudder as I ponder.

In the meantime, enjoy this.  Then go vote for WDTPRS.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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47 Responses to Cellphones, Church, Hell and You

  1. BillyHW says:

    I thought I saw a priest check something on his smartphone (texting?) during one of the readings at Mass. But I was sitting too far away to really be sure of what I saw.

  2. pseudomodo says:

    I was at mass a long time ago where the priest, during the liturgy of the eucharist had announced that Italy had just won the world cup. How he found this out we can only imagine that he has a radio and an earphone on his person.

    Another time, some guy brought some gangster type to mass and sat behind us. His cell went off during mass and HE ANSWERED IT AND CARRIED ON A CONVERSATION!

  3. On a few occasions I’ve realized that my cell phone was still on my person while celebrating the Mass. At the earliest possible moment, I take the battery out and put it on the table next to me (out of view of the congregation) so that it has no chance of going off.

    While I do this fairly surreptitiously (under the chasible, small hand movements), I have wondered if people think I’m texting or somehow goofing off. I know my altar servers have been surprised to see a pile of phone parts appear next to the Missal!

    At the end of the day, its better to leave it in the car.

  4. Bea says:

    Our pastor sitting at the “presider’s chair” (UGH hate that expression but that’s what they call it) had his elbow on the arm of the chair and was leaning his head on his hand. He looked like he was on the cell phone. We teased him about it later and he got a big laugh. He’s very orthodox.
    An assistant pastor who recently was transferred got so fed up, he actually went down from the altar and asked the lady who’s cell phone was ringing to turn the thing off or hand it over to him. She stuttered and said “it isn’t mine” but everyone knew that it was. I don’t think she knew how to turn it off.
    We run a bookstore outside the church where we set up tables every other Sunday. We OFTEN see people walking out of Mass to answer their cell phones and carry on their conversation and when they are finished return to Mass. I guess if questioned they would respond “Oh, yes, I go to Mass on Sundays” You could’ve fooled me……..He attended Mass????

  5. Phil_NL says:

    I wonder if they also have small-screen TV’s in the back of the pews there (of course broadcasting the service). I also missed the explanation of where the emergency exits were.

    Yes, it’s funny, yes, it’s not a Catholic parish, but they still made a movie that comes awfully close to the safety instructions on a plane – and that drags down the level of reverence for the service, rather than enhances it.
    Not to be overly sour, and occasional lapses happen everywhere, but if you need such a movie, something has gone very, very wrong.

  6. Denita says:

    I was in Confession and Father’s cell went off. Actually wasn’t his phone, so he didn’t know how to turn it off. Still was embarrassing for both of us.

  7. tealady24 says:

    Hopefully, it was someone looking for Last Rites for a loved one, otherwise, shut the cell phone off, Father! I can’t understand so many’s obsession’s with their phones; I have a cellphone, and never have it on at home because reception is next to nothing, and don’t even know how to text and could care less! What a huge waste of time.
    Really, we are not that important.

  8. Will D. says:

    I can understand keeping your cellphone with you at Mass if you’re a doctor or a nurse on call, or are expecting urgent news about someone gravely ill, but beyond that — as Fr. Maurer points out, it’s best to leave it in the car.
    My pastor mentioned in one homily that he leaves his watch in the sacristy in order to avoid distraction and earthly concerns. That’s probably good advice for all of us.

  9. oldcanon2257 says:

    I truly disliked cell phone ringing during Mass, so back in the early 2000’s, my email signature was that of a “new beatitude”: Blessed are those who turn off their cell phones during Mass…

    When I communicated with someone in France, she happened to see my e-mail signature and related a story about a similar situation there. She said someone once told her about an “incident” (whether it was true or not, she didn’t know): During the Mass, a guy’s cell phone rang, and he not only picked it up but also answered it loudly while on his way out. People in the pews were visibly irritated, but he continued on. An elderly lady shook her head and remarked, “Maybe the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were calling him…” (as in only in such case, it would be somewhat justified.)

    Didn’t the Church use cell-phone jammer at some cathedral in Mexico to keep that from happening?

    I usually leave mine in the car or power it off completely before entering a church.

  10. oldcanon2257 says:

    I hope Father Z allows posting of links.

    Here is the article from Wired back in 2004 about churches in Mexico installing Israeli-made cell-phone jamming devices:

    http://www.wired.com/gadgets/miscellaneous/news/2004/10/65378

  11. oldcanon2257: Cool. However, when I get a parish I will want working cellphones so that when I am not-quite-fatally shot by an anti-Catholic Activist, people can call the police and an ambulance.

  12. anilwang says:

    Will D,

    Even in the case of critical care doctors with no backups, it’s not a excuse to have audible cellphones. If you absolutely must have cellphones, you can always use vibrate mode and sit near the back of the parish so you can make an escape to talk.

    As a side note, there are some interesting priorities in the video. If your phone goes off while the congregation is talking to God (prayer) you get a $50 fine. If however, your phone goes off while the preacher is speaking (sermon) you instantly go to Hell.

    To me that says a lot about the theology.

    I would be interesting to compare a list of fines for TLM and NO masses and see how they compare with each other and the youtube fines.

  13. oldcanon2257 says:

    Father Z: I thought you wear a Beretta? :D Hehe, couldn’t resist.

    I like the following extracts/excerpts from the Wired article:

    “At Sacred Heart, a device at the entrance to the church and another by the altar are turned on just before every Mass. Still, priests remind parishioners to turn off their phones before beginning the services, hoping good cell phone etiquette will eventually catch on.” ==> Wouldn’t that be “brick by brick” conditioning?

    “For a lot of them, the cell phone is a necessity. But that shouldn’t prevent them from having good manners and remembering that one must respect sacred places,” Martinez said.” ==> It shows that it’s really a matter of how well-instructed and well-catechized the people are (applying to both clergy and laity) about the Real Presence.

    I wonder (seriously) how Saint Padre Pio or Saint John Vianney would have approached this, had cell phones existed in their days.

  14. brassplayer says:

    If I’m at Mass with my entire family, then I leave the phone at home. That phone call can certainly wait one hour, right?

    The only time I’ll bring the phone into Mass is if someone stays home (e.g., the wife is sick), so that I can be reached in case of an emergency. And then I make darn sure the thing is on Silent.

  15. jkm210 says:

    I was once in the confessional and the priest’s phone went off during the words of absolution! It took him some time to get it shut off, but, fortunately, he began the formula over again. I assume the people waiting outside thought it was me, though!

  16. Ellen says:

    My parish doesn’t have the cell phone problem very often. Our pastor and assistant pastor are both glued to their i-phones during the day, but they have them off at Mass. The doctors and other emergency workers in our parish have their phones on vibrate, and ever so often one will start – grab his phone and then quietly leave. I know he has an emergency call.

    I always turn mine to vibrate at Mass, but then I’m not one who has to be in touch 24/7.

  17. Too bad this only happens in Presbyterian churches. It’d be truly ecumenical if Catholic churches could partake in this policy.

  18. acardnal says:

    @YoungCanadian RC Male: nice retort.

  19. NoTambourines says:

    I turn mine off when I’m in the church, to be sure my reggae ringtone doesn’t go off during Mass, and also, since I’m in the choir, so that incoming calls/texts don’t interfere with the sound system (that bup-bup-bup-bup sound through the speakers) even with the ringer off.

    Outside of church, I’ve been wanting to get Dies Irae as a ringtone just to see who would get the reference.

  20. Deo volente says:

    There is an issue related to this that I’d love to have answered. A young man attends Mass weekly and sits near us. He has his iPhone on low buzzer and spends almost the entire time on the phone checking text messages. This even goes on during the Consecration! He always receives Communion and never stops at his pew (he leaves immediately) so I have no ability to speak to him after Mass.

    Is there any way to handle this in a civil manner? A woman next to him once said “turn it off!” but he largely ignored her after a few minutes. Perhaps if I could get Father Z.’s featured YouTube to play on his iPhone during Mass…!

    D.v.

  21. acardnal says:

    Tell the priest about the situation and ask him to speak with the individual privately.

    I once observed a priest doing this very thing! There was a daily Mass-goer who exhibited some very odd behaviors during Mass, e.g. standing when everyone else was sitting and so forth. It was an obvious distraction. One day I observed the priest talking to the individual privately. The person didn’t change his odd behaviors BUT he did move to the last pew in the church! Out of sight, out of mind.

  22. mysticalrose says:

    I also have been to confession when father’s cellphone has gone off. This has happened on 3 separate occasions with 3 different priests. I think this sort of thing might be happening frequently now.

  23. AnAmericanMother says:

    The silliest cell phone kerfuffle I ever saw took place when we were visiting at an amazing sixties-preserved-in-amber parish. We had to go to the “youth Mass” where my 22 year old daughter was by far the youngest person, if you didn’t count the heavily tattooed and pierced set of Goths over on one side (it was too hard to tell how old they were through all the hardware and ink). The alleged music (70s pseudo-folk off bad photocopies, words but no music) was provided by a screechy lady of a certain age with an overloaded microphone, a dude with a grey beard and ponytail and a tambourine, and an off-duty priest with a guitar that he could neither play nor tune (my DH is an excellent guitarist and he was about to go over the pews at Father – “Just let me tune it! Please!”)
    After the Sanctus “music”, Father’s cell phone went off in his pocket, playing a bouncy Latin (not that kind – the other kind) melody at full volume. Encumbered with the guitar, he couldn’t get into his pocket to turn the thing off. And to top it off, the dude with the tambourine started playing along with the tune! Meanwhile, the poor priest on the altar simply ignored the goings-on at the head of the side aisle and continued, imperturbably Saying the Black and Doing the Red. I don’t know how he did it. It was all I could do to keep from laughing right out loud in church, we didn’t dare look at each other or we would have lost it.
    Btw, I’m pretty sure the mention of the penalty for interrupting the sermon is what passes for a Presbyterian joke. Their notions of humor are a little quirky and self-deprecating — just read any of James Barrie’s Kailyard novels or the scene in Stevenson’s David Balfour when the sermon at Inverary Kirk is interrupted at “Twenty-thirdly, . . . ” by David’s unexpected appearance. (My maternal grandparents were unreconstructed Old Kirk Scotch Presbyterians. So it goes.)

  24. Cincinnati Priest says:

    As a priest, what I do is to set the phone on “beep” mode all the time (i.e. it never has a continuous ring — just emits one single very short beep — loud enough to hear, but not enough to distract, and it stops almost instantly. That way, in the unlikely event that I forget to take it out of my pocket before Mass or confession, I don’t have to worry about it. Most people don’t even notice it, but I recognize the tone. Most makes of cell phone have this option.

    To be honest I think there would be a lot less noise pollution if everyone used this or vibrate mode for their cell phones all the time. I’m not sure why people are convinced they actually need their cell phone to ring continuously when it is right next to them or on their person.

  25. acardnal says:

    @Cincinnati Priest: why not just turn it off before entering the confessional or leave it in the rectory? I remember a priest who left it in the sacristy during daily Mass but he did not turn it off or even to vibrate. So, of course, it rang . . . during the consecration and we all could hear it, and it was distracting, and annoying and not prayerful at all. Shut the thing OFF when performing sacramental duties!

  26. acardnal says: There was a daily Mass-goer who exhibited some very odd behaviors during Mass, e.g. standing when everyone else was sitting and so forth. It was an obvious distraction. One day I observed the priest talking to the individual privately. The person didn’t change his odd behaviors BUT he did move to the last pew in the church! Out of sight, out of mind.

    As a side note, the priest probably still notices the guy. But if the priest celebrated Mass ad orientem, then the guy would cease to be a distraction to anyone!

  27. acardnal says:

    @Miss Anita Moore, O.P.: I agree with you. I almost added that statement to my post.

  28. Mitchell NY says:

    With all the active participation that folks wanted and got what would be the need for a cell phone in Church? There is already so much to do. And now that it is in the vernacular, they certainly aren’t using or need Google Translate for the Latin do they? My rant for the day.

  29. tioedong says:

    I’ve seen the same thing.
    The priest, at the consecration, had a cellphone call…and he answered it, hurried through mass, and ran out…. to the hospital to give last rites to an accident victim.
    He was our local hospital’s chaplain…sometimes while caring for people after midnight, I’d see him comforting the families outside of ICU.

  30. I usually either have my phone off altogether or leave it in the car when I am at Mass if I am in a hurry and don’t have time to shut it off, although I do see the value of actually having it in one’s pocket in a pinch. While Fr. Z spoke half-facetiously, there was an incident near me some years ago where a priest and parishioner were shot and killed during Mass, so being able to call for help easily is something not to be dismissed lightly.

    But since I am human and may sometimes forget that my phone is on and in my pocket, and I go to Mass every day, I go with Cincinnati Priest’s method. My phone is always set to vibrate softly instead of a ring, and if an e-mail arrives a single low beep is all that is heard. That way, if I do forget, it isn’t a constant irritant until something is done about it. The biggest problem is that I need to have a complex password on my phone and have to type that in order to unlock it to shut it off, but all the more reason for low vibrations and short beeps. I don’t like going around tooting my own horn anyway. The whole world does not need to know that I am receiving a call or an e-mail. I like to keep a low profile.

  31. acardnal says:

    What can be more important than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? If someone has a medical emergency and you have to run to your cell/mobile in your car in the parking lot that takes maybe 60 seconds. Why are so many folks so involved and connected to the world that they cannot forsake their electronic leashes aka cell phone? Life went on just fine tens years ago when no one had a cell phone. . . especially at Mass. Why does everyone have to be sooooooo connected electronically to everyone else?! I don’t get it. Leave the phone in your car. Leave us in peace.

  32. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    I turn the sound on my iPhone off, but I use apps like “iBreviary,” “Oremus” or “iMissal” during Mass and ones like the various rosaries or stations for prayers and devotions outside of Mass.

    I really do try to leave others in peace, and again, I have the sound turned off.

  33. acardnal says:

    I solicit Fr. Z’s input on this at some point in the future. I believe that one should leave the world (figuratively) and all attachments to it outside the sanctuary so that one can enter more fully into the Holy Sacrifice . . . body, soul, heart and mind.

  34. acardnal says:

    Think of the the monks and contemplatives. The Carthusians. Have you seen “Into Great Silence”? Silence is the operative word.

  35. DLe says:

    @AnAmericanMother: It’s a shame it wasn’t a Latin melody of “that” kind; imagine if his phone went off playing the Confutatis!

  36. Tom says:

    I was on a long layover in Montreal about 12 years ago. I went to the nearby church to go to Mass, and about the time of the consecration, a lady’s cell phone rang about 5 rows ahead of me. If that wasn’t bad enough, she proceeded to take the call!

  37. HyacinthClare says:

    My cellphone ring is big church bells; but it still mortifies me beyond description the time or two I have left it on in church and it went off. LEAVE IT IN THE CAR.

  38. TMKent says:

    Our retired bishop tells a story of when he first had a cell phone. In the middle of his homily it went off and he figured he couldn’t ignore it. He pulled it out of his pocket, put it to his ear and said,”Yes Lord, i’ll tell them.” :-)

  39. brassplayer says:

    Miss Anita Moore, O.P. says:
    As a side note, the priest probably still notices the guy. But if the priest celebrated Mass ad orientem, then the guy would cease to be a distraction to anyone!

    Unless, of course, the guy starts sitting in one of the front pews.

  40. Jane says:

    I telephoned a priest on his mobile phone, and to my dismay he said: I am in the Confessional right now, I will call you back. It made me feel terrible, but how could I have known? I think that he should have switched it off. Maybe there is a good reason for having it on, like waiting for a call from a dying person.

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  42. canon1753 says:

    I often do my office on my phone. I always have it on vibrate. But, Who is going to call me? No one but family have my cell. I have never had it go off during Mass. But that is also why you can turn it off.

    Also, nothing is more important than Mass, or hearing confessions.

    It also doesn’t hurt that on mute mode I have missed calls with the phone in my hand….

  43. Linz says:

    Wow, it seems a lot of us have been in the confessional when Father’s phone went off. I was angry until it happened to me.

    It went off during the consecration at daily mass. It was a borrowed phone and I swear I had turned it off. Father is my witness; he saw me activate the silent option on the way to the chapel!

    I didn’t know how to turn it off so I fainted instead. I later found out it was the Church of Scientology calling for the phone’s owner. I’m convinced they have secret technology to overcome a phone’s silent setting, which I swear to this day I turned on.

    On the bright side, I’m no longer angry with Father.

  44. brassplayer says:

    Linz wrote:
    It went off during the consecration at daily mass. It was a borrowed phone and I swear I had turned it off. Father is my witness; he saw me activate the silent option on the way to the chapel!

    Which is one good reason not even to bring the phone into Church. It’s absolutely going to ring that one time you were positive you set it to silent. Just leave them in the car or at home.

  45. Panterina says:

    @Deo volente: I’ve noticed a few times a teenage girl at a nearby parish that is constantly checking her phone. First I was very irritated, then I thought that, at least, she’s coming to Mass. Finally, I adopted St. Josemaria Escriva’s tactic and prayed to my Guardian Angel to say something to her Guardian Angel.

  46. Juergensen says:

    I have “iMissal” on my iPhone and have been using it to follow the Mass readings. However, I have wondered whether this is proper. My main concern is that if everyone else were following the Mass readings on their smartphone, that would make for hundreds of smartphones in use, and there would be a visible “glow” of light among the faithful. Not sure if this would be a good thing.

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