QUAERITUR: priest answers cellphone during Mass

no phonesFrom a reader:

My wife attended Mass today with my children for our homeschooling co op. There were two priests concelebrating the Mass. The older priest’s cell phone started ringing and he got up and went to the side (Still on the altar) and took the call.

My children keep asking if this is ok? This is very confusing for them since we never see this happen when we attend the Mass in the EF?

How should we proceed?

If you have feather pillows, place them on a horse drawn cart.   Then, carefully lifting the pot of tar onto the back of the cart, light your torches and heft your pitchforks.

But seriously… we don’t know the reason for the call.  Perhaps he was waiting to hear if he had won the lottery, or had perhaps been chosen to appear on American Idol.  Perhaps he was waiting for notice about an indictment or a stock deal or news about someone who was dying.

It might have been really important!   Then again, maybe not.

I can understand a priest forgetting his cellphone in his pocket, and, it going off, digging it out and then turning it off and/or ignoring it.   I can understand that.  Really.

But answering it during Mass?

That’s just plain wrong.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

If he does this with regularity, you should say something to him about it.  Tell him that you and your children are sad because of what he does.

If he persists, I would say that the local bishop should be informed, perhaps with a photo of him doing so taken with the cellphone you failed to turn off before Mass began.   If it is an iPhone… well… you can put it in “airplane mode” and still used the camera.

Be sure to show it to the priest before you do anything else, perhaps by sending it immediately to his mobile during Mass.

Tell your children, no.  What the priest did was wrong.  But priests are human beings and sometimes they lose their heads, or don’t think, or just plain panic.  Sometimes priests aren’t very smart.   They are humans and they make mistakes.   Tell them to say an extra prayer to Mary, Queen of the clergy for that priest’s well-being.  If he is an older man, he has probably also done many good things in his ministry over the years.

VOTE FOR WDTPRSAlso, pray to the priest’s guardian angel to brick his phone if he ever does it again.

After that, perhaps you could have a little project with your kids.  Make signs with those NO PHONES symbols on them to hold up during Mass.

Then sit in the front pew.

Just kidding.

Finally, this could be counted as reason #78567367 for Summorum Pontificum.

Has anyone, honestly, anyone in the last three years, seen a priest during Mass in the Extraordinary Form answer his phone during Mass?

I, on the other hand, have seen it happen in the Ordinary Form – in a really wacky place.  Friends have told me they have seen this.   Never in the Extraordinary Form.

Think about it.

This is also an example of how priests during concelebration (which should be safe, legal and rare) have to work three times harder than the main celebrant to remain focused and reverent and every bit much there and dignified as the main celebrant.

Thus endeth the rant.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. DavidJ says:

    Would it be possible the priest was on-call for sacramental emergencies, wanted to celebrate Mass and found himself in an awkward position up there when the phone rang? I’m not saying that going ahead and celebrating Mass when someone else wasn’t covering the phone would be the best decision, but I could envision that scenario more easily (at least to ease my sensibilities) than others.

  2. AnAmericanMother says:

    We were at a Life Teen Mass while out of town (that was all there was available) and a priest (NOT the celebrant) was playing in the so-called band (a screechy lady, a gray-haired ponytailed guy with a beard and a tambourine) and the aforesaid priest with a guitar that he could neither play nor tune properly. Right in the middle of Mass the priest’s phone rang — he had some sort of catchy rock ‘n’ roll tune for the ring tone. He didn’t answer it, in fact he was frantically trying to grab it to turn it off, but the kicker was that the dude with the tambourine started playing along.

    It was a moment of comic relief in the middle of the worst music I have ever heard in my life. And there were no teens there at all — my daughter at 22 was the youngest person we saw there, and there were two girls who might have been her age or a little older. All the aging hippies were just playing tacky aging hippy music to themselves.

    I will say that the priest on the altar celebrated a reverent Mass. He must just be able to tune the “band” out completely.

  3. Precentrix says:

    The only time I’ve seen something like this happen (and Father didn’t answer there and then, though he did traverse the entire chapel) was because the priest was on call for a local hospital. Fr. wasn’t concelebrating, but acting as deacon if I recall (though it was an OF Mass) since his Mass was said earlier in the day – he was present as chaplain for my Confirmation and first Holy Communion.

    Of course, mobiles going off either in Father’s pocket or in the sacristy (more annoying because he can’t then turn it off!) is a much more common occurrence.

  4. Konichiwa says:

    Yes, I agree. That’s plain bad behavior for the priest to be answering his phone up there. Priests behaving badly.

    Similarly, I witnessed a priest with a camera taking photos as my grandfather’s funeral Mass was beginning. He was celebrating Mass with maybe 15 other priests there. They all knew my grandfather who was well over a hundred. (My grandfather’s children mostly are wealthy and are known for making large donations in the Vietnamese community.) Who knows how far into Mass that priest would’ve gone had not one of my family members offered to take pictures with his camera for him. I think his actions had a lot to do with pride. “Look at me! I’m friends with the ___(insert name) family. See how huge the Mass was?”

  5. A reader sent this image:

  6. disco says:

    I’ve only ever heard a parishioner’s phone go off once during an EF mass, never mind the priest’s. Thankfully it was that old timey iphone ring so no major scandal. The only interruption of an EF mass I have seen was once an elderly priest collapsed at the altar. Thankfully he made a full recovery and was back saying mass a month or so later and there was another priest there who finished the mass.

  7. Animadversor says:

    Perhaps he was waiting to hear if he had won the lottery, or had perhaps been chosen to appear on American Idol. Perhaps he was waiting for notice about an indictment or a stock deal or news about someone who was dying.

    These days, I’m putting my money on the indictment.
    However, if a priest really is expecting a call or a text during Mass to which he absolutely must right then give heed, perhaps, unless there is the risk of exposing confidential information, he could give his phone to someone from amongst those who have come to hear Mass, who would then sit in the front, but to the side, and discreetly signal Father should the call or message arrive. Although Father would then have to leave the sanctuary, retrieve his phone (possibly), and go to a private place, I think that this would be better, or at least less bad, than answering the phone while in the sanctuary. But only if really necessary.

  8. Gaz says:

    Has anyone, honestly, anyone in the last three years, seen a priest during Mass in the Extraordinary Form answer his phone during Mass?

    No, Father didn’t answer it.

  9. SimonDodd says:

    “[Priests] are humans and they make mistakes.” I wish folks would keep this in mind before flying off the handle at every little error. Not that this was a little error, but some folks—and as it happens they’re usually people with an axe to grind against the OF before setting foot into Mass—seem primed to go off as even the slightest liturgical error.

    By the by, I can go one worse. At a daily Mass I attended within the last six months, someone’s phone went off and they took the call. In their pew.

  10. priests wife says:

    …well- I guess this is one reason to have married priests- a wife to throttle a man who would TAKE A CALL during Mass (just kidding…sort of)
    My husband is director of chaplain services at a large-ish hospital. He is on-call 24-7 (really 7 days a week) (he doesn’t have to respond to everything, just co-ordinate the response) unless he is officially out of town on vacation, then the next chaplain in line is on-call. He has 3 pagers and his cell on at all times- but he silences them during any sacramental ministry. That is what voice mail is for.
    In my not-so-humble-opinion, the ONLY reasons to take a call during Mass (of course, sometimes one forgets to turn it off- but you NEVER answer it) are dementia or if you are on an organ donor list.

  11. SpokaneTrad says:

    I am ashamed to admit that MY cell phone went off during an EF Mass ONCE. Never again. My phone now stays in the car during Mass. Unfortunately, my ring tone at the time was “Who Let the Dogs Out”.

  12. My phone once rang just as I was about to receive Holy Communion (standing) at Mass (NO). My ringtone was ‘Saria’s Song’ from the Nintendo 64 game ‘Ocarina of Time’. Needless to say, I don’t bring a phone to Mass any more. That tone is still set as my ringtone though.

  13. cothrige says:

    I think the more troubling aspect of this is that the priest was “on the altar” when this happened. I mean, really, is that ever appropriate? Wouldn’t his shoes soil the altar linens at the bare minimum?

  14. tioedong says:

    ordinary cellphones usually need to be turned off (our church here in the Philippines even has a poster telling us to do so). I’ve even had patients waste my time to talk on routine cellphone calls during examinations.

    However, it might been an emergency.My pager always would frequently go off in mass. Ditto for the other docs and the EMT’s (we had volunteer ambulance services in our small town). Similarly, some priests cover hospital emergency rooms and are on call for ICU, and as a doc we are happy for them to help us with not just giving the last rites but in comforting the families in terrible situations.

    So we should give him the benefit of the doubt.

  15. DWB says:

    Our organist once left her phone at the organ after the last Sunday Mass of the day. When she woke up early Monday morning, she did what many would do when we can’t find our cell phone, and dialed her own cell phone number. Many times in a row. As she could not locate her phone. Those of us at 6:30 AM Mass could her her phone, and were silenty condeming whomever it was at Mass that had left their cell phone on. And, for Pete’s sake let it keep on ringing – over and over! Finally, one of the brighter of us realized what was going on, went to the organ where the phone was located, and turned it off.

  16. kolbe1019 says:

    Some tips on cell phones, because it does happen to us all.

    1) Don’t answer the call and hang up OR hit ignore, because they will call right back. Older people are terrible about that. Actually turn your phone off or put the ringer to silent.

    2) Make your ringer permanently Church Bells…

  17. Jack Hughes says:

    I am going to charitably assume that there was a good reason for the priests actions

  18. tzard says:

    I’m trying to think of a non-technology analogue. Before cell phones there were pagers – but before that, did anyone (perhaps the assistant or parish secretary) ever go up and interrupt Father at Mass? It would be rare because they’d use their head and would only interrupt him if the church was on fire or the dam broke.

    Come to think of it, I do seem to remember a mass where we had to evacuate the building- we came back and finished Mass after the issue cleared up (I think it was a police action or something).

    Cell phones are brainless – in fact regular phones were such (“the thing that must be answered”). Mass is a bad time for these. Better have someone answer phone for him, and then make a moral and prudential judgement.

  19. Charles E Flynn says:

    I witnessed a priest’s phone ring once during mass since cellphones were invented. He was obviously surprised that it rang, looked at the screen, looked at the congregation, smiled, and answered the phone:

    “Mom, I’m saying mass.”

  20. Animadversor says:

    cothrige says:
    18 February 2011 at 10:48 pm

    I think the more troubling aspect of this is that the priest was “on the altar” when this happened. I mean, really, is that ever appropriate? Wouldn’t his shoes soil the altar linens at the bare minimum?

    Ah, this has been annoying me—and I’m sure many others—forever; it is like fingernails scraping a blackboard. I doubt that the offenders will ever be disabused; I think that most of them are the type who would say, “Well, you knew what I meant!” A very unsatisfactory response for fans of this blog.

  21. bookworm says:

    Would it have helped if the priest in question had simply stepped into the sacristy, or otherwise out of sight, before answering the phone or checking the number to see who it was? If it was a truly important call from a hospital, nursing home, or the papal nuncio, he could have answered it discreetly, or just turned the sound off and let it go to voicemail if it was something routine. Even if it really was a life or death matter, answering the phone WHILE STILL ON THE ALTAR was not appropriate.

  22. ejcmartin says:

    As with just about everybody I have witnessed numerous cell phones going off during Mass. I have only witnessed one however someone actually carrying on a conversation on their phone during Mass and that was in the EF!
    On a lighter note I was once taking part in a large district Cub Scout campfire and it was my turn teach a new song to the group. The campfire leader was had just finished introducing me and said to everyone and” now Mr. Martin will lead us in a song…” at that exact moment my phone went off to the strains of “Panis Angelicus”.

  23. Philangelus says:

    I know you were joking about asking his guardian angel to brick his phone, but in my experience, they *will* stop electronics from working when they want your attention.

  24. jkm210 says:

    Once a priest’s cell phone went off when I was in confession, in the middle of absolution! He didn’t answer, but had some difficulty in getting it shut off. Thankfully, he re-began the formula of absolution from the top! I wasn’t mad, but I was more worried that the other people waiting for confession assumed it was MY phone. :-)

  25. marthawrites says:

    A couple of years ago when my husband and I were attending Mass in the Eucharistic Chapel at St. Peter’s in Rome, a woman walking up to receive the Eucharist answered her ringing cellphone and started to talk. Others shushed her, but when she returned to her pew her phone rang again, she answered it and once more started to talk. Again, she was shushed–but not embarrassed. In a local perpetual adoration chapel my husband recently admonished a woman who answered her cellphone and carried on a conversation until he asked her to stop.

  26. Fr. William says:


  27. Paul says:

    I second Fr. William’s advice to clear yourself before going before the altar. I speak frequently to large groups and I would never think of going on stage with my cell phone or even a watch. The last thing I want is something to distract my listeners or to interfere with the sound system. How much more so while celebrating the holy Mass?


  28. Gail F says:

    Cothrige: HA HA HA!

    Folks: I see no reason to assume anything here other than that the priest got flustered and answered the phone because he didn’t have time to think. Maybe he was waiting for a kidney. Who knows? But unless it happens regularly, LET IT GO. We all do dumb things when we are surprised. I do not turn my phone off when I go places because I barely know how it works! No one ever calls me on it, it’s for me to make emergency calls. If it rang at a bad moment my first instinct would be to answer it because the only other thing I know how to do is hang up.

    I also think this is a silly letter to write to Fr. Z. “My kids were confused because the priest answered the phone and that never happens at the EF” is the kind of thing that gives the EF a bad name. The EF is not perfect and celebrating it does not mean that a priest will never do anything dumb at mass. This kind of letter makes the author (excuse me for being blunt if you are reading) look like a prig.

  29. Fr. William says:

    My point: why would the priest even have the cell phone on his person while celebrating the Holy Sacifice of the Mass? It does not matter whether it is in the Ordinary or Extraordinary Form! This leads to something of which I often remind my parishioners: why would THEY have their cell phones at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Some may have very just reasons (e.g. Doctors on call) but most people have no NECESSITY for which to have their phones with them.

  30. Fr. William says:

    I tried to add/amend my post to include a reminder of the quote from St. John Baptist Vianney: “All the good works in the world are not equal to the Sacririce of the Mass because they are the works of men but the Mass is the work of God. MARTYRDOM is nothing in comparison for it is but the sacrifice of man to God but the Mass is the sacrifice of GOD FOR MAN (my emphases). The work of GOD for each of us and it is so poorly attended even by those in attendance because we simply do not understand what the great saint understood and lived. May we be heartened and strengthened by this and attend in every way and manner to the work of God on our behalf.

  31. Fr. Basil says:

    A friend of mine knew a priest who was chaplain for the fire department. His phone when off while he was in the sacristy just before a daily mass. He rushed through the celebration; it might have been better for the daily to mass to have been cancelled in this emergency. Of course, I don’t know the whole story.

    \\Finally, this could be counted as reason #78567367 for Summorum Pontificum.

    Has anyone, honestly, anyone in the last three years, seen a priest during Mass in the Extraordinary Form answer his phone during Mass?

    I, on the other hand, have seen it happen in the Ordinary Form – in a really wacky place. Friends have told me they have seen this. Never in the Extraordinary Form.\\

    Be patient. It will.

  32. Re: the expression “the priest was on the altar” — It’s an older expression than anyone here, and extremely common among Catholics. I doubt that it came from English, because it sounds more like preposition use from some other language; but that doesn’t make it “wrong” or “annoying”. I’ll see if I can dig up where it comes from; but it’s certainly part of Catholic identity in English-speaking countries.

  33. pelerin says:

    I agree with Fr William – the vast majority of people do not need to have their phone switched on all the time. They really are becoming a curse to concentration at Mass when they ring. Readers may remember that some years ago everybody seemed to have a watch which pipped on the hour and as none of the watches synchronised this was always a distraction especially when it coincided with silent parts of the Mass. This annoyance has now been replaced by mobile phones. I was once in Westminster Cathedral waiting to receive Holy Communion when one went off behind me.

    It is not just those which ring which are an annoyance. At a recent Ordination I attended, a lady next to me fiddled for some time with her iphone (presumably looking at her emails?) half way through Mass whilst carrying on singing the beautiful Taize ‘Come Holy Spirit.’ I could not believe my eyes.

    My children tick me off for not having my phone on at all times. As it plays ‘Waltzing Matilda’ when it rings (a long story!) I would be mortified if it went off during Mass. I think all churches should now have the ‘No mobile’ sign up in the porch to accompany the ‘No Smoking’ signs now required here by law. And parishes should put a notice on their weekly bulletins to the effect that ALL mobiles should be switched off inside the Church. The only exception I can see is for someone awaiting a transplant or a doctor on call for an emergency.

  34. That didn’t take long. In Italian, they also say the priest is sull’altare, on the altar. In French, the expression seems to be “devant l’autel”, before the altar. I didn’t really have time to look for other examples.

    In general, you can use “altar” as a synonym for “sanctuary” (which points out how important the sanctuary is). It’s a lot more satisfactory to say “on the altar” than “up on that dais thingy”, and I must see about adopting it as my expression more often.

  35. Himagain says:

    About 5 years ago here in the Diocese of Arlington, VA a priest answered a cell phone call during confession, in a screened confessional , while my daughter was trying to give her FIRST confession. That priest was the Chaplain in residence at this parish for the nearby Fairfax Hospital at the time, so conceivably it could have been a sick call, but he stayed for the remainder of the childrens’ confessions (a class of 25 kids) so I doubt it was an emergency. This is an extremely effeminate priest close to the clique that helped our Bishop Loverde spiritually lynch Father James Haley a few years back (per the latter’s deposition at http://www.rcf.org/pdfs/hdep.pdf ), so I’m not inclined to believe that this was work more important than the confessional .
    Fortunately, he’s not at this parish anymore.

    Apparently for some, it’s just a job.

  36. gtbradshaw says:

    Oh, for heavens sake, this letter is nothing. Our pastor’s cell went off during his homily & he stopped the homily & took the call. I can’t make this stuff up…

  37. Girgadis says:

    If the priest’s cell was on vibrate, as all electronic devices worn in church should be, he could have quietly gone into the sacristy and taken care of the call without disrupting Mass to the degree that he did, especially if he was on alert about a dying person or some other emergent matter.

    Father William, if it were up to me, your post would receive a Gold Star. I am on call round the clock because of my job and I have to have my pager and cell phone with me, but they are ALWAYS on silent so as not to disturb others. It’s bad enough I have to be disturbed without annoying everyone else around me.

  38. Bosco says:

    Perhaps it was God phoning to correct the celebrant regarding the way he was offering Mass.

  39. Lori Pieper says:

    In a parish I went to recently (not my own), they made an announcement just before Mass: “Everyone please turn off your cell phones.” Problem solved.

    Of course, they really should have included “That means you too, Father”!

  40. Shellynna says:

    I keep wishing for the good old days when people weren’t leashed to their phones (she says while pecking away at her iPhone). I’m not yet 40 and pine for the days when this didn’t happen because no one had a traveling phone. Now that everyone is a servant to their technology, we all struggle with the temptation to answer its summons at inappropriate times. So, I have some sympathy for the priest who answered the call, but hope his parishioners will offer him a constructive solution rather than recrimination or reports to the bishop: “Father, we know how busy and in demand priests are. Perhaps a trusted volunteer could be given your phone, set to vibrate, to monitor for you during Mass?”

  41. Luvadoxi says:

    The Lord got my attention once when I was sitting in the pew and the cell phone of the man next to me went off. I had all kinds of negative thoughts. Then, right at the beginning of the Our Father, my cell phone, which I had checked several times to be sure it was off….was actually on….and went off, loudly, with the tune of the Texas A&M fight song. Needless to say, lesson learned!

  42. Jaceczko says:

    If Saint Stanislaus didn’t think that getting stabbed in the stomach with a sword was enough to distract him from saying Mass…

    I’m not saying you should START saying Mass at any time no matter what else is going on, just that ONCE YOU HAVE STARTED, you can kind of pretend like you’re outside of time and space a little bit. Like you’re encountering a transcendent reality. Or something.

  43. gc5341 says:

    I have no patience or understanding for this priest. I can forgive forgetting to turn the cell phone off. My advice to him would be not to carry it with him during Mass. Although he was con-celebrating Mass under no circumstance should he leave our Lord so rudely to tend to his selfish phone conversation. I don’t care if the matter was life or death!

    This priest needed to have more trust in our Lord and should have remained at the altar in his honored position as a priest offering the most Holy Mass in adoration of God. Even your children understood how sad it was for this priest to leave the altar.

    If possible you should raise the matter with him and if he pushes you away then report him to his bishop. His actions were truly disgraceful but mostly sad.

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