From a reader…
I’ve noticed one of our priests frequently doses off and falls asleep…sometimes even during Mass or other liturgical functions. Thankfully, the sleeping is short lived and he wakes back up, but I fear he might fall off into a deeper sleep causing liturgical functions and Mass to be delayed. What would be the appropriate thing to do if such were to happen?
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. T. Ferguson
In medieval times, especially in England, there developed the customary post of a verger at Divine Services. After the Reformation, the Anglicans threw out much of Catholic theology and devotional practice, but one thing they retained was the verger.
The verger was responsible for order in the Church during worship – something that the English have long been more fastidious about than the Greeks, Latin, French, Spanish… pretty much everybody else.
The verger acted in the nave similarly to the master of ceremonies in the sanctuary. He made sure that the important people got to the right spot in the church – the mayor, sheriff, any nobility in their proper seats; the guilds together; the penitents in their area… If anyone had to process from the nave into the sanctuary (say, for example, the mayor was making a corporate contribution to the pastor, or the penitents were being welcomed back into full communion), they would have been ushered and preceded by the verger.
In prominent Anglican and Episcopalian ceremonies (notably recently the Windsor weddings, and the funeral of Senator McCain) vergers were employed as wonted to accompany lay readers to the lectern to read the Sacred Scriptures or deliver a eulogy.
The verger would usually wear a black cape over a black cassock. Sometimes a cotta or surplice. Sometimes a velvet collar, sometimes a ruff collar. More important than the vesture of the verger was his verge or virge. The virge is a short staff usually made of wood. It was used to shoo unruly animals out of the church, to usher unruly people towards their appropriate place, and even to bop (ceremoniously, I’m sure) those who were either talking too loudly during worship, or who had fallen asleep.
Perhaps encouraging the appointment of a verger in your parish – even though traditionally the verger’s role was outside the sanctuary – might be called for.
Short of that, having the organist “accidentally” pull out a few stops and lean on some keys might work, or teaching the servers to cough loudly when required. A loud “Hallelujah!” outside the Lenten season (or “Hosanna” during Lent) might also do the trick.
More seriously, the pastor should be informed (or if he is the pastor, the Vicar General). It may be that Father is getting to an age where more careful attention should be paid to his health.