ASK FATHER: Father doses off during Mass

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?


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.

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  1. Suburbanbanshee says:

    If Father has narcolepsy or apnea, that would be something he needs to get treated.

  2. padredana says:

    There are a few Cardinals who, I have observed, often doze off during ceremonies. I have seen this from a distance, as well as up close. I think often times, priests/bishops/cardinals work long into the night – even parish priests can be called out to minister to the dying in the nighttime – and, human nature being what it is, beautiful chant can lull a tired cleric to sleep. It happens.

  3. JMGcork says:

    One cannot help but be reminded of our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
    As we can observe from the video in the link below, there is a procedure should this ‘defect’ occur.

    “The master of ceremonies reaches across and subtly taps the celebrant on the back three times. In order that the faithful may ‘actively participate’ more fully in the rite; they are encouraged to applaud with vigour. This is useful as it also aids in rousing the celebrant.”

  4. I’d like to have vergers around to deal with an even more urgent problem: people yapping in the church before and after Mass. This has been a growing problem for at least the last 25 years. Even in the nutty ‘70s, when I was growing up in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, people would rather have been caught dead than carrying on loud conversations about the game or the grandkids in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Now the very people who should be maintaining order or setting a good example — clergy, ushers and the elderly — are some of the worst offenders.

  5. Kent Wendler says:

    …makes me think of the Apostles our Lord took with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane…

  6. Charivari Rob says:

    …or Father is in his 70s/80s and has driven (or been picked up by someone) from where he resides in “retirement” to give the pastor some needed help and is simply tired, not ill.
    Tap him gently on the arm.
    Pray for vocations, folks!

  7. ex seaxe says:

    I have read that touching an earlobe rouses without startling. One would not like to cause a sudden jerk precipitating a mitre to the floor.

  8. Jerome Charles says:

    Perhaps he’s meditating? I am known to close my eyes during the homily and reflect on the readings or meditate on God’s holy presence. He could also be sleeping, of course.

  9. Sword40 says:

    Perhaps your priest should learn the TLM. There is not much time for the priest to doze off during the old Mass.

  10. JGavin says:

    I believe you mean dozes. Doses would be plural of dose.
    As to dozing off during a homily, I have been sleep deprived for a fair portion of my adult life, given my profession. I have been subjected to some homilists who would put most hypnotics/sedatives to shame. This being both the delivery and worse yet, the content. This never happens with Fr Cippola former pastor at St Mary’s in Norwalk. I always learned something new or revived a truth not considered for a long time with each sermon. ( Sorry, thought he deserved recognition)

  11. TonyO says:

    If Father has narcolepsy or apnea, that would be something he needs to get treated.

    I thought of that, and wondered: is there any real danger of it becoming so bad that the consecration is at risk, or the sacred species after consecration? Could a person fall asleep just as he was elevating the chalice? If so, this could present a horrendous outcome.

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