Those Pesky Cell Phones During Mass

The Devil’s Den of Distraction

By Fr. John Lankeit:

When the Temple in Jerusalem degenerated from reverent “house of prayer” (cf. Mt 21;13) into raucous public market, Jesus cleaned house! Since Lent is the perfect time to get our own house—our own soul—in order, I’d like to address one of the most insidious impediments to our respect for God and our charity toward others during Mass:

CELL PHONES!

Have you ever noticed how the words “cell phone,” sounds remarkably like “self phone”? Besides obliterating manners and destroying common courtesy, a cell phone seems to possess the power to make other people completely disappear from its user’s consciousness or concern. A prominent Catholic blogger observed insightfully in an Internet article on device addition last September:

“When someone next to you answers the phone and starts talking loudly as if you didn’t exist, you realize that, in [his or] her private zone, you don’t.”

As a priest who celebrates an average of eight to twelve Masses per week, I invite you to consider the epidemic of cell phone disruption during Mass—from a priest’s perspective. In my experience, we priests hear an average of three or more phone intrusions per Mass—whether the device is ringing, or beeping/chiming to indicate the arrival of an email or “Tweet”. Multiply that number by eight to twelve Masses per week, and a priest must endure this devilish distraction somewhere in the neighborhood of 24 to 36…or MORE…times per week! And most often, it’s not just one ring…or one beep. Sometimes the phone’s owner lets it ring—and RING—and RING—all through the Scripture readings…and even during the Consecration!

At a televised Mass some time ago, someone let their phone ring through its entire cycle during the homily…not once…not twice…but three times! It takes extremely inappropriate behavior to force me to interrupt the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but by that point—live TV or not—I had reached the limit of my patience, as had all the people who kept looking in the general direction of the noise. I stopped the homily, looked toward the anonymous perpetrator and asked the person to turn the phone, “all…the…way…off!” It was extremely unsettling to have to confront this rudeness during a live broadcast of the Mass—especially with thousands of viewers tuning in—but when the prayers of the Mass are drowned out by electronic noise pollution, even a priest with heroic patience can only take so much.

After that particular Mass, a well-meaning parishioner approached me and said, “Father, don’t get so upset. Be patient.”

With all due respect to that parishioner, he only noticed that one phone during that one Mass—though, immediately after the first offending phone was finally silenced, another person’s phone rang. No joke! By that point in the week, I had probably already endured dozens of rings and chimes during the many Masses I celebrated. Since I had confronted that incident on live TV, I expected a backlash. Instead many parishioners, phone callers, emailers—and even the TV crew—offered enthusiastic expressions of encouragement and gratitude.

Anyone with a modicum of social awareness recognizes how modern “communications devices” are actually destroying genuinely human interaction between individuals. A growing number of scientific studies also catalog the damaging effects on brain development—not to mention the common symptoms of addiction and withdrawal—from device misuse and overuse.

But it’s when our phones disrupt our relationship with God—and distract others from God—that it’s time for priests to “cleanse the temple” of this modern scourge that turns the Father’s house of prayer into the Devil’s den of distraction.

For all the rationalizations people make for bringing their phone into church—and I’ve probably heard them all—we would better serve our souls, better respect our neighbors, and better honor the Lord…if we checked our excuses at the door…and left our phones in the car!

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17 comments to Those Pesky Cell Phones During Mass

  • A Boggs

    It is not the “Mass”, it is the lack of respect for the “inner sanctum” of the church, Mass just takes place there. There are all kinds of things going on that should be checked at the door, at any time. This is not taught, and is tolerated and should not.

  • Mart

    Need a cell phone blocker which is turned on during service and off after service is finished!

  • Jacques DUMON

    Our parish priest sometimes too is disturbed by a cellphone ring. With humour, he makes a pause in his homily and says to the phone’s owner: “Once you have finished talking with God, don’t hang up, I want to talk with Him too.”

  • Margaret

    That, I must say, it just plain sad. That poor priest needs prayers that he would be so addicted that he did that during your confession. God Bless him.

  • sam davis

    On a lighter note,the first Sunday after Hurricane Katrina there was only one announcement and only 7 of us present :if your cell phone rings during mass, in the name of God please answer it.

  • Ben Cal

    In my country,the Philippines, the priest usually announce before the Mass to his parishioners to kindly turn off their cellphones so that it will not disrupt the Holy Mass which is the highest prayer to God. The officiating priest has all the right to call the attention of the person whose cellphone is ringing during the Mass to turn off the device. God bless us all!

  • Stewart Davies

    We have long-since arrived at a point wherein many people cling frantically to their beloved electronic gadgets as though they had been grafted onto their hands at birth like some vitally necessary life-support device. On trains, on buses; crossing busy city streets seemingly oblivious to traffic, they give the distinct impression of going through life in a zombie-like state. I long for the day when all of this technological wizardry collapses in a smouldering heap. After enduring a few weeks or months of traumatic withdrawal, some at least may regain their sanity.

  • Sly

    I. Believe there is a legitimate use for smartphones in Church. I have two Catholic Apps, one has the Divine Office, The Mass and daily Mass readings, as well as prayers of Thanksgiving after reception of the Holy Eucharist. The other has the liturgical calendar with daily readings for both the Novus Ordo and Traditional Latin day by day for the year, besides prayers, novenas, litanies, Stations of the Cross, etc. and the entire Catholic Bible. So please do not automatically ban electronic devices in Church or condemn their use(ers). Of course, I try to make sure it’s on mute. I agree that it’s inappropriate to be answering a cell phone or text during Mass. Even then, there are exceptions: medical personnel on call, first responders, parents with a sick child, etc. So, in general, I heartily agree with Father, but feel compelled to point out legitimate exceptions, so that we don’t find ourselves misjudging someone, as I have done in the past.

  • Robert

    Golden Rule: Leave cell phone in car before heading into church for mass.

  • HOW ABOUT A SIGN IN THE NARTHEX OR BACK OF ANY CHURCH:

    “PLEASE LEAVE ALL CELL PHONES IN CAR DURING HOLY MASS”

    MAYBE AT LEAST PEOPLE WILL TURN THEM OFF.

    OH, AND ALSO, PLEASE ANNOUNCE RIGHT BEFORE MASS — “PLEASE TURN ALL CELL PHONES OFF” — I MUST CONFESS I MYSELF DID FORGET A COUPLE TIMES.

    GOD BLESS YOU FATHER. MASS IS MASS AND HOLY.

  • Father, you are such a consolation. Jesus said that if you are lukewarm He will spew you out of His mouth. You have no such worries…not now nor when you spoke out during the election. I wish there were more like you who are concerned with preaching the Gospel and saving souls as their first priority. You don’t worry about being popular because your eyes are on the Lord. Thank you dear Shepherd of the Savior!

  • B Jenkins

    I completely agree with you. I used to turn my phone off while in Adoration. One day, after leaving the church, I turned my phone back on to discover my husband had just had a major stroke,and no one could get in touch with me. After that I did not turn it off and had an embarrassing experience of not knowing how to turn it off when it started to ring. Since then I have learned to find and enable the soundless vibrate only mode and keep it in a pocket to ”feel” a contact coming in.

  • Dear Fr John
    Dont restrain from reminding them that ,they are in the temple of God.I went to this parish one time,they have a huge notice on the lobby door that said, Silence in the Church that included cell phone. I understand you and encourage you to clean the house.I get so frustated, to ear people talking like they are standing in a corner of a street.Impossible to pray.

  • Leo rasca

    Speak Truth to real honesty….yes total new addiction of our times: insulting the person who is cut by his “friends’s” responding to his/her precious, thin slim cell phone….. I don’t exist anymore even though I a am physically present until I decide to walk away….. A victim of the electronic intruder….the distractor of real dialogue…….sad…. And we mourn for the present and next generstion

  • Daniel

    I personally, as well as many others, struggle with anger. I really can’t stand cell phones going off in Mass. I just sit there totally ripped away from the Mass thinking about how mad I am or what I’d like to say to whoever it is. I know others are like that too. I can’t just be alerted to it and then refocus. One Vigil Mass about four years ago a guy not only had his phone go off but he answered it and sat there whispering a conversation. Last year at the Easter Vigil, some kid and his girlfriend, dressed like they just got out of a death metal concert sat through the whole Mass whispering back and forth. I know his girlfriend wasn’t Catholic but I’m willing to bet he let her go up for Holy Communion. If I was a priest, I’d have no hold ups with speaking up about cell phones, kindles, “snacks”, toys and all that. Somehow, my other four siblings and I all made it through that hour without a toy collection and a bag of chips. The parents rarely ever even clean up after their kids on top of it. I know because my mom used to clean our church and now my Aunt does. It really is frustrating. It’s the one hour above all others of my week where I daringly expect peace. I can take kids crying, people coughing and all that. That’s natural. The other stuff is not.

  • Teresa Lawrence

    I actually had a “different” experience with cell phones and priests. A few years ago, I was in the confessional and the PRIEST’S cell phone began to ring. He excused himself in the middle of my confession and TOOK THE CALL!!! He apologized and said ” I’m sorry, I had to take that “. It was a call telling him when to arrive at the next church. It actually amused rather than annoyed me…but still….

  • Patty Bennett

    You are absolutely right, Father. I’m embarrassed to admit that sometimes I can be, unwittingly, the “culprit”. I try to remember now just to leave the phone in the car, but a couple of times I forgot it was still in my pocket. One church I went to always has someone announce just before Mass starts: “Please remember to turn your cell phones off.” That did seem to help. (At least it helps this old grandma!)

    One of my more embarrassing moments was when, years ago, before cell phones were very popular, I borrowed my husband’s when I was on a long drive, out of town. I wasn’t used to using a cell phone and forgot I even HAD it with me, when it rang during Mass. Still not realizing that the sound was coming from MY PURSE under the pew, I looked around, hoping to remind that rude person to TURN IT OFF. OOPS! Suddenly realizing too late that it was MINE, now I wanted to crawl under the pew!

    Some days, I do long for simpler times!