Priests and laypeople talk about the distractions of ringing phones and people who text at Mass

ALBANY, New York, USA – Entire families navigate their smartphones while sharing meals at restaurants. Students text in class. Parents take phone calls at their children’s sporting events and plays.

It’s no surprise that cellphones affect even the church.

It has become common for parishes to place blurbs in their bulletins about silencing cellphones and for lectors to make announcements about it before liturgies, reminding parishioners they’re in a place of worship.

In some places, Massgoers heed the notices – with a few exceptions for people who work in emergency fields or don’t understand how to silence their phones. At other parishes, ringtones, texting or even taking calls during liturgies can distract the presider and the people in the pews.

A few people, including priests who were in charge of parishes in New York, were interviewed about this issue.

Ms Dorothy Sokol, parish life director at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Ballston Lake, notices phones ringing and worshippers texting at Mass, despite signs in two different places and announcements cautioning against it. She said some people don’t know they’re offending people, but she’s distracted by it, especially when parents let toddlers play electronic games on their phones.

Some parishioners use a tablet or smartphone to follow along with the readings for Mass, and “there’s a place” for that, she said.

As for texting, “people have to be conscious that they’re in church to pray with a community and to try, if possible, to put the distractions away,” Ms Sokol told The Evangelist, Albany’s diocesan newspaper.

She’s not sure how to handle teenagers she’s seen texting repeatedly.

“What do you say?” she wondered. “Do you give the teenager grief when the parents are sitting right next to them and not saying anything? The last thing I want is for them to stop coming. You have to figure out what’s best.”

Fr Richard Carlino, pastor of St John the Evangelist and St Anthony parishes in Schenectady, calls himself a “strong endorser of silencing the cellphones”.

In recent months, he’s also had to talk to parishioners about texting – which he considers less distracting than a ringing phone, but “still a distraction from what they’re supposed to be doing in church. Their mind is not on the Lord. There are exceptions, but the exceptions should be few.”

On the other hand, “I’m happy they’re there, even if they’re doing stuff they shouldn’t be.”

Fr Thomas Holmes, pastor of two parishes – St Henry Parish and St Mary Parish, gets so frustrated by poor technology etiquette at Mass that he joked about installing an electric dog fence around the churches – or at least a signal scrambler.

“Almost every weekend, somebody’s cellphone goes off during Mass, oftentimes during the consecration,” he said. “I often laugh, and it’s a sarcastic laugh. I’ve said a couple of times, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I think they should be embarrassed.”

Despite spotting teenagers and young adults texting at Mass, he hasn’t confronted anyone.

“Overall, I think people should have a little more sense when it comes to their cell phones. They forget why they’re [at church]. It’s only an hour of their life,” he said.

Office manager Andrea Freeman, at St Matthew’s in Voorheesville, saw someone texting at a wake, but said otherwise it doesn’t happen there often. - cns

By Angela Cave
Cave is a staff writer at The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, USA.

Related article:
Letter: That SMS or call can wait till after Mass

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