…it rings for thee. And we can all hear it.
A priest describes an all-too-common occurrence in today’s parish, in the latest edition of Commonweal:
It was a Mass celebrating a major anniversary of the parish and I was right in the middle of the homily. It was also one of those exquisite moments when the message and the congregation connected to such a degree that you could hear a pin drop. I drew another breath to begin the conclusion, and that’s when the cell phone went off. It belonged to the little old lady sitting in the first pew, in the bench designed for those who have difficulty walking. I assumed she would turn it off, but instead she actually answered it, and in that charmingly loud voice of the hearing-impaired, she said, “Yes, I’m still in church!….I don’t know….He’s still talking!”
People who are trying desperately to choke back laughter make a very distinctive sound. On that fateful morning, it was exactly that sound I heard starting somewhere in the fourth pew. I heard it—and then actually watched it—work itself halfway through the church, until it finally exploded into an all-out guffaw. My moment in homiletic heaven was history. I watched people lending tissues to each other and wiping tears from their eyes as their chuckles were winding down, and I knew the homily was over. I mumbled some non sequitur about the parish and joy and the God of surprises and returned to my seat.
Being a Sunday preacher is a scary business.
What I find more obnoxious is when the phone rings during the Eucharistic Prayer. As the priest speaks the sacred words — “This is my body…” — somewhere, without warning, a phone starts chiming, “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me…?” A few priests I know will stop the mass and refuse to continue until the phone is turned off. Others just soldier on.
Some parishes take pains to make announcements before mass — “Please silence your cell phones” — which has the unfortunate effect of reducing the Sunday liturgy to something like a night at the movies. We have small signs posted at the doors of the church, making the same request, and notices appear in the bulletin periodically, but it doesn’t seem to do much good.
At my parish a couple years ago, as the ushers were preparing to take up the second collection, there was a quiet moment and someone’s cell phone started playing the “Mexican hat dance.”
The priest, without missing a beat, said: “That’s a reminder that we’re about to pass the hat…”
They were still laughing as they headed to the parking lot.