“Please silence or turn off you cell phones in the church.” That’s a warning you hear or see in many parishes. No matter how tightly tethered we are to our electronic devices, Mass ought to be the one place where we let go of this constant connection. Yet we still sometimes hear phones ringing in the the holiest of places.
Despite the urge to turn and stare when you hear an unexpected noise in a quiet place, I recommend a more compassionate approach. There is no need to single out the person who has simply made a mistake and probably already feels terrible about it.
In recent years I’ve trained myself to do two things when I hear someone’s renegade ringtone during Mass. First, I think to myself, is that God on the line? Then I silently say a quick prayer for the person.
But I admit that it’s hard not to look. And over the years I have noticed some common traits among those whose phones ring at church. So to provide you with a little levity while many of you are back to your regular routines of work or school after the holidays, I’ll share with you my handy list of the different classifications of cell phone offenders.
With this list, the next time you hear a phone ring, beep, or play the latest pop song as a during Mass, you can think about whether the person is a Lunger, a Concealer, a Bailer, a Bumbler or an Innocent Victim.
Lunger: This is the most common type. As soon as the phone rings in church, the Lunger will immediately panic and visibly (and sometimes not quietly) lunge for wherever his or her phone is. It may be in a pocket, a purse, a diaper bag or sitting right there in the pew. The Lunger immediately realizes his or her mistake and practically dives for the phone to stop the ringing as quickly as possible. Lungers deserve credit for their rapid response, but they lose style points for causing a further ruckus in the process.
Concealer: If my phone were to ring during Mass, I would be a Concealer. That’s because Concealers try not to draw any additional attention to themselves. They realize their offense but very calmly and discreetly slide their hand down to their phone and shut it off. While the Lunger attracts additional attention by moving abruptly, the Concealer is far more covert so that perhaps nobody other than those sitting immediately nearby will know whose phone is ringing.
Bailer: The Bailer is an interesting breed. As soon as the phone rings, this person will immediately jump up in the middle of Mass and head for the door. Maybe the Bailer feels it’s quicker to duck out rather than turn off the phone. Or perhaps the Bailer is expecting such an important call that it must be answered no matter what. Another theory is that the Bailer’s phone is dug so deeply inside a pocket, purse or bag that he or she feels it would be quicker to split rather than find the phone.
Bumbler: Bumblers are an unfortunate bunch. When Bumblers hear their phones ring, they pull them out and bumble around because they aren’t sure exactly how to silence the sound. So the phones keep ringing while they fiddle with the devices figuring out finally how to turn them off.
Innocent Victim: I feel especially sorry for the Innocent Victims, and I have some anxiety that this may happen to me one day. These are the folks who are sitting next to a friend, relative or even a stranger in Mass and for whatever reason, that other person steps away for a moment, perhaps for a bathroom break or to serve as a lector or Eucharistic minister. Unbeknownst to you, the person leaves his or her cell phone near you in the pew and suddenly it starts to ring. You are the Innocent Victim because people may look at you thinking it’s your phone. Then you have a quick choice to make. Do you reach for the person’s phone and try to silence it or let it ring because it isn’t yours?
My list of five classifications seems simple enough. But it gets more complex because some of them can be combined. For example, once at a daily Mass I witnessed a rare Innocent Victim-Bumbler combo. During communion, a man made it back to his row before his wife. As he was about to sit down, her cell phone started to ring inside her purse in the pew. That qualifies him as an Innocent Victim. She got there a few seconds later and couldn’t figure out how to silence it, so it rang several times, hence the Innocent Victim-Bumbler combo name.
But that wasn’t the end of it. I need to add an additional classification, the Repeat Offender. A few minutes later, her phone rang again. Apparently she was never able to properly silence it after the first call.
At that point, if you are a Bumbler and a Repeat Offender, then it’s time to be a Bailer!