Heart Attack during Mass


Twice in the past 3 months a member of the congregation has had a serious illness during Mass that required paramedics. What is the proper action for the presiding priest to take? Can he halt the Mass and go pray with the patient/family?
In our case, the Mass continued as if nothing happened. It was very awkward. I had to help the sick person in one situation, the other time I was on the opposite side of the Church and did not.


Welcome to CAF. IMO, that’s cold and heartless action on the part of your Priest.


It’s a judgement call.

The priest should go over to anoint the person (if it’s so serious that it’s danger of death), but if there’s another priest available, he should be called instead.

Sometimes it’s better not to do anything because doing something only calls attention to the situation and then you have hundreds of people all rubbernecking and crowding around the victim, making it much more difficult for the responders to do their job. The fact that the priest continued the Mass was probably the best favor he could extend to both the victim and the responders—keeping people focused on the Mass as much as possible.


Thanks for the answer and it may be good to continue the Mass but I thought it would be important to stop and have us all pray for him. Can the priest leave the altar during Mass or is he forbidden, eapecially if the eucharist is present on the altar?


Fr. David, valid points. I made my comments based on the emotional side of the issue. I guess it would depend on the size of the Parish, if it was a small rural Parish were everyone knows everyone, everyone would be emotional, but if it was a large & urban Parish like I belong to, I could see a Priest continuing on with Mass,


Just to clarify, small parish, maybe 200 people in attendance. The sick person was very well known by all.
It can take 20-30 minutes to get an ambulance to our parish, but while Mass continued there was squawking from Radios, cell phone calls, audible sounds from the parishoner and he remained in the pew. Cardiac machine set up, spouse crying.
Is there a protocal?


The response of the priest is going to be partly a judgement call and partly a result of where he is in the Mass at the time of the emergency. The priest might go on as if nothing unusual is happening or he might acknowledge that there is a problem and that the parish should pray. (If the parish as a whole is paying more attention to the emergency than to the Mass it is probably wise for the priest to at least acknowledge that something unusual is happening.)

I have seen priests pause during Mass and ask if there was someone with medical expertise who could help a person in distress, ask for prayers for that person, but then go on and finish the Mass. At other times the priest has stopped and walked over to the person in distress and prayed with him. In general if the priest to going to go to the sick person it should be during a natural break between one part of the Mass and another.

We had an incident at my parish earlier this month when a diabetic choir member felt faint and the EMTs had to be called. The priest finished the Eucharistic Prayer before pausing and asking the parish as a whole to pray. We choir members did our part and sang the Mystery of Faith and the Great Amen.

It is disturbing to those who see this happening but continuing to pray the Mass and offering it up for the intentions of the ill person is best course of action for the majority of those in the Church.


Yes: attach the leads, clear any other contact, and hit the button. Every parish should have a defibrillator, and people trained to use it.

As to any other protocol, as FatherDavid96 said, it is up to the priest.


A guy had a seizure at one early morning Mass I was at.

There was commotion which I initially ignored, not knowing it was an actual problem. I’m trained in CPR and went to help when I figured out it might have been serious.

When the ambulance came and they were bringing the guy out, the priest went to the side door to pray over him, then resumed Mass. Otherwise, there was no interruption.

I read a book about Carthusian monks. One aspirant monk couldn’t handle the strain of the Carthusian way of life and collapsed while they were praying in the chapel. They didn’t interrupt it at all, and an ambulance took the aspirant monk out, presumably having been called by one of the other non-presiding monks. That aspirant didn’t make it to final vows and quit the Order; their way of life is too strenuous for most.


Was this person conscious? I’m only asking because you said the person was making sounds. I think in situations like that, it would be best to move the person out of the sanctuary if possible, if the person is able. I’m only saying that because I’m an ICU nurse and I’ve participated in emergency code situations in which we’ve literally had 20 or more people crowd the patient, the patient’s room, and our unit hallway. I just want to say from my perspective when I have seen such a large crowd present for an emergency, the entire situation becomes so much more chaotic, all of the additional people really are only there as spectators, and the event become so much more stressful and a less controlled situation.


An elderly man became unwell a few rows in front of me recently, but two ladies were immediately with him and they reclined him onto the pew, so he was lying down. The priest saw it all and as soon as he could, he quietly walked over to them, spoke to the man and said a prayer. The elderly chap stayed lying down for the rest of the Mass.

I asked the priest afterwards if the man was OK. He told me that the two ladies who went to him were an intensive care nurse and a consultant physician, so the man had been in very safe hands!


Oh, this brings back a horrible memory from several years ago. Older parishioner, couldn’t hear very well, so he sat right up front on the main aisle. Right in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer, he lets out a loud gasp, clutches his chest, and falls right into the aisle. Wife screams, the two doctors in attendance come running to the front, someone calls 911, and chaos reigns. This was in a big city, so EMTs were there in about three minutes and paramedics about 30 seconds later. So, right in front of the altar were two doctors, a gaggle of emergency personnel, about four police officers, and assorted relatives, all tending to this poor man. The priest however, was just continuing with the Mass as if nothing had happened, and in fact was stepping down from the altar to distribute the Sacrament. Problem was, there was nowhere for him to go without stepping through all the action, which he actually tried to do. One of the cops grabbed the priest (not very gently) and tossed him aside, and about that time they loaded the poor victim onto a gurney and wheeled him down the aisle and out the front door. As the sound of the sirens faded into the distance, the priest finally composed himself and continued with the Mass. The whole situation, from start to finish was probably only about 15 minutes long, but I remember every second of it like it was yesterday.

Oh…the guy who had the heart attack was back in his regular pew the following Sunday.


It happened during the Third Scrutiny. The church was packed. My people (I am an RCIA Facilitator) were right at the front and Father’s homily was focused on them, when screaming and crying erupted about 10 rows down towards the back. Father stopped what he was saying and was observing what was happening for a few seconds. Then he took some Holy Water and went to the back of the church and prayed with the family. Then he came up to the front and said that paramedics were being called, and for us to remain seated and pray for the family at this time. Around 5 minutes later the paramedics came, and assisted the family, and then Mass continued. I believe it was the perfect response by a good priest and the congregation.
A little unnerving for our people, who had just heard the gospel “Lazarus, Come Out!”

We have so many Masses on a Sunday (7) that it would be difficult to have a trained individual who knew where the defib was, but it’s not a bad idea.



I’m not sure what you would do in that situation. I do know a few years back my priest collapsed in the middle of mass. The deacon that was with him, after making sure he was alright and being tended to by parishioners went on to finish the mass with what a deacon can do and using previously consecrated hosts for communion.


The Bible tells us exactly what to do. This exact thing happened to Paul in Acts 20.

And a young man named Eu’tychus was sitting in the window. He sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer; and being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and embracing him said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. (Acts 20:9-11)

Paul knew exactly what to do. He grabbed the guy, proclaimed that he was alive, and then celebrated the Eucharist. Some translations say that Paul lay on top of the man’s body like Elijah.

Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s soul come into him again.” And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Eli’jah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. (1 Kings 17:21)

I’d like to see a priest do that. :smiley:



Curious, what part of the Mass did this happen during? I’ve heard that once the Eucharistic Prayer begins, the priest can’t stop – even if he’s the one having a heart attack…

God Bless


The Pastor can continue or choose to stop and go pray with the family. I believe most will continue, with the realization that others are providing assistance. However, I was attending Mass at our Cathedral when I and one other person got ill. We both needed an ambulance and paramedics. The Bishop stopped the Mass, invited all to prayer, and waited until we had both been taken out of the Cathedral. I think his was the best response.

I have found most Parishes to be totally lacking in a specific plan to respond to emergencies however. One time I was assisting a woman who was having a severe allergic reaction but no one, and I mean no one, would call 911. They didn’t want to disrupt the Mass or have commotion at the Church. People would do well to remember that if someone calls for a 911 call you need to do so, don’t assume anyone else has done so, and that the person asking for this and initiating first aid is in charge of the situation until those with better MEDICAL training are on scene.

In this case the woman nearly died as she went into shock. I think it wise that all Parishes investigate how to handle emergencies of this nature. And anyone who has been certified in CPR and First Aid should be seen as a person who could determine that plan’s details. If you can’t do anything else call 911, always call 911 and assume no one else has.


I know that a lot of people are thinking “the priest should stop the Mass and pray for the victim.”

Let’s think about that, please.

Should the priest pray for the victim? Yes!

And what better prayer could he possibly offer for the victim than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

It seems that people are forgetting that the Mass is prayer. :wink:


I’ve seen medical incidents happen during Mass and usually the priest has just continued on with Mass. Someone in the congregation or ushers went to help the person and the priest could see that. Usually the person with the medical issue really wants the incident to be low key and doesn’t want all the attention, so a big “prayer fest” and stopping the Mass would be counterproductive.


I wouldn’t judge or be so hard on the priest for continuing the Mass. Since the Mass is a prayer, continuing is the best way to keep people from crowding around and refocuses everyone on prayer. I’ve been to many school Masses where there were fainting, seizures, passing out and throwing up. Again, the priest continued Mass which refocused a Church full of children not on the kid who was sick and a teacher usually went to make the call for help and took care of the sick child. I fact I think I’ve seen more incidences with school Masses than even a regular weekend Mass with a church full of the elderly.

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