The priest is just about to reach the grand crescendo of his homily and then the key sentence is obliterated by an infant’s “WhaaaaaAAAAAAAAAaaaaaa!” It happens. What do you expect? These little one so recently from the womb are not the future of the Church, they are the Church. They are home. At home one must deal with such things.
That being said, Mass is not something that one can sit back and “let it happen to you.” If you really want to receive as much out of the Mass as you can, it requires an investment of your body and your mind. “Active participation” as called for by Vatican II does not mean multiplying made up ministries in order for people to “have something to do,” it means actively praying particularly when we are given the instruction, “Let us pray,” it means joining in with the prayers of the priest, it means paying attention to what is said in order to understand better. All that can be pretty difficult if you have an air raid siren going off next to your ear.
There are two ways to look at this. I am flipping a coin at the moment to see which one will go first. Just a sec. Heads – This is the view of some that screaming babies have no place at worship. We are not simply talking about fussy babies or one terrifying scream, but loud and incessant screaming. It is during these times that I know I am losing the attention of half the nave during the homily as heads are turning and faces are crumbling into annoyance. “They should go to the cry room – or the narthex!” comes the hue and cry after Mass. It is disrespectful to the rest of the community who cannot “enjoy” their Mass in peace.
There is some truth to this. If it were an adult acting like this we might be forced to call the police. And most parishes are equipped with a place for such parents and children to be so that they might still be present at Mass, but will somewhat contained the shouting.
The other is exemplified by something a priest said during a Mass when I was growing up. He told the story (that I am sure is apocryphal) that one day a child in his tiny church (St. Mary in Barberton) was screaming during the homily and the mother stood up to take the child outside. “He’s not bothering me,” said the priest. “I know,” the mother replied, “You’re bothering him.”
The priest exemplifies the idea that little ones such as these are part of who we are. “Let the children come unto me,” and all that. It is a sign of life in a parish. That is what it is to be a family. “Cry unto the Lord!” That these little ones are among us is a great homily in and of itself.
And cry rooms are not (usually) all that great. Unfortunately some people use them as a sick room. Studies show that many germs are passed on in these small confined spaces. Others use it as a play room which is terribly distracting. I recently heard that at one particular Mass we have certain persons making use of the cry room to escape the air-conditioning and are not particularly welcoming to persons with crying babies interrupting their quiet (and warmer) Mass.
So what do we do? I definitely vote down the Cherrios solution (as does our cleaning staff.) Of course there has to be some give and take on both sides. It’s largely about being part of the family. Families are sloppy conglomerations of people whose standards vary widely. It’s the best of families that grant each other wide tolerance while hopefully trying to look out for the sensibilities of others.