Thursday, May 24, 2012


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.


Karen said...

I think parents of babies and toddlers who cannot be quiet during Mass need to keep in mind that they will have to remove their screaming crying child from the church or to a crying room at times. I have an infant and I could not have been more annoyed at the Easter Vigil when the woman next to me let her grandchild scream throughout THE. ENTIRE. MASS. while people around her tried to calm the child. She could have simply taken her out for a few minutes to calm her, but she chose instead to just let her carry on. It was horribly distracting and people who were there were talking about it for a couple weeks after.

We won't use the crying room after dealing with the irreverent zoo like atmosphere in our previous parish's crying room. If our baby cries and cannot be silenced within half a minute, we simply remove her to the narthex until she is calm.

Pat said...


Regarding the anecdote about the priest "bothering" the baby--I heard the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in one of his "Life is Worth Living" episodes, tell that story about himself as being the priest in question.

Baron Korf said...

It doesn't help that many people see the Cry Room as the play room. They take the kid in there at the beginning of Mass, often with a few toys, and just let them go for it.

melody said...

Ah yes, Baron... I have often thought (and noted to my husband) that "cry rooms are the place where little ones go to learn to behave badly at church."

I love your thoughts, Father. Family life is messy. And we do need to learn to be considerate, flexible, lighten up, and buckle down. There's no perfect formula and it just takes a WHOLE lot of love... from all parties.

One more thought... at my parish, there is an erroneous idea circulating among young mothers that fussing babies and toddlers are a good enough reason to miss the Sunday obligation week after week. They truly believe that this dispenses them. I think these moms would feel a lot braver about coming to mass if they weren't frowned at every time junior makes a peep. Even a great mom is going to have rough days. Related reading:

Anonymous said...

Father, you are a terrific drama writer. You should do that seriously . . . . make a lot of big bucks.

rmk sr

Kate J said...

Gift of God, definitely. But I've had a variety of experiences with a variety of my 8 kids over the years. Some were pious babies, being prayerfully quiet, and kneeling, sitting, standing appropriately at less than 2 years of age. I cannot take credit - they just came that way. Others (one girl and one boy, 9 years apart) were a holy handful all the way up to their First Holy Communions.

My husband and I became adept at eyeing our quick escape routes, altho sometimes we could not get out of there fast enough to avoid a "look"! Once we got a mention from the pulpit (cringe). Usually walking a loud baby back and forth, just outside the doors did the trick. One time a kind elderly lady gave us a bag of Fr. Lovasik books to help the young one focus on godly things during Mass. And then, the occasional unsolicited compliment ("Oh, what lovely children -I can see you know how to behave at Mass!") helped those kids stay in line.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to see this post, as I was curious on your opinion of the situation. My little angel just LOVES the way his voice echoes in our beautiful St. Sebastian's church. I always end up feeling awful when we get "the looks". So I trudge back to the cry room where yes, kids are having play time, it's hotter than the Sahara, and I might as well watch a movie of the MASS from the 1920s (that lacks the captions, because I cannot hear a THING!)! It's disheartening. How and when can I teach my son to be a part of the congregation, to worship, to be reverent? Is it that one day at a certain magical age that my son will just know how to behave? I want him to experience the mass and grow up just knowing that being reverent, observing, and taking part in the mass is the norm. BUT THAT TAKES SHOWING HIM HOW!!! My sister says she just brought her kids in with the rest of the congregation and looked straight forward, quietly showing her children how to be in church through example and reminders. No one can expect a child to stand stock still and look straight forward for 60 seconds (let alone 60 minutes), but its definitely a possibility to teach them to reverently and respectfully take part in the mass as much as their highly energetic, wonderful selves can. It just takes time and patience from all parties involved. If I was a bystander, I would not mind a few peeps, gah gahs, and "AH!"s (<as my son absolutely LOVES to do, so he can hear the "AH Ah ahs" reverberated back to him). I would, on the other hand, mind if an incessantly screaming banshie baby was not taken back to the cry room. It's a social conundrum. What to do, what to do?

Bearess said...

I have heard the theory that sitting close to the front has a dual benefit: It allows the child to be close enough to see the "action" of the Mass and become interested in it, and it puts the child on a more intense behavioral watch because that's where the really focused worshipers are. But when your kid goes up like a ten-penny rocket in the middle of Mass, that theory could really bite you in the bum when said focused worshipers have to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the thoughts they were thinking about what they'd like to do to him. One doesn't like to be an occasion of sin to others!

I, for one, never use the cry room except to feed a hungry infant who just can't make it through Mass. It's almost like a reward to a toddler not to have to be quiet and to have a giant bin of toys to play with. I'd rather take her out and remonstrate with her.

Thank you for your thoughts, Father. It's refreshing to hear where a priest stands rather than to receive the smirk/grimace that accompanies the standard, "They're all part of God's family!" I've never thought that answered the question! At least, not honestly!

Elena LaVictoire said...

The thing about the cry room at St. Seb - is it has no door. Not even a half door. AND it has a step. As a mom who has had 6 individual children back there at one time or another I can say that it always made me very nervous - they will either not negotiate that step well, fall and scream... or they will manage the step handily and then raise holy heck in the vestibule when they discover they have gotten free!

The only sane solution we found was to just let the toddlers walk and explore in the vestibule and outside and sometimes in the basement. Parents should probably just resign themselves to losing a year or two of total mass participation per child.

Now four of the six sing with the parish choir - so I guess something worked itself out in the end.