There was an article published recently about a comment made by Pope Francis on crying babies at mass. The pope said “…children cry, they are noisy, they don’t stop moving. But it really irritates me when I see a child crying in church and someone says they must go out. God’s voice is in a child’s tears; they must never be kicked out of church.”
Like any good papa the pope is spot on with this one. Since the church is addressing such topics, or should have at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, this past October, and really should at the much anticipated 2015 World Meeting of Families, in Philadelphia, and just might at next year’s synod, in Rome, then let’s talk about the critical role of children in both our own families and as part of the Universal Church. But, let’s use the KISS rule: keep it simple stupid.
At some time, I don’t remember when, my parish built a cry room. My family, thank God, never used it. That’s the place where mothers took their infants and toddlers to view the mass through a sliding glass window. The glass, supposedly, acted as a muffler so that the congregant’s ears wouldn’t be subjected to the screams of healthy lungs. I always thought of it as a visible piece of purgatory. The room was small so that the walls seemed to intensify the wailing chorus inside. I don’t know if anyone ever did a case study on this, but to me it seems that babies sometimes work in conspiratorial circles. It only takes one to start a ruckus, and then all the others take that as their cue to add to the mayhem. Kind of like when one of the altar servers begins to yawn during a certain priest’s monotone sermon. It’s a deadly contagion.
On a visit a few years back to another parish, the children, at least the toddlers, were removed from the church before the consecration. Yup, the celebrant stopped mass so all the little cherubs could follow the Pied Piper into the school for some down time. Everybody had to hug and kiss and wave at the little procession skipping to some upbeat music the organist put together until, with a collective sigh of relief, the kids were gone and we could bask in the silence of this terrible-two-less pause of the cosmos. Of course, after communion, the urchins returned with a vengeance.
Both of these solutions to a problem that really doesn’t exist were and are absurd.
Did the Infant Jesus cry? Since He was fully man as well as fully God, you bet He did. How else could He communicate His human wants and needs? When He was hungry, He cried. When He was sick, He cried. When He craved attention and just needed to nestle in His mommy’s arms, He cried. If He returned today as a baby, would we tell the Blessed Mother to take Him into the cry room or force Him to follow the Pied Piper?
And why doesn’t somebody just ask mom about all this? His mom and your mom, because moms innately know what’s to be done about such simple, common sense matters.
Case in point: my mom raised ten kids. Church on Sunday morning was absolute. Saturday night was the start of the preparations for Sunday morning. Now, stay with me, you may not at first connect all the dots. Okay, here goes.
You can’t run a ball team without discipline, so here was the routine:
#1 – Bathing. You can’t have twelve people, no matter how big or small, use one bathroom on any given morning. First off there’s never enough hot water and, second, so little time after breakfast, even if you’re trying to make the twelve o’clock mass. So, bath time would occur on Saturday night and for the young ones, two to a tub. On Sunday morning, the facilities were used before driving/walking to mass, never during mass unless there was an emergency.
#2 – Dress. I know, I know, the world has changed in the last fifty years or so. But, don’t we still dress special for special occasions? And, the example is set by the parent/s. So, spruce up. Wear what used to be called your Sunday best. Dress the young ones like they feel special. My dad used to line us up in a row and do an inspection (he was a Navy guy) checking finger nails and behind the ears for dirt, taming unruly cow licks, and insisting on a Windsor knot for ties. Mom had all the girls in curls. Money, or lack of it, is no excuse. Attending mass in sweats and hoodies is inexcusable.
#3 – Breakfast. Sunday was a celebratory day. So, we started celebrating early with mounds of flapjacks oozing with melted butter and thick-sliced bacon or sausages. Or great big omelets, or poached eggs, or cream dried beef on toast, or, in season, creamed tomatoes. And, if you reached a certain age, a cup of freshly-brewed coffee with real cream, if not, eggy-toast and juice would do just fine. And, for everybody, sticky buns smothered with butter.
For cryin’ out loud, what does all of this have to do with crying babes in church?
All of the above made Sunday special. It made it a family affair. It was an event you spent a whole week looking forward to. The culmination of which was when the Lord descended down from heaven before our very eyes. Children, even crying ones, were as much a part of church as incense at solemn mass. So, where the idea of separating infants and toddlers from the communicants came from I have no idea. But, it is not right, it is unnatural, and it should be stopped wherever it is practiced.
If an infant cries, which infants are prone to do, accept it as part of the parish-family experience. If a toddler is unruly, fidgety, cranky, or simple can’t sit still, relax, remember the child is in training. Offer it up if it annoys you. Bring a picture book of the mass and offer it to the child (do they even publish these anymore?).
Today, we need to reclaim the Sunday culture. For my parents and me it was easy, because everybody did what we did. Today, it’s hard. The culture of Sunday is gone and the pope has to remind us that our own children have a unique place at the table, the supper table of Our Lord.
As the shepherds quietly began their long walk down from the hills of Judea to a simple stable in search of a king, let’s rebuild our Sunday culture, one step at a time – one family at a time. We cannot offer, as did the Magi, gold or frankincense or myrrh, yet we can offer something much more valuable: the sweet voices of our children joined with the sacrifice of the mass.
On earth it may sound like mayhem; in heaven it’s a virtuoso.