Children in Church
Fr. Peter Daly
January 15, 2002
Recently I went away for a few days. It was a pleasure to have the weekend off and just to sit in the pew during mass.
I visited a parish at the shore. It is mostly a summer resort community. However, it was still quite crowded in the winter. I was early, so I went to the center of a pew to pray, mindful that others would have to fill in around me.
Pretty soon I was surrounded by young families, with little children.
The couple in front of me had a young boy about three years old. He lay on his back in the pew starring up at me. He worked his cowboy boots to slide up and down the pew on his back. Occasionally he would kick his feet on the seat, giving the wood a good thump. Except when he started kicking his feet, mom and dad seemed unaware of him.
Behind me there was a baby, perhaps 18 months old. Perhaps it was in some kind of gastric distress. About the time of the homily he (or she) began to cry. The crying turned to screaming. Screaming turned to shouts of “no, no, no!” It stopped around the post communion prayer. The parents never left, ever hopeful the baby would stop.
Hearing the distress call, other babies to answer their compatriot.
Some little ones felt less solidarity. One little boy to my right had a little toy car, which he raced up and down the pew, making a whirring noise.
A little girl, a couple rows in front of me, was having breakfast. She was diving into a baggie of Cheerios. Her grasp exceeded her bite. Half of them went on the floor where she crushed them before they could roll away.
Through all of the noise, the priest and the lectors soldiered on. But you could tell they were a bit distracted.
By communion we had a little chorus of infant screams. Various babies in various parts of the church we letting their parents know that it was time to go.
What to do?
This is the pastoral question that has no solution.
Father cannot possibly say anything from the altar.
If he asks a parent to remove a child he is an “insensitive” curmudgeon. He will hear of Jesus who said, “Let the little children come unto me.”
If he does nothing, he is ignoring the desire of the community for a prayerful atmosphere and a little peace and quiet.
We want to welcome children. We also want to pray. What to do?
I have a few suggestions.
Sit in back and on an aisle. That way you can make a quick and inconspicuous exit if your baby starts to scream. You are not praying and no one around you is praying if your child is screaming. Don’t sit in front or at the center of a pew where you must make the whole congregation aware of your exit or you will be too embarrassed to leave.
Parents can alternate masses while the children are little. Mom can leave the little ones three and under at home with Dad, or vice versa, while the other parent has a blissful hour of silence.
Some parishes have cry rooms. Use them. I find that usually they are usually too small and that no one there, baby or parent, is actually praying.
Know your child. If they are tired, leave them at home with your spouse, older children or baby sitter. If they hungry, feed them before you come to church. If they are wet, take them out to wash room and change them. If they want a bottle or pacifier, give it to them.
Hold your child. Sometimes all babies want it to be held. Pick up the baby and hold it with its fact toward yours. Rub its back. Comfort it. Little ones don’t want to alone.
If your child has a habit of throwing things don’t give him stuff. Some parents keep handing the child the toy he just threw away.
Finally, of course, we have to accept the fact that kids will make noise. It is part of parish life. We are glad they are there but parents should still be aware that others would like to hear and concentrate.