Thank you for posting my questions; I really do appreciate it, as do a few of my priest-friends who are also wondering what more they have to do to get parents to take disruptive babies & young children out of Mass.
The comments really saddened me. I have worked as a DRE for all age levels, & am working on my master’s degree in theology. My husband & I also have 6 children, ages 15-27, so we have a fair amount of experience with kids at Mass.
What most saddened me were the comments by clergy & laity alike saying that disruptive children belong at Mass. It seems that we’ve forgotten what the Mass really is–the worship of God, the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. It is not meant to be a place to socialize children. They should be prepared to join the worship of God along with the rest of congregation. It is not a place to be oogling the newest baby or be waving at kids who are antsy.
People like to say that because the Church encourages couples to have children that we are obligated to have babies & young children at Mass. It seems to be that when Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” He wasn’t teaching in the synagogue!
Yes, parents have a duty to raise up their children in the faith. But, before they have the ability to participate in the Mass & have a basic understanding of what the Mass is about, they belong at home. It isn’t fair to expect them to behave beyond their age level.
Babies & young children have almost no attention span, & need to be moving around. It isn’t fair to them or the adults who’ve come to Mass to participate in parish Masses to be constantly distracted by crying, screaming, banging toys, etc. That’s what happens in day care centers.
I appreciated the few comments by adults who agree with what I’ve said. When we had babies & toddlers who couldn’t handle Mass, my husband & I split-shifted. He’s always attended daily Mass; Sunday Mass was my one chance to worship Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Our pastor told us one evening when he was at our house for dinner–he came over frequently because all our kids (& my husband & I!) loved him–he enjoyed walking in for 7:30am Mass on Sundays & seeing me sitting quietly in prayers, completely at peace–”She always looks so peaceful, like she’s already in heaven!” He understood. I was with Our Lord!
When a mom has babies & young children, that is the time to develop a very deep inner prayer life that will carry her through the rest of her life. It is the time to be available to your kids, to play Mass at home so they can learn about it. To invite priests & religious brothers & sisters to your home, to visit religious good stores, to take opportunities to introduce your kids to the faith on their level. My husband would take our kids to Saturday morning Mass once they were able to sit still while reading or playing a game for at least 30 minutes, usually around age 4+ yrs. Sunday Mass began when they entered kindergarten.
All of our kids are practicing our faith. All of them know it well enough to defend our faith in high school & college classrooms, at work, to friends, in the newspapers, etc. We receive many favorable comments from priests & friends about the apologetics work our kids do. They’ve learned their faith through family discussions as they were growing up. We homeschool for religion.
Kids remember nothing of their religious instruction before age 5 or so. They remember the fun things they did like playing Mass, role playing the gospel readings, etc. They’ve always enjoyed being at Mass because they never were forced to sit through it before they were able. Young children learn best through fun activities & that’s what we, as Catholic parents, provided. But, Mass is not “a fun activity,” & should never be reduced to that.
Thanks for reading this long post, Deacon Greg. I guess, after sacrificing for so many years, I feel like I’ve paid my dues & am entitled to be at Mass without being forced to leave or not come because of the crying & screaming.
Several things strike me about this letter.
The first is that originally the letter writer was talking about screaming babies at a Saturday Mass, and now she's taking the position that children under the age of 5 don't belong at Mass, period, and if people would do things right and "pa(y) their dues" as she did, she wouldn't have to be bothered by anyone else's children.
The second is that she seems to think that we can't worship God properly if noisy children are present. She even brags about her own past level of peacefulness at Mass on Sunday morning which was for "her," since she left her husband and children at home, and seems to think that this level of peacefulness is the right of every Catholic at Mass on Sunday. Both of these things seem "off" to me; even saints had to "offer up" the noisy tooth-clicking or rustling of the other nuns in the pew at Mass, so I tend to think that the original letter writer has an unrealistic view of humanity.
The third is that she has worked as a "DRE" (Director of Religious Education) for all age levels and is getting her master's degree in theology. I have to wonder whether she told the parents of the children she was instructing that they ought not to be bringing the children's younger siblings to Mass on Sunday? I wouldn't be surprised, as I've encountered officious and wrong-headed DREs before.
The bottom line here is that this woman chose to keep her own children at home on Sundays (or, apparently, to make her husband do so; she says he was allowed to go to daily Masses when the children were small) until they were approximately five years old, and so she seems to think that this is the "right" way for Catholic mothers to handle the vexing question of what to do on Sunday mornings when the youngest children are not ready for kindergarten yet. The reality that this simply would.not.work for a great many Catholic families and that it is not in the least what the Church requires does not appear to have occurred to her at all.
I've known of young families who encountered this sort of attitude at the parish they attended for whom this was the last straw that led them out of the door of the Catholic parish and into a nearby Protestant fellowship. Their view was simple: the Church does not allow artificial birth control, permits NFP for good reasons but otherwise encourages large families and generous welcoming of children--and yet Sunday after Sunday they were frowned at, scolded for bringing the kids, glared at if a teething infant squawked for 2 seconds, told to sit in the cry room, lectured about their children's behavior, and made to feel like they were truly unwelcome at Mass, to the point where the bitterness of it all was interfering with their relationship with Christ. I myself experienced this--when the girls were little we were driving over an hour each way with three children under the age of three to attend Sunday Mass, and the pastor was a very nice and encouraging sort but the congregation would stare with sour faces if we dared to sit anywhere but the cry room. Our decision to move away from North Carolina was partly motivated by the ugliness we encountered week after week at Mass, in fact; I wanted to raise my children Catholic, and could see that we were going to get absolutely zero help at the parish level until the children were seven or so. That health issues would mean those three, so close in age, would be our only ones wasn't yet known to us. But I don't think "Oh, I paid my dues! I deserve a quiet Mass each week!" Instead, I LOVE babies at Mass and always go out of my way to tell the stressed young moms what a great job they are doing. They don't hear that out in the culture; they get treated like "breeders" whose kids just aren't welcome anywhere--and do we really want Mass to be one of those places where kids aren't welcome?
So all I see when I read this woman's letter is the sad reality that lots of Catholics in America today really do think children don't belong at Mass. At all. Until they're at least five or six years old, and have to start showing up for those two-year First Communion prep classes. Is it any wonder why so many of their parents bring them for those, and then the whole family disappears again until it's time for Confirmation? If we make the Mass an "adults only" club, we shouldn't be surprised if families get the message and go away.