Saturday, April 20, 2013

Update on the "screaming babies at Mass" post

Deacon Kandra updated his post on the "screaming babies at Mass" question with an eye-opening letter from the woman who originally complained:
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 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.


catholic traveller said...

I totally disagree that children do not belong at Mass. I also terribly disagree with sending the children out of Mass to "Sunday school" after the readings. Amish and Mennonite families put a high priority on teaching young children to sit quietly and behave appropriately during services. Have we, as Catholics lost that? Become lazy? Shame on us!

My youngest son was born on a Sunday and began attending Mass with me the following Sunday. He has never been disruptive, or "screaming". The few times he needed quieting, I walked him to the back of the church and calmed him.

Deirdre Mundy said...

A pastor at my last church used to say:

The Eucharist is like the sun. It doesn't matter whether you're paying attention, if you're in the presence of the sun, it tans you and gives you vitamin D. Likewise, even if children are too young to comprehend the Eucharist, coming to Mass changes them.

Also, being exposed to the cycle of readings again and again, year after year, gives kids a slowly deepening understanding of the Church and her seasons.

And, again, Children are Baptized Catholics. They are part of the Church. They have as much of a right to be there as anyone else.

I take mine out when they scream, but on trips we've ended up at some hellish parishes where a baby's giggle is enough to get people forcefully directing you out to the vestibule. And, I'll Godwin it again:

You can't claim to be pro-life and then bar families with young children from the Eucharist and complain when children show up at Mass.

It's not pro-life if your attitude is "don't you dare kill your slimy, little brats, but don't you dare let them in my sight because the mere presence of them turns Mass into hell." You're not pro-life, in that case. You're just a shameless old busy-body. And last time I checked, the church believed that PARENTS, not nasty women in the next pew, were responsible for raising children in the faith.

(Ok... gotta step away. Seriously, these discussions make steam come out of my ears. And it's always the cranky parishoners. The priests seem to like kids, and often seem oblivious to the fact that families with babies are being abused.)

Wade St. Onge said...

She made some good points but when she proposed as her solution that the kids be kept home from Mass until kindergarten, she jumped the shark for me. Can't imagine which theology course she got that idea from.

B et G said...

Wow. On so many levels. I wonder if The Cure for this person maybe would be to attend either a)an Eastern rite liturgy (where teeny children are receiving Communion and also wandering around and making normal baby/child noises and this is seen as normal by the adults present), or maybe b) Spanish Mass, where there are many children and yes often screaming (and I mean screaming) children, such that an ordinary Western rite liturgy in English with the ordinary level of baby/child noises would seem like a heaven of silence in comparison? Sometimes it helps just to realize that there are different ways to look at things and do things, and our way we're used to is not necessarily The One Holy Way. It surprises me that this woman is this level of disturbed having had children of her own; I have hardly ever really noticed the sounds of children who aren't mine, though I suppose if I were to focus on the sounds, like maybe tallying them up in order to become resentful, I would become much more aware, and it might make it sort of hard to pray. Someone mentioned older people who talk to themselves (good point) and following that, I would wonder, as well, whether she would think handicapped people, like the teenage autistic son whose father brings him to daily Mass and sometimes makes quite loud unpredictable noises--I would wonder if she thinks it best if those handicapped people would be left at home, too. It sounds like babies, tiny children, the elderly and the handicapped who cannot keep the Holy Silence--none of those people are welcome at Mass according to these extra-holy standards.

Pat said...

Here are my 2 cents. Sure, there's an exception here and there, but in my experiece, as a churchgoer for over 40 years, ON THE WHOLE the screaming babies at Mass syndrome is indicative of the selfishness that parents today express throughout our society. Parents are told by the billiondollar child-rearing industry that their children deserve everything that they can give them, and these fool parents eat it up. And a direct result of that is bad behavior by the parents. In restaurants, movie theatres, subways, churches, luxury resorts, beaches, and private homes. When the 6 year old watches his screaming infant brother in church he learns that the peace and comfort and needs of adults are secondary to his needs. I do not look forward to having this generation control my government when I am aged and infirm, after their parents have taught them that I dont matter.

MaryMargaret said...

I wonder if the attitude that small children and babies do not belong at Mass would be different if the Latin church practiced infant Communion, as is done in Eastern Catholocism? I am also concerned about the argument that small children do not "get anything out of Mass". Even adults are not required to "get anything". Holy Mass is about worship of Almighty is not about me!

Deirdre Mundy said...

I went over there and read the original comments. Bah! Like your cell phone is the same as a child!

I think the fact that 'good, Mass attending' Catholics can think like this w/o irony is proof at hour far the surrounding culture of death has influenced our hearts, especially in the absence of good catechism.

Jessica Rabbit said...

What I wrote on my facebook when I shared Dcn. Greg's post: The way I see it, most parents are doing the best they can. Most parents are hyper-sensitive to the noises their children make in a public space, because of the dirty looks. Church should be a haven from all that, and it's hard enough to get the energy to take squirmy kids to church - and then when you get dirty looks/stares when your child dares to utter a peep, like a giggle or small talk, you feel even more disheartened. As someone who takes the kids to church by myself most of the time, I need Mass desperately, and I need people to give me, and other parents, a break. Kids need to be at Mass, and they have the right, as a baptized Catholic, to be there, soaking up the rays of the Son. Graces are graces, no matter the age or intellectual level of the one receiving them. Rant over.

Susan Miller said...

Thank you! You know what's really sad? When I lived in England, the parishioners were ecstatic to see my young children sitting in the front at Mass. The parishes were (are) dying where I was, so a young mother bringing her young children proved there was still life (there were no cry rooms at the parishes we attended).

Now that I'm in the US, though, I've gotten numerous comments. And from another mother! I've gotten to the point where I can usually just smile and walk away and pray, but it still grates on me. I can easily see how one would leave the Church (a friend did just that when her parish wasn't welcoming of her children; she's in England, so not all UK parishes are welcoming).

Kathleen Elsie Gibbs said...

As an Eastern Rite Catholic, when a baby is Christsmated (receive baptism & First Holy Communion)at the same time. Church is where they belong.
Sometimes we even have little ones crawl under a pew and then give us a hug. They feel safe in our Little Parish. Sunday morning is Catechism of the Good Shepherd. The children start at age 3 years and continue through High School. At a certain level the older children become Monitors and examples to the littler ones.
Sadly the people at the Saturday Evening Divine Liturgy are not as accepting. The families do not find the support and there are NO children at "their" Liturgy.
Most of those that are upset with babies and young children are those adults that were young in the 1960's and and still seem to have a "me" first attitude.
The young couples need to learn to bond with others, including their own infants. Things are changing and with support our Parish Families will bloom and learn to enjoy children instead of seeing them as a burden.

Barbara C. said...

Repeatedly, child psychologists tell us that what children absorb in the first three years of life is crucial to their over-all development. Yet, she claims that kids won't get anything out of it before age 5. Poppy cock!

My husband did not join the Church until my oldest was six. As a result she did not go to Church regularly, and it took us a couple of years to deprogram the anti-Church attitudes she had absorbed up to that point.

My #3 is almost five and knows that when the bells ring it means the bread turned into Jesus. She's known that since she was three.

My #4 is almost three, and she can spot obscure Jesus symbols that my husband has no clue about. (She noticed a chi rho on my necklace and associated it with Jesus after seeing one on the altar cloth at Mass.)

We normally get compliments on the behavior of our five kids (ages 8 months to 10 years), even though sometimes I'm not sure if the other person is joking or not. We do not send them to Childrens Liturgy of the Word, but we do bring picture Bibles for them to look through. Sometimes there are moments when I have to take the younger ones out, and we have learned that the little ones do not do well at vigil or Sunday night Masses and try to avoid those.

Sometimes we will leave the little ones home with my non-Catholic MIL, but I know that they absorb so much. For one thing they absorb the fact that this is something that Mommy and Daddy think is important and go together. Mass is normally the time when we are most united as a family.

To be honest I get much more annoyed by the bigger kids (8-14) who eat candy, take 500 bathroom breaks, or sit in the narthex and hallways on their cell phones. I just keep telling myself that as long as they are in the building they may be receiving some graces.

Red Cardigan said...

So sorry it took me so long to get these comments posted today! I've been under the weather all weekend, alas. Would have liked to have gone to Mass today! :)

Tony said...

I don't know how the comments go from "screaming kids", to "sour looks when the child utters a peep". Maybe you should put up a new post, and I will agree with you. giggling, cooing, vocalizing babies and toddlers are fine, even if it's all through Mass.

Giggling, cooing and vocalizing adults are not. And screaming people of any kind need to be removed (either by their parents, or by ambulance).

sdecorla said...

I guess I have mixed feelings on this issue. On the one hand, I don’t think that parents *should* leave their small children at home instead of bringing them to mass. For the most part, other people’s kids at mass don’t bother me. When someone else’s kid is acting up, I’m just so relieved it’s not mine. :) I also understand that doing split shifts just isn’t going to work for some families, such as in situations like yours when you only had one Catholic church an hour away.

But it seems to me in these discussions that a lot of people are saying that parents HAVE TO bring their kids to mass. I may not be bothered by other people’s kids at mass, but I am frequently bothered by MY kids at mass. We usually end up taking the kids because it works out better logistically, but I would LOVE it if I could leave the little ones with my husband and go with just my 8-year-old, or if our church had a nursery for the little ones. It seems to me that not providing cry rooms and nurseries is just making things more difficult for parents. I am certainly not saying that people with small children *have* to use the cry room or nursery, but I don’t understand why so many people don’t want them available at all. The cry room at our church is a lifesaver – I honestly don’t know if we would be able to go to mass at all without it.

It seems like I never hear from other parents who *want* these options available because it makes things easier on them, not because they think all parents should have to use them.

beadgirl said...

I found that woman's letter so disheartening. Has she even considered those parents with children with special needs? I guess those children should never set foot in a church, since they can't behave the way her children did.

Salixbabylonica said...

What always astonishes me about these discussions is where these people going to church? In my 27 years of mass attendance, I cannot recall a SINGLE TIME when a screaming baby has not been taken out. Yes, I've been to masses where there was almost constant baby noise, but it was simply because there were so many infants, and for each one you'd have a few seconds of infant wailing as the parent rushed out of the nave. As for this epidemic of "selfish, entitled parents" where is it? Have you actually personally witnessed these "selfish" incidents or have you just seem parents treating their children like human beings instead of objects to be seen and not heard?