Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The pope's one weird trick to get families to come to Mass together

Okay, the headline was inspired by Mark Shea's posts here and here yesterday.  :)

But I knew as soon as I saw this article, we'd be having that conversation again about whether or not it's okay to bring small children to Mass and/or to nurse infants at Mass:
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis baptized 32 babies in the Sistine Chapel on Sunday and told their mothers, including one who was married in a civil service rather than in church, to have no qualms about breast-feeding them there [...]

"Today the choir will sing but the most beautiful choir of all is the choir of the infants who will make a noise. Some will cry because they are not comfortable or because they are hungry," he said in a familiar, relaxed tone to the parents.

Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel are some of the world's most celebrated works of art. The ceiling depicts the creation of man and the altar wall shows a severe God at the Last Judgment. But the pope told the mothers not to feel intimidated by the surroundings.

"If they are hungry, mothers, feed them, without thinking twice. Because they are the most important people here," he said, speaking in the same room where he was elected on March 13 as the first non-European pope in 1,300 years.

Francis said in an interview last month that mothers should not feel uncomfortable breastfeeding during his ceremonies.

Okay, let's get this out of the way: Pope Francis was not speaking ex cathedra, so it's not positively required that mothers take babies to Mass and breastfeed them there.  But  I can't exactly blame the Quartermaster for his exuberance:

Did Pope Francis suggest that babies who were loud or disruptive should be removed to the Sistine Chapel Cry Room? [Hint: there isn't one.]


Instead, he invited mothers to nurse their babies. In the Sistine Chapel! The Pope told mothers to have “no qualms about breast-feeding them there.” In his 300-word homily, the Holy Father was quoted: “Today the choir will sing but the most beautiful choir of all is the choir of the infants who will make a noise. Some will cry because they are not comfortable or because they are hungry,” he said. “If they are hungry, mothers, feed them, without thinking twice. Because they are the most important people here…

According to the Vicar of Christ, Supreme Pontiff, Servant of the Servants of God, His Holiness Pope Francis, the most beautiful choir of all is the choir of infants who make noise. Of course, this should not be a surprise, in light of Our Lord’s own words, to “Let the children come to me, do not prevent them.” 

Case closed. Children don’t belong in Cry Rooms, and neither do you!
I don't go quite as far as the Quartermaster--there are times when the Cry Room can be a relief to a young family struggling to teach several young children to sit still and behave at Mass.

But I am a big proponent of children being brought to Mass.   And as a former nursing mom I can state emphatically that those who believe nursing babies can be put on a strict schedule so they won't ever need to eat during Mass, or will happily take a bottle instead of nursing, etc. are people who have never breastfed a baby.  I think it is possible to nurse discreetly anywhere, even at Mass, and that "nurse discreetly" doesn't necessarily mean, "cover your shoulder, nursing equipment, and baby's entire body with a heavy blanket when it is 110 degrees outside in a Texas summer and the a/c in church has only produced the weakest accidents of cooling without any substance."  I think most nursing or former nursing moms would agree with me.

To me, the endless debates about whether children should set foot in church until they are old enough for First Communion or old enough to vote or something are a kind of proxy for something else.  And that something else is the reality that our culture has been experiencing the slow but relentless disintegration of the family, such that it is actually possible to live for long periods of time without any small children around, both at that stage of life when you are a young adult and not yet married and again when your children are grown but haven't married yet and there aren't any grandchildren.  We forget how abnormal this is.  In many other ages, people were surrounded by children, if not their own, then those of extended family, neighbors, fellow parishioners and friends.  And something happens when you are surrounded by small children: you get used to them.  You get used to their noise, their fidgets, their charmingly simple ways of expressing their immediate needs regardless of the circumstances, and so on.  Thus, when the toddler two benches over from you crawls commando-style toward you under the benches in the zero point three five seconds his parents were distracted by his baby sister, you don't freak out or head after Mass to the blogosphere to complain about how "your Mass" was completely ruined by those selfish parents who think the world revolves around them (and you don't notice the irony, either).  You just smile, and if you know the kid and his parents you extract him from under the bench and hand him back, and if you don't, you turn around and point to him so they know he hasn't left the building and can come and get him.  Simple, right?

It should be, anyway.  But we often make it harder than it needs to be.


Deirdre Mundy said...

The whole issue for me is that ADULTS can 'ruin' Mass just as well as babies can-- that guy who coughs? That lady who warbles enthusiastically off-key? That person who forgot to turn off their cell phone ringer? The guy who was farting all through the Eucharistic Prayer???

If we reserve the right to demand that no one who might irritate us ever set foot in a church, we'd be going to Mass alone. Heck, sometimes the PRIEST HIMSELF is irritating... better ban him too!

We bring our kids to Mass except when they're sick. And with the toddler, we do err on the side of caution when she has a cough or snot, because the older parishioners WILL insist on shaking her hand, even when it's just been up her nose, and we don't want to kill anyone.

BUT... we go to a parish where people are excited to see the next generation....

eulogos said...

This almost makes me like this Pope. I am really a Benedict type, but as a mother of many breastfed infants, this really gets to me where I lived for so long. I say hooray!

Susan Peterson