US Catholic Faith in Real Life

For crying out loud: What should we do with noisy children at Mass?

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

I never really paid much attention to babies making noise in church--that is, of course, until I had one of my own. But now that my nine-month-old daughter attends Mass with me on Sunday mornings, I am much more aware of the sounds that children add to the liturgy, especially when they're coming from my own pew.

It is rare that my daughter actually cries in church. Her sounds are usually more like joyful noise--a squeal now and then, a string of baby talk. But it can be loud, and perhaps it could be disruptive to others around us. In fact, I’m sure it is bothersome to at least a few people, who let me know how they feel by turning around and giving a look that suggests we committed a cardinal sin by even setting foot in church that morning with our child.

As it turns out, those folks are more than happy to take to the Internet to explain their lack of patience for having babies at Mass. Deacon Greg Kandra recently hosted some rather fierce debate on his blog between those who are greatly troubled by noisy children at Mass and the parents who feel they have a right to worship and to bring their kids to church with them. Other bloggers joined the conversation and continued to find very heated arguments on both sides.

What I found comforting was the advice posted by Dr. Greg Popcak, executive director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. Popcak argues that not only do babies have a right to be in church, but it is the duty of both the parents and the community to support raising faithful children, which means bringing them to Mass every week, even if they can't sit still for an hour. He also contends that the dreaded cry room should be seen only as a last resort--a reassuring fact for those who aren’t fans of the parenting equivalent of a penalty box.

I realize that my paranoia about disturbing the worship of others is probably far greater than the actual distractions that my daughter might cause. And in fact, this past Sunday a parishioner sitting behind us remarked after Mass how well behaved our daughter was; a relief to me since I worry most about those sitting closest to us in the church.

I fully understand that people want to focus their attention on the liturgy and not be distracted by noises in the church, and I am just as quick to get annoyed when someone's cell phone starts ringing in the middle of the homily. But what I cannot understand is the intolerance of Catholics, a pro-life community, toward fellow parishioners who are trying to raise a family that attends Mass together each week. Turning toward someone with a noisy baby and giving them an angry glare might successfully convince them to take the baby out of the church, but it also might mean that family won't want to return for a long time, if at all. Is that really the message we want to send?

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