It is not uncommon today for parents to feel awkward about bringing young children to Mass. If, when they are in the church, the toddlers or infants begin to fuss and cry, the parents often struggle to quiet their little ones before other parishioners become annoyed. Many parishes now have cry-rooms to segregate these noisy kids from the rest of the Christian community.
For me, as a priest, the sound of crying children calls to mind the mystery of the sacrifice of the Mass.
Children, crying at church
Happily, many parishioners and priests recognize that the sound of young children is the sound of the future of the Church. What a joy it is to hear children at Mass! If the Church is pro-life, how can we possibly be upset by the presence of an infant?
And, if any should respond that he would be happy to welcome quiet babies but not noisy ones, I reply that his love is a matter of words only, since quiet babies hardly exist. In any case, we must love the child in our midst, not merely the “perfect” child who exists only in our mind.
Certainly, parents need to teach their children, and discipline them (in all meekness and clemency). Parents must instruct these little ones in how to pray during Mass.
Still, one can hardly expect that infants and toddlers would be anything other than noisy and distracted. There is no sin, nor even slight fault, in an infant crying at Mass. But there is sin in the adult who, in his heart, passes judgment on that child’s parents.
And, while I personally am opposed to cry-rooms (how can we justify expelling children who have committed no fault?!), I suppose that they do give some parents at least a bit of relief when things get out of hand. So, if a parent wants to make use of a cry-room, that is his prerogative; but I am convinced that it is a sin for another to judge a parent for not making use of the infants’ ghetto.
What to think when children cry during Mass
“But Father,” you say, “the kids cry so loud, I can’t stand it!”
I reply: There are several things one can consider when we hear children crying. They are the future of our parish. Their noisy cries call to mind the inaudible lament of the souls in purgatory, for whom we ought to pray. Such noises teach us patience. And so forth.
But I will show you a yet greater way.
Mary wept at the foot of the Cross
When you hear a child crying during Mass, let the sound of those tears call to mind the mystery of the Cross. The Holy Mass is, of course, one with the true sacrifice offered by Christ once for all upon the Cross at Golgotha. The Mass is a sacrifice, it is the Cross.
Consider: Who was weeping at the Cross? And who was insensitive to those sounds of weeping?
When St. Thomas Aquinas chronicles the torments which our Savior suffered in his ignominious Passion, the Angelic Doctor ends with the following pain, which was most grievous of all:
“Christ suffered in all his bodily senses: […] in sight, by beholding the tears of his Mother and of the disciple whom he loved.” [ST III, q.46, a.5 (here)]
Let the sound of toddlers and infants weeping (and even wailing) call to mind for you the tears shed by the Sorrowful Mother of our Savior, and by St. John the Beloved. Can you hear the wailing of St. Mary Magdalene, she who was overcome with grief? Consider also the other devout women, who wept strait through from Friday till early Sunday morning.
Think even of poor St. Peter, far away now, weeping alone – having betrayed the Lord whom he loved, more even than all the others.
Who did not weep, but instead scoffed at the mourners
And who was it that did not weep? The soldiers … ignorant, and brutal. The crowd … fickle and unloving. The priests, scribes and Pharisees … filled with hate.
Of these, it was the Jewish authorities more than the others who took offense at the noise of those who wailed and wept. These ones, righteous in their own estimation, had not even the charity to be touched by the tears of the Blessed Mother.
And how can I, or any, cast a spiteful glance in the direction of a crying child (or his parents)? How can I, or any, wish these children to be exiled from my presence? Am I, or you, so holy as to be above charity?
For the love of our Savior, let the sounds of these crying children call these thoughts to mind. From the lips of babes, our Lord has found praise – and we will have been instructed in the sublime mystery of the Cross.
And I, being a rough little fellow …
I am reminded of a phrase from the heroic St. Josemaria Escriva – though he was speaking of that other event in Jesus’ life which mystically foreshadowed his death (namely, when his Mother and St. Joseph lost him at the age of twelve, and found him in the Temple on the third day).
The Founder and Father of Opus Dei speaks to each of us individually and says,
“Mary is crying … And you … And I. Being a rough little fellow, I cry my eyes out and wail to heaven and earth, … to make up for the times when I lost him through my own fault and did not cry.
“You and I are united in misfortune and grief, as we were united in sin. And, from the depths of our being come sighs of heartfelt sorrow and burning phrases, which the pen cannot and should not record.”
Every time I celebrate Mass, I pray that God will allow a little child to cry – lest I should ever lose sight of the mystery which I am consummating.
NB. I would ask that all comments have at least a pseudonym attached (even if only at the end of the comment itself).