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.
|Small children at a Baptism in SS Gregory & Augustine's, Oxford|
This is a nice meditation for people enduring the crying of children in Mass, but we wouldn't want to take this principle too far, it would lend itself to parody. Should the Church employ, not musicians to sing as beautifully as possible, but professional mourners to wail during Mass, like they did at funerals in ancient times?
I have five children of or under the age of 8, and I have therefore been responsible for the sound of wailing children to be heard at a great many Masses, Baptisms, even at periods of Eucharistic adoration, Vespers, and times when people are preparing for Confession. What parents like me almost invariably do, when a small child makes a lot of noise, is (1) try to quiet him down, and (2), if that fails, take him outside.
|Children at Mass in Holy Cross, Leicester|
|View from the choir loft at St William of York, Reading.|
This means that parents won't always take their children out of church at the first sign of trouble, and they will tolerate low levels of noise. Parents are in it for the long haul: children have to get used to being in a quiet place. Tut-tuting while this is going on is tantamount to driving the next generation of Catholics out into the street.
So a certain amount of noise is inevitable and indicates a healthy congregation, not made up exclusively of the elderly. But let's not pretend it is a good thing in itself. The liturgy uses poetry, the rhythms of Latin, music, and silence, to convey its ideas to the congregation. Like it or not, wailing children don't help. Indeed, ultimately, do they do not help other parents trying to teach their own children to behave, or to focus on the Mass. But to enjoy the butterfly, you have to endure the caterpillar.
People sometimes ask why parents bring small children to Mass at all. The simplest answer is: because you can't leave them behind. I don't think people always brought children to Mass; in former centuries people with servants left them behind; mothers had extended periods confined to the house before and after birth; people didn't expect to attend Mass as a family. I've even heard of children being banned from Mass in some places, in the 18th Century, and I was surprised to read of the young St Therese of Lisieux asking her older sisters what the sermon was about when they got home from Mass. (She could talk: but she didn't yet go to Mass.) Well, that's not how we live now, and nor can we. If you want to go regularly to Mass, and you have children, you have to take them with you. This does have the advantage of giving them a chance to absorb the liturgy in a profound way, if they are also being catechised and encouraged to behave well and pay (at least some) attention. As the Jesuits used to say, 'Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.'
Wishing everyone a peacful Easter Saturday!