Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Crying rooms in churches: a terrible idea

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Adults and children kneel for the Consecration at the St Catherine's Trust Summer School
Last weekend's Catholic Herald carried an article by me about 'crying rooms', spaces sealed off with soundproof glass intended for noisy children and their parents.

I was inspired to write it by realising that the notion of excluding children from the rest of the congregation, or even from Mass entirely, was an idea with a following among not a few conservative and traditionally-minded Catholics. It is a reaction against the experience of chaotic liturgy where children are allowed to wander around, perhaps even into the sanctuary, which I suppose is more associated with a 'progressive' liturgical attitude. The thought would be: if we want a well-ordered, reverent liturgy, we need to get the small children under control; since we can't rely on parents to do this, we should bundle them into a separate space where they won't spoil things for everyone else.

This is short-sighted, however: as I explain the article, children won't learn to behave if shoved into a room where they can behave as badly as they like, and their parents won't learn to discipline them in that context either. Neither the parents nor the children will experience the atmosphere of the liturgy, and both are left with the impression that they are not truly welcome.



I have noted on this blog that another element in the anti-child mindset is the idea that children won't get anything out of the liturgy anyway because the liturgy has to be grasped intellecually in order to have any effect on the worshipper. This, of course, is absurd; indeed I fancy that few people who are influenced by this idea would actually agree with it when set out in black and white. But if it is false, then obviously children, and indeed infants, will benefit from the sacraments and blessings of the liturgy, which is of course why we get babies baptised.

Here's the beginning of the article.

To many people disturbed by children making a noise during Mass, “crying rooms” must seem like an answer to prayer. The children can just go in there, and the problem is solved.

Things look rather different from a parent’s perspective, however. If your noisy child goes into a crying room, with other noisy children, then you have to go as well, and quite probably your other children with you. The problem of the disturbance hasn’t actually been solved: it has been alleviated for most members of the congregation, and made much worse for others. If you haven’t had the incomparable experience of screaming babies in a confined space, you should try some long-haul flights in the holiday season.

Read it all there.

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14 comments:

  1. I read somewhere that in the past, the judgment was:
    (1) Reverence for the liturgy demands removing disruptions.
    (2) Small children whose parents are unable to keep them quite should not be present at the liturgy unless/until they can be disciplined.
    (3) If these small children have no one to look after them at home, the mother or whoever else will remain home to care for them is not obliged to attend mass.

    Whether that was truly earlier practice or not, what is the sense in discussing this issue without beginning from whatever the historical practice? It does not matter how many feelings may be hurt by the suggestion that many mothers should remain home with their children: what is at stake is more important, the honor due to God.

    Just because this is not something in the rubrics, doesn't mean we get to re-rationalize it without SOME reference to historical practice.

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    1. In some historical contexts young children were indeed left at home with servants or their mothers. I have discussed this in one of the linked posts.

      In brief, it is not a solution which is practical today (no servants, no choice of Mass times, etc.), and it is in fact a solution at odds with the Scripture and longer and wider tradition. Thus we find children commanded to attend liturgies in the Old Testament and commended for their para-liturgical involvment in the New. Again, in the Eastern Churches children receive Holy Communion continuously from Baptism to adulthood.

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  2. I have noticed that children at the TLM are generally quieter anyway. 1 - at High Mass or a Missa Cantata there is more to see (and often older brothers serving reverently seems to be a source of fascination for younger ones) 2 - the silent Canon appears to quieten babies (less noise from the congregation) and 3- apart from the sermon, you do not need to struggle to hear every word the priest says, so babbling toddlers are less of a distraction anyway!!

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  3. I tend to disagree with you, because it is very hard to hear the priest at a Mass in the Extraordinary Form, and a crying child would drown it out completely. This is not fair really, to others, particularly older folks who have a hard time hearing. We should remember that for older folks, any Mass could be the last one. Shouldn't they hear it?
    Children are not going to soak up the Mass if they are making noise and/or crying anyway. When they are old enough to sit quietly, which can be taught in many other venues, then they can begin to absorb. It is just being properly thoughtful to remove a loud or crying child.

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    1. As Mulier Fortis remarks, you don't actually need to hear the priest at the EF.

      Anyway, my post does not say that disruptive children should be allowed to disrupt Mass: quite the opposite. What is says is that crying rooms are the wrong solution.

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  4. For some time I attended Mass at a church with many huge families and therefore many fidgeting children and crying babies. The noise was a terrible distraction. How I wished the Churching of Women and the Mass of the Catechumens/Faithful distinction was still observed.

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  5. Well, I agree with you, at least. No problem with babes in arms nor toddlers where I am.

    I've never seen a "crying room". Of course I've encountered that abomination "children's liturgy" (not at traditional masses), which must be even worse.

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  6. How on earth did we manage in days gone by?

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  7. Not once in 50+ years of ordained pastoral ministry did I ever have anyone complain about distressed noisy children during the liturgy. Perhaps I was blest to serve in congregations where people would actually help struggling young parents achieve their goals of both contented youngsters and worshipful attentive parents?

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  8. When I attend Mass at my grandparents' parish, I am always struck by how quiet it seems compared to my own parish. Then I look around and realize there simply aren't ANY young families there. Yes, misbehaving children can be a distraction, but they are also a joyful witness to the continuation of the Church here on Earth.

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    1. Yes, 100% yes. Young children and even infants "are also a joyful witness to the continuation of the Church here on Earth." Total agreement. And, FWIW, "14 When Jesus saw this, he was angry. He said to his disciples, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t keep them away. God’s kingdom belongs to people like them." [Mark 10:14 NIRV]

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    2. Yes, misbehaving children can be a distraction

      It's the sound of the future. As in: Your parish has one.

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  9. True, we don't need crying rooms, but what we do need are parents with respect for the Mass, the celebrant and the rest of the congregation, that translates into parents who teach their children to behave accordingly. Very few people fail to sympathize with a parent with a crying baby or restless toddler if that parent is trying to impose some restraint (what's wrong with a few quiet toys, or taking them out to calm down?). Unfortunately, in the last ten years a growing number of parents bring their children to Mass and make no attempt to interest the children in the liturgy or teach them that other people have a right to hear the priest and readers. If there is one sure way to fail in passing on the faith it is to bring children to Mass and let them behave as the like because, by inference, the Mass is not worth giving any attention.

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    1. Agreed. And crying rooms make this worse because they embed the idea that you can attend Mass with your child in an atmosphere of noise and disruption.

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