Sunday, June 2, 2019

A via media on kids crying in Church

This is a completely fallible take on kids crying in Church.

In the discussion (a new round always exploding into existence on social media when word spreads of another bulletin article or pulpit comment), there are two large camps:

Camp 1 - "There should not ever be a sound at Mass" and

Camp 2 - "The Church is dying in the West, so we should always be grateful for all the noise that every child makes in Church, and Jesus said "Let the children come to me" so it might even be a good thing to keep a crying child in Mass"

As the oldest of 11 children I spent most of my teenage years as part of a family that was always retreating to the cry room, and I even sometimes took a sibling out to the play ground if my parents asked me to because they were taking another kid to the cry room and breaking up a fight between two other siblings.  I spent most of my life watching my parents heroically try to herd us and keep us quiet for an hour, and I spent most of my life watching my Mom make a beeline for the cry room (a lot of Masses she just went straight there before Mass even started!). 

My point in all this - I am DEFINITELY not in camp 1

But there does seem to be a trend over the last decade or so where some people think that every instance of a child crying/making noise in Church is a GOOD thing.  I am DEFINITELY not in camp 2 either.

So I'd suggest a middle road - a recognition that anyone who thinks there can't be any noise at Mass needs to relax, and at the same time a recognition that sometimes children need to be taken outside or taken to the cry room.

Broadly speaking, let's look at the scenarios. 

1) Babies crying - of course a baby is never at fault for any noise they make.  But parents should also know that all of us are genetically hard-wired to be on edge when a child is crying.  And so when an infant is crying, we all notice it and can't truly focus on anything else.  At Mass, I continue praying the prayers but I (and everyone else) are definitely also thinking, instinctively, "I should be doing something to help this child...what is wrong".  We also immediately start to move on when we hear the crying infant being carried out of Church.  Not because we think "FINALLY!  I can pray again and that nuisance is gone" but because my instinctive desire to help the child calms down when I can tell myself "someone is doing something to help the child, I can move on.  He or she is okay."

Jesus: "Let the children come to me"
Everyone: "Jesus, speak up.  We can't hear what you are saying!"

2) Babies making baby noises - When I was in the seminary in Rome, most of our masses were 250 20-30 year old seminarians.  One day, a seminarian's sister stopped by with her young family.  Her baby was making the occasional baby noises (cooing, the occasional exclamation as the child began to notice and enjoy the echo of the Church, etc.) and for all 250 of us it was like being visited at Mass by a choir of angels.  Everyone at Mass LOVED the sounds, and it was one of my favorite Masses in Rome.  We all smiled and could appreciate it because the child wasn't CRYING.

3) Toddlers - This is also a tough one.  Any rational person understands that a three year old isn't going to be perfectly silent for an hour.  But again, I think there's a gray middle ground.  Some tips:

Tip 1: My Mom told me that the best advice she got was from a priest in a homily who suggested "quiet toys".  A plastic truck being banged up against a wooden pew over and over again is eventually going to pull most people away from prayer. 

"Timmy, you are 8.  Do you still need to shoot off your cap gun and play cops and robbers at Church and build a fort?"

Tip 2: I loved that my parents, on the way home from Mass, always broke down "game film" (like good coaches) with the toddlers and kids in our family ("Stephanie, you did a great job today at Mass of not making noise and behaving, we're very proud of you!" or, more often, "Dave, you were making a lot of noise today, what happened that you weren't able to behave?" and, as we got older, "Bill, you are 7, why were you squeezing your brother's hand in a death grip during the Our Father?").

"You are older and should know better.  No coffee and donuts this week and no video games today"

Walk your kids closer to silence and continually talk over your expectations, and, as they get older, reinforce those expectations with donuts or other rewards/punishments!

In summary - if a baby is making the occasional baby noise, awesome.  If a baby is crying, they should be carried out.  Young children should be coached and molded into proper behavior at Mass.

Thanks to all the parents who make the huge and tremendous sacrifice of raising children.  We all know it is really hard, and we admire you greatly.  You are awesome!


  1. Would you please consider inviting a senior member of the congregation for her take on this conversation? Not senior as in older than you, but senior as in church leader.

  2. Very well said, Fr. Hollowell. It is an act of charity when parents take their crying children out of the nave. It's also ridiculous when children who are old enough to know better are allowed to act and play like they're at their own house during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

  3. A very well balanced article on which I agree whole heartedly.