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Crying babies in church

Q: I love children, and I know that babies will cry at inopportune times. That said, I am puzzled at the young parents in our parish who allow their children to cry loudly in church for extended periods of time.

I tend to believe that it might be part of our American culture of "freedom." But freedom comes with responsibility; in our church of 700 congregants, those three or four babies are ruining the Mass experience for all the rest of us. (Baton Rouge, La.)

A: St. John Chrysostom, more than 1,500 years ago, wrote this: "Nothing so becomes a church as silence and good order. Noise belongs to theaters, and baths, and public processions, and marketplaces; but where doctrines … are the subject of teaching, there should be stillness and quiet and calm reflection and a haven of much repose" (Homily 30 on the Acts of the Apostles).

On the other hand, Pope Francis, celebrating Mass in 2014 at a parish in Rome, said this: "Children cry, they are noisy, they don't stop moving. But it really irritates me when I see a child crying in church and someone says they must go out. God's voice is in a child's tears."

As in many things, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Congregations do have a special responsibility to welcome children, and parishioners need to be patient with small children's occasional outbursts. (As one adage has it, "Your parish is dying if no baby is crying.")  

But crying that is constant and loud can hold a congregation hostage and, as the letter writer says, "ruin the Mass experience for the rest of us." The answer lies in balance and discretion; parents need to be sensible and take their child for a "walk" when they recognize behavior that is seriously distracting.

Certainly, no celebrant should go suddenly silent, focusing attention on a disruptive child and the offending family; but perhaps an occasional bulletin announcement, prudently stated and in a kindly fashion, can remind parents that the Mass should be, as far as possible, a positive experience of prayer.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019