Mr. Father: Tear down that wall! The curse of cry rooms

Until I was about 7, I went to a parish that had a “cry room.” In my youth, I thought it a neat idea. This way, children could be loud during Mass. When I was old enough, I graduated from the cry room to sit with the rest of the people. When I was 7, my family moved, and we changed parishes. This new parish, built long ago and with old Spanish architecture, lacked any such accommodation.

Fast-forward to my life as an adult. For a few years, I volunteered at a parish that had a cry room. As an adult, I noticed something. The cry room provided little more than a free-for-all for people to arrive late and for parents to teach their children (of all ages) to ignore the Mass. Basically, the cry room turned into a big playground attached to the body of the church.

I read an entry over on CatholicMom.com and reposted on aleteia.org about the difficulties of attending Mass with little ones. I loved the entry! I was finally prompted to write this blog entry after seeing some of the vitriol that was spewed in the comments box over on aleteia.org (even though it’s taken me months to actually get around to publishing my thoughts). I have to admit I’ve been the one annoyed with and the one smiling at the little ones at Mass – sometimes at the same time. However, these little ones are also part of the people of God.

Let me give you my thesis statement and make my English teacher proud: If there are no babies murmuring in Church, if there is never a cry heard, the parish is not dying but dead.

I think that the solution of incorporating cry rooms into church architecture where parents can attend Mass with their little ones without disturbing the pious and holy worship that is happening in the main body of the church is absurd. How can we think that the way to worship properly is to exclude (or segregate) part of our community, part of the Body of Christ (if they’re baptized, they are incorporated into the Body of Christ)? One commenter over at aleteia.org actually said as much – that “Mass is act of worship by adults (and young adults) who understand the meaning of what they are doing.” That’s crazy!

I should be clear, now, that I am also not in favor of children going crazy and making noise through the entire Mass. It is the job of the parents to discipline children and teach them to behave. But we are human; we aren’t perfect. There will be times when it’s a little too much for a couple of parents – or one parent – to control. I was told recently of a solution that I think is ingenious: a “calming room.” This parish has taken the space that would be the “cry room” and dubbed it (and put up signs to identify it) as a calming room. It is a room for parents to bring the kids when they start crying and screaming. That way, the parent has a place that is not already filled with children running wild to take the little one to calm them down and get them back into the nave. The calming room is a temporary measure to use as necessary, not an asylum (in either meaning of the word).

Let me address those of you who might be the annoyed adult dealing with some unruly kids in front of you (or beside you). Perhaps a better solution than giving the stink eye to the kids or the parents would be to lend a hand. See if there’s a way you can quietly make the parents’ lives easier at Mass. Let me tell you from my perspective as a cleric, too, the orchestra of children’s voices during Mass is not a distraction. It doesn’t ruin my ability to pray or corrupt my homily. To the contrary, it reminds me that the whole Body of Christ is present.

Let me tell you a story to end this. This one event has done a lot to shape my opinion of the little ones as part of our society. I suspect few have heard of her, but there’s a folk and blues singer my father introduced to me named Odetta. If you haven’t heard of her, I highly recommend you click her name to see an amazing video of her singing when she was 91 years old (about 6 months before she died).

I was lucky to stumble on an announcement about 10 years ago that she was performing in St. Petersburg, Florida. You better believe I went – and was the youngest there by far. After the concert, walking out to my car, I was chatting with a guy who told me of the first time he saw her perform. Apparently, there was a lady with a baby in the audience. Everyone (people being what they are) was giving her dirty looks. Odetta noticed, and, from the stage, in the middle of the concert, looked down at the lady (small enough venue that she could see the lady and the baby and the dirty looks) and said, “WOMAN! You let that baby cry!” And went on with her concert.

That is my opinion of little ones in Mass. They are part of the community. They are part of our body, the Body of Christ. Parents, bring your children to Mass. Teach them to behave, but don’t be embarrassed if they’re not perfect. Churchgoers, don’t glare at the parents for their (or their children’s) imperfections; look for ways to lighten their load. Brother clergy, welcome whole families into the congregation of the church; don’t hide some off in a corner to pretend that the little ones aren’t part of the worshipping congregation. If there are no babies murmuring in Church, if there is never a cry heard, the parish is not dying but dead.

As always, if you correctly identified the reference in today’s blog title, you may award yourself one point. If you didn’t, it may help to read it in Ronald Reagan’s voice. It’s at 12:00 in this video.

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