It’s a Crying Shame When Babies Aren’t Welcome in Church

The chapel was drenched in delicious silence. My husband and I had joined four of Mother Teresa’s nuns in their tiny chapel to pray the rosary and then sit quietly before the Blessed Sacrament.

On this particular day many years ago, a young mother had joined the group, and her toddler was with her. During the rosary, she managed to distract him from wreaking too much havoc, but the period of silence that followed was too much for the little guy.

It was a winter day and he was wearing heavy corduroy pants. During the half hour of silence, he wandered around the chapel, and the “swish, swish, swish” sounds of his pants echoed throughout the room.

Somehow, the situation struck me as funny, and I spent the entire time trying to suppress my laughter – and the effort was agonizing.

Evidently the young mother was enduring her own agony of embarrassment because when prayer time was over, she apologized profusely to one of the nuns.

Sister smiled at the boy with great tenderness and said, “Jesus loves the little children,” and I saw the worry lines on the young mother’s face relax.

Sister’s words often come back to me during Sunday Mass, whenever a baby’s shrieks wipe out the punch line of the sermon or an infant’s cooing disrupts the cadenced tones of the Our Father.

Some congregations want to sequester little children away from adults. They build what are called “cry rooms” or “family rooms,” where families with babies hear the Mass piped in through loudspeakers.

And, yes, I know there’s the old saying that children should be seen and not heard, but when it comes to church, I disagree. A scene in the Gospels underscores what Sister said long ago in the chapel.

Children were clamoring to see Jesus, and his friends were trying to discourage them. Although the comments aren’t recorded in Scripture, it’s easy to imagine them. “Stay back, now, kids. Jesus is busy and doesn’t have time to talk to children.”

And how surprised the friends must have been when Jesus admonished them by saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mt 19:14-15)

Jesus didn’t seem to think he was too busy for children –and surely in His day they were as noisy and disruptive as they are today.

Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not suggesting that a baby who is shrieking loud enough to shatter stained-glass windows should be allowed to stay put for the duration of her fit. It seems a matter of common courtesy for the parent to take the baby outside until she calms down.

But it grieves me when parents of young children stay home from Mass out of fear of bothering other people. It also saddens me when they’re expected to huddle together in rooms set apart from the rest of the congregation.

Really, who belongs in church more than a little child? Yes, they have a way of belting out a series of “ma ma’s” when you least expect it, but that’s the nature of children.

We come to Mass to worship Christ and receive Him in the Eucharist. But He came into a world that was not perfect, and is far from perfect now. There was noise and dust and disruption in His day, just as there is now.

And if Jesus really does love the little children, that means accepting them just as they are: sticky, squirmy and, at times, noisy.

After all, maybe a child saying “ma ma” sounds as beautiful to the Lord as the perfectly formed words of the Our Father spoken by adults. And maybe those babies in church who are chortling, babbling and chuckling are actually uttering their first prayers.

Please help us in our mission to assist readers to integrate their Catholic faith, family and work.  Share this article with your family and friends via email and social media.  We value your comments and encourage you to leave your thoughts below.  Thank you!  – The Editors

Print this entry

About the Author

Lorraine is the author of “The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey.” She also has written three mysteries, most recently “Death Dons a Mask.” Her email is lorrainevmurray@yahoo.com. All of her books can be seen on her website is www.lorrainevmurray.com.

Lorraine V. Murray grew up in Miami, and graduated from Immaculata Academy High School. One of the nuns there predicted that if Lorraine went to a secular college, she would be in great danger of losing her faith. Lorraine thought that was funny, but in fact the sister’s prediction came true.

Majoring in English at the University of Florida, Lorraine bid farewell to her Catholicism when she was 19. She went on to get a Ph.D. in philosophy and became a radical feminist and atheist for over 20 years.

After teaching courses in English and philosophy on the college level, Lorraine worked as an editor in a university publications office. In her forties, the Lord called her back to her Catholic roots, and she went on to write about her conversion journey in her book “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist.”

Her recent books are "Death of a Liturgist," a fun-filled mystery featuring murder and mayhem in a Georgia parish, and "The Abbess of Andalusia," which explores Flannery O'Connor's Catholic journey. All her books can be seen at www.lorrainevmurray.com (link provided below).

Lorraine writes regular columns for the religion section of “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution” and “The Georgia Bulletin.” She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband, Jef, a Tolkien artist and book illustrator. In her spare time, she bakes bread, watches hummingbirds, and chases squirrels out of her garden.

Connect with Lorraine at:

Author Archive Page

7 Comments

  1. What I would hope more people could try to understand is that we parents who are trying to raise children in the faith do not wish to be ‘rescued’ from Mass with our little ones. Our children cannot learn proper Mass behavior (much less the prayers) if they are forever surrounded in the back by their peers with toys and cereals. While this does not work for all, we have found that sitting near the front actually gets better behavior from our 5 young children; we sit up front but near a door in case we need to make a quick exit to the bathroom or for disruptive behavior.

    I appreciate the intent behind some parishes now offering (but really ordering) that children under 3 be taken to the childcare offered. When this is offered, it should always be made clear that parents are certainly welcome to keep their children in Mass. Parishioners should be advised that no one is obligated to leave their children in the childcare room who can otherwise reasonably behave at Mass. It is very hurtful (and odd) to feel unwelcome in a Catholic church for being open to life.

    I would also ask (indulging here a bit) that when you see a mom like the one described in the column that you realize that precious child may have just calmed down from a terrible fit in the car, or just woken up from a nap, or have been a real difficulty for Mom for the past week; she may dearly want to attend Mass for her own survival(!) and have no option but to take said child along. Please be merciful in thought and speech, if you speak at all. Since she was open to life (whatever the circumstances may be), perhaps you could smile, tell her what a beautiful Mom SHE is, and (gasp) ask her if she needs any help.

  2. Years ago, my wife and I attended Mass every Sunday with our oldest daughter who is now 11. She was not the quietest child in the world but also not overly disruptive. One Sunday the Priest mentioned during his homily that it would be better for one parent to miss Mass on a Sunday than to bring a child into Church that was going to distract the people sitting around them. We never attended Mass at that Church as a family again.

    As you can imagine, I was quite angry with the priest’s comments. I ended up volunteering each week to stay home with our daughter and this led to a falling away from the Church.

    We now have 4 beautiful children, have since moved to another state and attend a wonderful family oriented parish that welcomes families of all shapes and sizes. Our 4 year old insists on sitting as close to the front as possible so he can see what’s going on during Mass. Our 2 year old will regularly yell “Hi Father!” as he processes into the church

    We again attend Mass as a family and wouldn’t have it any other way.

  3. Reminds me of Good Friday last year. My family sat next to a family with 4 children, and I heard the elderly woman in the same pew say, “Those kids should be at home with their Grandma.” What–Grandmas can’t attend Good Friday services, either?! 🙂

  4. Lisa, that’s a good one! All of us can be our neighbor’s greatest thorn at times. Reminds me of the quip, “Church wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for all the people!” And that reminds me of what Yogi Berra once said, “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

  5. I guess I am on the ‘wrong’ side of this particular issue. First of all, let me say that I agree 100% that children should be welcome at Mass and I applaud parents for bringing their kids to Mass when it would be so easy to avoid the hassle.

    Having said that, what about the rest of the people who are trying to get something out of the Mass? What about those who are trying to pray but cannot due to the kids in front of them playing with their toys on wooden pews while parents just sit there oblivious to their actions? Isn’t Mass for them too? What about those who are trying to hear the homily in the back of the room while the kids behind them keep trying to get their parents attention by saying “mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy...” until she finally gives in and acknowledges the child’s pestering? Don’t they have a right to hear the word of God without distraction? What good are the quiet times between readings for reflection or prayer if they are filled with noise from someone’s unruly child? What about the entire congregation having to stop and wait (and I have literally seen this more times than I can count) when a parent finally does take their screaming child out of the room but, since we have a stone floor and they are wearing wooden shoes, we get to hear a “clop. clop, clop, clop” the entire way out in tandem with the kid crying? Then, a minute later when the kid has calmed down, we get to hear it again during the walk back in.

    People seem to be making an assumption here that parents are actually doing their job and parenting their children. Unfortunately, that is a rarity rather than the rule. Parents seem to develop an almost mystical ability to ignore the noises that their children make and often seem to care little for what they are doing that might be upsetting to others as long as their kid is distracted. I do see some parents do a very good job by bringing coloring books with crayons which are Faith related or bringing picture books of the lives of the Saints but that is few and far between. I watched and unfortunately, heard a parent allow her kids to amuse themselves by bouncing coins off of the pew onto the floor during the Palm Sunday Mass readings and another right in front of me who thought that Hot Wheels cars on a wooden pew were just the thing for their kids to have during preparation of gifts.

    As a general rule, I am not a fan of the “cry room” concept and find the idea of walling people off from the rest of the congregation distasteful. However, sometimes we have to make the best of a bad situation and choose our solutions for ALL concerned rather than just one group. To me the cry room is not a perfect solution. However, neither is attending Mass in an environment where one cannot even pray after Holy Communion! A cry room that allows parents with children to still come to Mass even when their kids might be having an off day, but also allows the remainder of the community to enjoy a prayerful and meaningful Mass may be making the best of a tough situation for the ENTIRE parish, not just the parents.

    This probably affects me more than others as I have been struggling with ADD my entire life. I cannot count the number of times I have simply given up trying to pray at Mass because of the misbehavior of children or parents who make as much noise as their kids when they try to shush them. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is! Even worse is that I really like kids! I spent many years working at summer camps for kids of all ages and I love playing with my nieces whenever I can see them. They just distract the heck out of me at Mass. I also know that I am not the only one who feels this way as many of our members talk about it. I know people who have stopped coming to Sunday Mass and instead go to one during the week because of how bad of a problem it is.

    It seems that whenever this argument comes up the ones who want to see a cry room utilized are the “big meanies” who are forcing parents and kids off as second class citizens. However, very rarely do I hear anyone defend the rights of the REST of the congregation. In the earlier comment where the Priest suggested not bringing the kid to Mass I can certainly sympathize and don’t blame you for moving to a new parish. However, I have to wonder how many complaints that Priest had to endure about kids on a regular basis before he made that statement. Having you considered that? Putting parents in the room with everyone else and having them get up and walk out every time there is a problem may be the nicest thing for them, but is it really the best solution for the ENTIRE parish? Shouldn’t their needs be considered as well?

    1. If a child is screaming uncontrollably clearly a responsible parent will take them out until they have calmed down.
      However, the problem is when;
      a)certain parishioners are of the view that any noise or even movement from a child immediately is grounds for exciling both the little one and his mother
      b)steps are not taken to help the child integrate and appreciate and participate in the Mass at the level of his understanding.

      I spent a year in Mexico where children from birth attend Mass as a matter of routine and helped to integrate.It is accepted as normal for small children to wander about but they are not disruptive and once they are old enough, have such examples on all sides of reverence and acceptance that they settle into worship. The Catechism provides no justification at all for either excluding a child from Mass (indeed it is clear that it is his right to be there and his parents’ duty to take him) nor to try and entertain him while he is there by encouraging him to eat raisins and play with toy cars.

      Instead it is a simple matter to have a small (golden or silver.. special anyway) bag containing a beautiful robust wooden rosary, a wooden icon which opens and shuts, a holding cross ,a tiny gorgeously illustrated prayer book, etc and to encourage the child to use these reverentially in the correct way during Mass not to keep them quiet but to help them be involved.

      By age 3 a child will have internalised a sense of how the world is and crucially whether or not he belongs in certain contexts. Those who cause parents to feel they should leave their child at home on Sundays need to be aware that they are failing in their duty to support the catechesis of the next generation. They are also grievously failing in charity. May God richly bless the mother who brings her child to Mass from birth and all those people who support her in this most important duty.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *