The Catholic Family Circus at a Mass Near You

Chelsea - flight

Chelsea - flight

Ironically, one of the hardest times and places to be a Catholic family can be Sunday morning at Mass; at some parishes, anyway.

The Catholic Church is a pro-life church. We’re a community that believes in the sanctity of all human life. We’re a church that (doctrinally, whether Catholics obey or not) teaches that contraception is wrong, and the purpose of marriage is the procreation and raising of children.

We’re a church that knows the family is the domestic church and the first cell of society. The family is of such sublime importance that when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, He was born a child into a family.

So why is it that families are often disdained for daring to show up at Mass with their young children?

This letter was sent — anonymously — to the pastor of the parish that the “Smith” family attends. The Smiths are good friends of mine, and they shared this letter with me. They are a dynamic Catholic couple with 11 children. They know and live the Catholic faith — all of it — joyfully. Their children are intelligent, well-mannered, kind, helpful, and full of life.

The author(s) of this letter also sent a copy to Mr. Smith at his place of work – again, anonymously. (For the record, let me say that I find these actions very cowardly.) If these disgruntled parishioners are so offended by the Smith family that they feel the need to write a letter of complaint, they should have the maturity and the guts to own up to it by signing their names. The letter reads as follows:

“Dear Father,

It was such a blessing for us when you became pastor of our church. You have done so much for the parish, the youth, and the congregation in every way. We have learned from you the importance of attending Mass. You have stressed in your homilies the solemnity of the Mass and how all of us should show reverence and respect for the priest and the celebration of the Eucharist.

Our children are taught to behave correctly at Church and sit quietly in their seats and we would never allow them to leave the pew and become a distraction to the congregation.

Why then is it allowed for 6 or 7 members of the Smith family to parade up and down constantly during Mass? Under the pretense of quieting a restless small child they are distracting and disturbing to all the rest of us. This child is obviously unhappy to be there and be carried back and forth by the various members of this clan. They have a huge family and can certainly do what all the rest of us parents do and leave the child at home with a caretaker or stagger how they attend Mass.

They are exhibitionists and restless. If my children behaved in this manner every week you would certainly be aware of us and caution us as parents to find a solution. Why are these 6 or 7 adults allowed to do this every week? We have never seen such behavior at any other church we attended. We know they have sons who serve at the altar and contribute time to the parish. However, this is no excuse.

Please talk to them and stop this circus so we can all benefit from the celebration of Mass the way we should with people remaining in their seats and honoring God. We are not alone as many of our friends have pointed out these people and their disturbing practices.

We are very unhappy members of your congregation who support the parish and would like to look forward to Mass and not groan when we see the Smith clan there.”

Clearly, the anonymous complainants do not like that the Smiths have a “huge family” and that they have the nerve to bring all of them, even the little ones, to Mass. Babies and toddlers, it seems, are to be left at home. If that’s not possible, then Mom and Dad simply cannot attend Mass together. The family must be split so someone can stay home with the dreaded restless toddler.

I see a few points to consider here.

One, there are two opposite laws of physics at war here:  First, toddlers do not sit still. They are made to move and make noise. Second, the greater the force applied to try and keep the toddler still and quiet, the more the opposite effect will result.

Of course, 9.5 out of 10 moms and dads will recognize this and remove their squirming cherub as discreetly as possible. Out in the vestibule you’ll likely find several parents just walking with their little ones, trying to still participate in the Mass through doors and windows. I’ve spent many a Mass that way myself over the last 14 years.

It’s far better than the Cry Room. What a wretched invention! A barely-ventilated, cramped, isolation chamber where the unwelcome child and parent must be banished behind thick glass for the sake of the community. (That’s how it feels, folks.)

Two, in all seriousness, is a restless, even a fussy child, really the worst thing that could happen during Mass? Does it really violate the sacredness of the liturgy? Is it reverence we truly want, or just a sterile, library-like quiet?

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting it’s fine if Mass resembles a preschool playroom. I don’t deny that getting up from the pew and walking out can create a visual distraction. Is it such a deal-breaker that the little ones are simply not welcome at all?

I crave the holy hush and reverent, prayerful atmosphere as much as anyone. In fact, I’ll bet you money no one craves it more than the moms and dads of young children.

Is it really such a grievous offense to hear the natural noise of our children being children? “Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them,” Jesus said. The Gospel actually says He became “indignant” when the disciples tried to shoo the children away.

Those families with young children are the future of the Church. Those moms and dads showing up on Sunday with their progeny in tow are fulfilling the demands of the Church in bringing up their children in the faith. Do you really want to tell those families that the kids are only welcome if they are seen and never heard?

It’s no easy task to get everyone ready and out the door for Sunday Mass. (You might want to read Michelle Fritz’s perspective on that effort.) That mom wrestling with a fussy toddler is just as hungry for the grace of the sacraments and an encounter with Christ as anyone else. She can’t simply turn the child off or put him away for an hour.

Children will never learn how to behave in Mass if they’re never in Mass. The ability to quietly sit still comes with time, age, and development. Do not expect a 2 year-old to behave like an 8 year-old or even a 5 year-old.

The fact is, I’ve seen plenty of adults chatting away in the pews before Mass, as though they were at the food court in the mall, to really believe that the momentary noise of a little child is a grave offense to their sense of Eucharistic reverence.

The faithful Catholic families I’ve known make heroic efforts to keep their children from being a prolonged or too-loud disruption during Mass. They are not oblivious or inconsiderate to their fellow parishioners. Frankly, they need to be cut some slack and given a reassuring look rather than an angry glare.

One final thought to consider: If your parish has more funerals than baptisms, then your parish is dying. 

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85 thoughts on “The Catholic Family Circus at a Mass Near You”

  1. “Ironically, one of the hardest times and places to be a Catholic family can be Sunday morning at Mass”.

    Really? Imagine how hard it is for someone who wishes he or she could pray and can’t?

    “So why is it that families are often disdained for daring to show up at Mass with their young children”?

    What do the doctrines of the church have to do with your boorish disregard for those around you?

    “Clearly, the anonymous complainants do not like that the Smiths have a “huge family” and that they have the nerve to bring all of them, even the little ones, to Mass. Babies and toddlers, it seems, are to be left at home. If that’s not possible, then Mom and Dad simply cannot attend Mass together. The family must be split so someone can stay home with the dreaded restless toddler.”

    You make assumptions that someone is thinking about the number of children you have. I don’t think anyone cares how many children you have. The letter was sent because the people who sent it were distressed by the disruption and noise you created. People cannot pray. My father stayed home with my brother and sister when they were infants and toddlers? Why? It would have been rude and inconsiderate to others not to do so. This was pre-Vatican II. My parents understood that this entailed a sacrifice.

    “Two, in all seriousness, is a restless, even a fussy child, really the worst thing that could happen during Mass”?

    Yes.

    Does it really violate the sacredness of the liturgy?

    Yes

    Is it reverence we truly want, or just a sterile, library-like quiet?

    Reverence.

    Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting it’s fine if Mass resembles a preschool playroom.

    I think that this is precisely what you are suggesting. If not, you need to re-read your own commentary.

    “I don’t deny that getting up from the pew and walking out can create a visual distraction. Is it such a deal-breaker that the little ones are simply not welcome at all”?

    The distraction is not welcome. The distraction is a deal breaker.

    “I crave the holy hush and reverent, prayerful atmosphere as much as anyone. In fact, I’ll bet you money no one craves it more than the moms and dads of young children”.

    If you truly “craved” a reverent, prayerful atmosphere” you would not bring screaming, crying children to Mass. If not one craves reverence and a prayerful atmosphere more than the moms and dads of young children, your behavior suggests otherwise.

    “Is it really such a grievous offense to hear the natural noise of our children being children”?

    Yes.

    “Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them,” Jesus said. The Gospel actually says He became “indignant” when the disciples tried to shoo the children away”.

    This is the standard go to justification for your narcissistic behavior. Unfortunately, this is a misinterpretation of the Gospel. The Gospel is about humility of heart, the which if possessed would incline you to refrain from monopolizing the Mass with noise.

    “Those families with young children are the future of the Church”.

    Yes and this is precisely why we would like you to cease and desist now.

    “Those moms and dads showing up on Sunday with their progeny in tow are fulfilling the demands of the Church in bringing up their children in the faith”.

    Nowhere is the deposit of the faith is there the suggestion that you defame and defile the house of God by disrupting the Mass with sacrilegious behavior.

    “Do you really want to tell those families that the kids are only welcome if they are seen and never heard”?

    We do.

    “It’s no easy task to get everyone ready and out the door for Sunday Mass. (You might want to read Michelle Fritz’s perspective on that effort.) That mom wrestling with a fussy toddler is just as hungry for the grace of the sacraments and an encounter with Christ as anyone else. She can’t simply turn the child off or put him away for an hour”.

    Why don’t you stay home and fulfill your vocation as a mother and care for your children? If you are really so “hungry” for the grace of the sacraments, as you suggest, why don’t you and your husband take turns caring for your children at home? Then, instead of being distracted at Mass you could actually pray at Mass?

    The ability to quietly sit still comes with time, age, and development. Do not expect a 2 year-old to behave like an 8 year-old or even a 5 year-old.

    Correct. This is precisely what a two year is unable to assist at Mass and should not be at Mass.

    The fact is, I’ve seen plenty of adults chatting away in the pews before Mass, as though they were at the food court in the mall, to really believe that the momentary noise of a little child is a grave offense to their sense of Eucharistic reverence.

    The boorish behavior of others does not justify your own. It isn’t “momentary noise”. It is non-stop.

    “The faithful Catholic families I’ve known make heroic efforts to keep their children from being a prolonged or too-loud disruption during Mass”.

    They do such thing. The smile, smirk and become indignant if you suggest they are disturbing others. They could care less.

    “They are not oblivious or inconsiderate to their fellow parishioners.”
    They exhibit a peerless kind of incivility.

    ” Frankly, they need to be cut some slack and given a reassuring look rather than an angry glare”.

    No. Someone, like a priest, need to call you out. But they don’t and they won’t because, having lost the faith, they believe it your perfect right to defile the House of God.

  2. I have been the mother in the vestibule sitting and praying the audio system works this week so I can hear Mass. I have needed the healing and serenity that comes with participating in the Mass. And I have struggled with not going to Mass because I felt unwelcome. No one seemed to care if the parents in the back could hear the Mass or not. Or if the parents sitting with me there needed so desperately the word of God to get them through their week. The author pointed out that the parents of children are most likely the ones that need Mass the most, and I wholeheartedly agree. I don’t have the luxury of going to Mass with another parent as my husband works most Sundays so I would go with three children by myself, ages. I stayed dutifully in the rear behind the glass and tried to absorb as much as I could. But after moving to a very small town far away from my church home and the closest Catholic church in a city about 30 min away, I have been reluctant to resume attendance as I don’t know what to expect from the congregation. This article gave me hope that there are people that are welcoming and happy to have us be part of their congregation…..then I read the comments. I don’t think my children have the right to “parade” up and down the aisles. I don’t think that children should scream and fight or wrestle during Mass, but I do think that compassion and understanding goes a long way towards helping those parents who are just trying to receive some peace. Telling them to “put away” their children or don’t bring them at all is a cold point of view. I love the rare times my husband comes to Mass with us. To be told that we shouldn’t come together, we should come separately is sad. Bottom line, you never know what that parent has on his or her plate and to villainize them only alienates them. There is such a problem with people choosing not to have children, the birth rate is very low. The perception that children are nothing but a bother is one of the things that perpetuates this idea. The Catholic Church should be one place that discourages this type of thinking.

    1. Jennifer Hartline

      Momof3, don’t let anything or anyone keep you away from the sacraments. Go to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, and be fed. Receive the graces you need to be wife and mother to your family. Take your children, and go worship. God bless you. I hear your heart, and I know how you feel. God SEES your heart, and He loves you so much.

  3. I think there needs to be a balance and charity on both sides. I’m glad people with kids come to Church. But it’s annoying when people let their kids run rampant. And when adults talk, too. Where’s the charity?
    I have been at Mass when I desperately, desperately needed peace and quiet, with many difficulties weighing me down, and a person’s failure to deal with their extremely distracting child nearly set me over the edge. If I recall correctly, I spent much of the time trying to maintain my focus and charity and not cry, and it made my whole day much harder because I couldn’t reflect as I needed to at that crucial time of communion with the Lord. One can offer it up, but it’s not right to make people suffer like that.

    The phrase, “for the sake of the community” in the paragraph about the cry room stands out to me. If I had crying or noisy young kids, I would sit in the cry room even if I didn’t like it, for the sake others. Or, without a cry room, I’d sit in the back to distract others less.

  4. My parents had 7 kids. The NEVER brought the young ones to Mass. They took turns going in order to keep the youngest ones at home. We attended Mass when we knew how to behave in Mass. Period.

  5. The complainer is being distracted by common occurrence during Mass on
    most parishes. The problem lies on the complainer herself, she is not
    attentive to the Mass and prayers.The most important part of praying is
    the sincerity, or fervor, or love,with which we pray. The closer we get to God, the more fervent we will become.

    1. It is true that we become more fervent the closer we get to God. But if you have a shrieking toddler right behind you, one foot from your ear, all through Mass, then what you have is an offering of suffering to give the Lord out of love for Him, not undistracted worship, unless the Lord gives a very special grace. To not be distracted in that case would be a miracle of grace.

    2. It’s natural to become distracted during prayer not only by the noise around us but our thoughts as well. But in the end, if you return to God’s presence after distraction then it’s a very good prayer and participation to the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Your persistence shows how much you want to be with God.

      In
      the end, heed the encouragement of St. Francis de Sales and others
      after him: If all you do is return to God’s presence after distraction,
      then this is very good prayer. Your persistence shows how much you want
      to be with God. – See more at:
      http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-what-how-why-of-prayer/distractions-in-prayer#sthash.56woPMRb.dpuf

  6. The complainer is being distracted by common occurrence during Mass on most parishes. The problem lies on the complainer herself, she is not attentive to the Mass and prayers.The most important part of praying is the sincerity, or fervor, or love,
    with which we pray. The closer we get to God, the more fervent we will
    become.
    “You
    see, although he is distracted by the butterfly, his desire and
    intention is to spend the day with you, because he loves you. It is not
    the distractions, but the love and the intention that matters. And so it
    is with you and your prayers.”
    – See more at: http://www.stgemmagalgani.com/2009/08/distractions-in-prayer-praying-with.html#sthash.rLQ6joRe.dpuf
    “You
    see, although he is distracted by the butterfly, his desire and
    intention is to spend the day with you, because he loves you. It is not
    the distractions, but the love and the intention that matters. And so it
    is with you and your prayers.”
    – See more at: http://www.stgemmagalgani.com/2009/08/distractions-in-prayer-praying-with.html#sthash.rLQ6joRe.dpuf
    “You
    see, although he is distracted by the butterfly, his desire and
    intention is to spend the day with you, because he loves you. It is not
    the distractions, but the love and the intention that matters. And so it
    is with you and your prayers.”
    – See more at: http://www.stgemmagalgani.com/2009/08/distractions-in-prayer-praying-with.html#sthash.rLQ6joRe.dpuf

  7. I have a couple of thoughts. First off, I rarely respect a complaint that is written on a letter to a person or family. Just say what you have to say to the face of the person whose behavior you find troubling. An anonymous letter is even more juvenile. That said, I don’t think we can assume the letter writer finds the size of the family annoying. It doesn’t even sound as if the noisy kids themselves are bothering the writer but the family’s reaction to them. If the family is switching off people to take out the troublesome tots, I suspect they really are distracting the letter writer and others in their parish.

    Personally, I’m unlikely to be bothered by a noisy child, but if I were being bothered by the child or the family’s reaction to the child, I would warmly greet the family after Mass and ask them if I could possibly baby sit for them each week so they could concentrate on Mass. I would tell them that I’d be happy to arrange my schedule each week to attend a different Mass from them. And if the family didn’t get the hint that way, I’d probably be more blunt with them.

    I’ve had babies and toddlers who were little or no trouble at Mass and we could attend as a family week after week. But I’ve also had babies and toddlers who were loud and grouchy and my husband and I just attended separate Masses while those kids were small.

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