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Children and Mass

Let the (quiet) Children Come to Me.

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On the 5th Sunday in Ordinary time in 2014 my wife and I heard Mass for the first time in five years!

But wait, don’t you go to Mass every week? Yes, we do. But that Sunday was special. Our two children (Zoe, then 4 and Matthew, then 5) graduated from the Cry Room and we got to sit with the general population and hear Mass! Ephphatha!

CryRoomFree

Ah, the divisive Cry Room. Few things at Mass incite such heated and impassioned debate.

On one side, some see it as a necessity. Restless and rowdy children may distract the assembly from prayer and contemplation. The Mass itself calls for periods of “sacred silence”:

‘Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times….Even before the celebration itself, it is a praiseworthy practice for silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred celebration in a devout and fitting manner.”—General Instruction of the Roman Missal #45

“The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to favor meditation…In the course of it, brief periods of silence are also appropriate, accommodated to the assembled congregation; by means of these, under the action of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared. It may be appropriate to observe such periods of silence, for example, before the Liturgy of the Word itself begins, after the First and Second Reading, and lastly at the conclusion of the Homily.”—General Instruction of the Roman Missal #56

We’ve all had the experience where the faithful finish their response “but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” as a reverent stillness falls on the assembly. Then, an infant lets out a cry that pierces the silence. Or a time when the quietude after communion is shattered by the music from a child’s toy, baby’s rattle or an iPad game.

Wouldn’t it be best to gather these children in their own room allowing the assembly to celebrate in silence while, at the same time, protecting the embarrassed parents from indignant stares? Mom and Dad could concentrate on the Mass without having to chase their children around—free from the need to stifle their screams. It’s a win-win! Right?

Well, the other side may see this as segregation—a breech of community whose end thwarts participation rather than encourages it. The unspoken message perceived may be “you are not welcomed”—a modern-day leper colony. The glass windows make the room a veritable fish bowl where parishioners gawk as they walk by. This feeling of isolation could be exacerbated if the child has a physical, emotional or developmental challenge.

This group may see the ostracization as a brazen disregard of the Lord’s command to:

“let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”—Matthew 19:14

In addition, some well-intentioned parents bring their sick children who cough and sneeze as they very adamantly, thoroughly and quite vigorously give the sign of peace. This turns the Cry Room into a humid, soundproof germ incubator where no one can hear you scream!

So what have we done?

For us, the first few years in the Cry Room were a time when our children would simply bide their time for the duration of the celebration. We had books and crayons—nothing noisy that would disrupt others. If they were sick, they would stay home and my wife and I would go to  different Masses so one of us could stay home. If other children were sick in the Cry Room, we’d pray for the best and pass the Purell.

As they got older, we started teaching them vocabulary: “Point to the the priest?” “Who are the acolytes?” “Where is the altar?” As a professional graphic designer and illustrator, I created the Mass flash card game in the banner below for them. (Yes, if you click the orange banner, those are my kids playing with the cards!):

I also turned it into a fun app for iPhones, iPads, Android devices, desktop computers and laptop computers! Click the graphic below to see the demo video featuring my wife and kids!

Later, we shifted to the parts of the Mass: “Oh look, the priest is going to bow then kiss the altar.” “Let’s make the sign of the cross together.” And after communion: “what are you thankful for?” My son Matthew now looks at me as the deacon processes with the Book of the Gospels. He holds his breath in anticipation and throws me an excited grin if the reading is from his namesake. He is particularly fond of Year A.

If you want some great Mass Resources, please read my article here.

We clocked five years in the cry room and used that time and space as a staging area—a spiritual nest where our fledglings were nurtured until they were ready to fly with the rest of the flock. Leaving the Cry Room behind was seen as a right of passage, a coming of age.

Our first foray into the deep that Sunday went without a hitch. Nonetheless, we chose a pew that was literally 6 feet away from an exit door…just in case there was regression.

How about you? How do you view the Cry Room? Is it “Alcatraz” only to be escaped from, or is it a safe-haven–a refuge for rambunctious children? Should cry rooms be eliminated from parishes or should they be enlarged? Share in the comments below and let’s learn together!

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Dan Gonzalez is both author and designer of the MassExplained blog and MassExplained iPad app. Through fun games and colorful flash cards, Dan's new app, Catholic Word & Games, teaches Catholic vocabulary to children. His design work can be seen at AmpersandMiami.com. Visit AgnusGiftShop.com to browse his Catholic t-shirt line. Dan's reversion story can be read here.

19 Comments

  1. Amy in Oregond

    January 5, 2018 at 1:57 am

    The cry room in our small church is in the very back, it is dark and dreary. It has no heat or ventilation, and no speakers or tv to view the Mass. It is occasionally used but not by us. Our church is a mission church so there is only 1 Mass said!!! So your choice is limited, teach your children how to behave at Mass or don’t go at all. We do the former, are 6 kids aren’t perfect but they are learning how important it is to be at Mass EVERY Sunday….and Holy Day of obligation!

  2. Patrica

    January 4, 2018 at 7:33 pm

    Our Church does not have a Cry Room…if children are noisy the parents just take them out into the Narthex until they calm down..and then bring them back in to the Church. We have glass walls and speakers and chairs set up…so parents can sit and see and listen until the children are ready to return…

    • Dan Gonzalez

      January 5, 2018 at 12:06 am

      Nice Patricia! So it seems that your parish has a temporary place to go to while the kids get over their outburst rather than a permanent, purpose-built location. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Joy A. Peters

    January 4, 2018 at 6:22 pm

    Cry rooms should be left to the discretion of the parent and never a reason for shaming in either direction. How will kids learn to sit still for an hour if they don’t get the real life practice of Mass. On the other side, if I’m at an unfamiliar church, I feel more comfortable in a cry room. I would beg churches not to stock the cry rooms with toys and non-religious books. Ideally, they would be stocked with items that could help parents teach children to engage in Mass and talking about what is happening could be encouraged.

    • Dan Gonzalez

      January 5, 2018 at 12:09 am

      Excellent observation Joy! Why squander the time and just placate the children. Use it to foster reverence and understanding! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Laura D

    January 4, 2018 at 5:48 pm

    The cry room is my saving grace! It is the only way I can get through the Mass without having to just leave before the gospel has even been read. I NEED the cry room! I’m not against little kids being little and being in the church with their little noises and squirmy bodies, they are children, but I have 4 small kids and sometimes I can’t control the insanity that comes with that. My older 2 children may not need the cry room as much (ages 6 and 4) as they know when to sit quietly and focus. But, 1 year old twins in the mix? One screaching and the other laughing at it and no way to silence them? I will ALWAYS be happy for that cry room….

  5. Helen-Kate

    January 4, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    I think they could be an awesome tool for teaching children how to behave in mass… that has not been my experience, it has been the place to go when you want to allow your child to move, play, climb and talk. My child quickly went from squirming but sitting to fighting to get down and play too.

  6. Carol

    January 4, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    The best practice is sitting in the pews with them but that is not always possible. Cry rooms teach Mass as a playtime. No way is it less distracting than the cry room!

    What we really need to do is put the old cranks in the pews into the cry room, and let the rest of us work in helping and supporting young families ibringing children to Mass.

    • Mary

      January 6, 2018 at 9:03 pm

      I disagree. My kids had trouble sitting still but in the cry they hear the prayers and would pray some. When my daughter got older she sit in front with a friend and when my son got older he learned as well. It allowed me to go to daily mass with them and teach them in the cry room without Distrubing others. Now I have used it for my granddaughter.

  7. Maureen

    January 4, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    I liked them when my children were a certain age. I could relax and be more mentally in tune with the Mass, because it was a safe place for my children to be doing what toddlers do (not sit). The music and the word was proclaimed, and I absolutely was able to be more actively, and consciously participating in the Mass as compared to when I was watching my kids and trying to keep them happy in a pew. All I did was focus on them when we were in the pews. Before long (they grow so fast), they were able to sit still longer and the transition was easy. They preferred being where the older children were and no longer wanted the “baby room.”

  8. Nicole Montvydas

    January 4, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    Nicole Montvydas The crying room at my church is in the very back of the church. I have never used it (my oldest is 17 and my youngest is almost 2, we have 7 children altogether). When I first had kids, I used to “hide” towards the back of church. When I became involved in my parish Pre-Cana program, the priest who worked with us opened my eyes. He said, “Think about it. You’re a kid, what 3 feet tall? What are you looking at for an hour? A butt. Someone’s butt. And you expect your kids to behave and not get rammy and act up? Come to the FRONT!! We priests LOVE to see our youngest, most precious members sitting up close! How do you expect them to SEE or LEARN anything if all their time at Mass is spent looking at someone’s BUTT????” So, we have sat up front ever since. And guess what? My kids are great. They LOVE to see what’s going on and feel more able to participate in Mass. And isn’t that the whole point? So, for me, crying rooms are not a way to make kids feel like they are a part of their congregation, to help them learn when and how to act (I say, Shh. It’s pray time, not play time), and make them witnesses to the miracle performed at every Consecration.

    • Dan Gonzalez

      January 4, 2018 at 4:16 pm

      A Butt! That’s too funny, Nicole! It’s great to hear that a priest WANTS children front and center! Other people have mentioned priests with quite the opposite reaction to rowdy kids.

  9. Lisa Klembara

    January 2, 2018 at 7:34 pm

    When my children were little, as long as they were quiet, we stayed in the main church. When they misbehaved and had to be removed, we stood in the vestibule. Fortunately, our church had a vestibule with glass doors so we could still the altar and hear the prayers. My children had to stand at my feet, or if they were too young, held in my arms. They were not allowed to run free. We had tried the cry room. It was a free for all. Parents did not attempt to train their children how to behave in church. It made it very difficult to train my children, so I refused to go there. They learned very quickly that they did not want to stand in the back with Mom.

    • Dan Gonzalez

      January 4, 2018 at 2:05 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment, Lisa! Our doors to the church are made of solid wood so in the vestibule we have a TV set transmitting live. I agree. The cry room at times could be a room full of bad examples for children. Rather than learning to sit quiet and pay attention at Mass, they are learning from other children that Mass is a time to run around, scream and play games on iPads. But it all goes back to the expectations set on them by their parents. When our kids were there, we would go to an early Mass and often be the only ones in the cry room. Thanks again for reading my blog!

  10. Dick

    February 14, 2014 at 7:03 am

    I am rather more tolerant of the outbursts of infants than of older children, whose “sin” is not so much distracting me from my focus on the sacrifice of the Mass as it is the disrespect they display when they disobey their parents. In my post-infant/pre-school days, I behaved at Mass not because of any intrinsically angelic properties of my own, but because my parents required it. If I strayed, they would say to “straighten up” (our general-purpose expression covering a multitude of situations). This command was given with a certain stern urgency that conveyed my utter lack of choice in the matter. In the rare event that I ever chose to defy this command, the moments immediately thereafter were devoted to my unceremonious extraction from the Church and a period in which I was motivated to devote a prodigious portion of my young cognitive horsepower to devising new ways and means to NEVER make that mistake again. Parents underestimate how bright their kids are. They are most capable of learning when a certain earnest enthusiasm is brought to the task of instructing them. I was never abused, but I was taught unambiguously how the cows eat the cabbage, as it were. In brief, I am not irritated by infants so much as I am by evidence of slipshod parenting of older children. The adults in the family, not the children, need to be in charge.

  11. Michelle

    February 14, 2014 at 4:03 am

    We gave up on the “cry room” and just took turns going to Mass with the older children. When we are all together we just sit with everyone else and if the baby/toddler fusses we take them out for a break, then return. It helps to sit near the altar so kids can see and hear what is going on with less distraction. They are also more likely to behave knowing others can see them. You just have to roll with it and have a sense of humor 🙂

    • Dan (admin)

      February 14, 2014 at 4:20 am

      Thanks Michelle: Wow that’s bold. Right up at the altar, huh? Too bold for me. I need an exit strategy, an escape plan. Like I said in the post, 6′ from the door. And it’s not that I’ll feel embarrassed–I could actually care less what others think of me–it’s that I feel I’ll be disturbing or inconveniencing them. But I agree, boredom is the culprit and having them front and center is a solution.

  12. Maureen

    February 13, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    I view it exactly as you. I know it is the assembly that prays and it isn’t personal time. However, when my children acted up out we went. Out of respect for everyone around us. One Saturday evening no one could hear the Word being proclaimed or the homily. The loud, non stop screaming of a toddler was all anyone could hear. I know we don’t go to hear Mass. We go to participate within its mysteries. But full, active and conscious participation isn’t possible when the shrill screaming of a poor miserable child is all you can focus on. Shared Masses was also something we enjoyed. We could go alone and have peace not focusing on the children. Even when they were behaving well, I was constantly on edge and paying attention to their needs. I see nothing wrong with a cry room or leaving the main sanctuary when a little one has had all they can take.

    • Dan

      February 14, 2014 at 4:36 am

      Thanks Maureen: I can so relate to this:

      “Even when they were behaving well, I was constantly on edge and paying attention to their needs.”

      I guess it’s our personality type. I’m always trying to be a step ahead. I would always be conscious if they were going to trip, or hit their head on the pew, or knock over the kneeler, or poke their eye with the song book, etc, etc, etc. Trying to predict every move they could possibly make is exhausting even if, as you say, the cild is behaving perfectly. I would be so paranoid that they would disturb others.

      But the pendulum could swing the other way. I’ve seen parents that allow their kids to draw in the songbooks, rip pages out of the missalette and literally run around the church and they seem like all is well with the world. Perhaps a middle ground is where we need to be.

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