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!
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!):
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!