by Michael Parker
Just recently, we had a small child crying out in church, and stern looks, shrugs and sighs were elicited from some parishioners. Afterwards, the family seemed to be being avoided, so I went up and said, “what a lovely family you have”, and their faces lit up. You see, I have been there, with three children under 5, three children under 6; I have been a stressed out parent of young children at Mass, and have had somebody say this sentence to us – wow what a game changer it was. I remember all the mental and physical calisthenics that went on, “no don’t crawl under the seats”, lifting a child out from the pew in front, “sssh, no screaming, we are at Mass”, “the crayons are for the paper, not the wood”, “come here” as my daughter laughs and toddles away – whew, by the consecration I was done. I was usually fried. Then somebody said that sentence and that made it all worth it
Over the years, I seen numerous things to keep children quiet, and I bet every priest looking out over the congregation has as well. I have seen “ssshing with the index finger to the lips”, mothers giving sweets and junk food, stern looks, pinching, little smacks on the bottom, rising tempers, telling offs, giving of devices to play on and huffily lifting the child up and walking out to the back. I have been told by a religious that “my father would have taken a strip of our backs if we were as naughty as your children”, – I forgive you and still love you sister. Remember, parents at Mass are trying to do the right thing, the main thing bringing grouchy, teething, playful, tired children to the Mass.
How did we get to this point that Catholics, faithful Catholics, are being offended by small children? How can we be offended by real life? Please, let’s change the script, let’s change perspective. We’re the adults here.
How did we get to this point? Is it some awful Janesist overhang? That I need to make my Communion, in recollection mostly perfectly, so that I can save my soul? So, I need silence, and loud squawking children disrupt that. What about including the great vistas of God saving peoples, cultures and universes and, most importantly, God saving me and my loud, misbehaving family.
Can we learn something from Orthodox Christians? In a book – I can’t recall the title – the author was surprised in an Orthodox service in Russia. Firstly, there were no pews, secondly young children were making a huge “racket”. Occasionally, one of the lay people would yell out a single word that meant “pay attention”. During the divine worship – and the word was directed to other lay people. It was saying – look what’s happening on the altar, the central point in history is being re-enacted, the whole cosmos is being brought back to God, humankind is plunging into God though a real sacrifice, the divine worship is taking place, Christ is coming amongst us and washing our sins away. Pay attention people – we need to focus on what is happening before us, it’s important – don’t worry about the kids.
Can we grow in maturity, and not be shoulder-shruggers or stern starers? Can we tell those parents going through a purgatorial stress mill at Mass “what a beautiful bunch of kids”? Just see what a difference you can make. The first part verse my very young daughter learnt was from Mark 10 – “ let the little children come unto me and do not stop them”, and she would laugh in a gurgly way as she knew she was a little child. What about let the little children cry and do not stop them, pay attention brother and sister at Mass, the greatest thing is happening here.
- Michael Parker is a Catholic from Auckland