Deacon Greg gets a major hat tip for this one that I will now turn into a series of shoulds and shouldn’ts at mass. These will come complete with stories of real events that happened at mass and the resulting fallout from the event.

The good Deacon points us today to this blog which talks about things that “Father should never say…”

What Father says, “Please, be mindful of your children during Mass. We have a cry room.” What parents hear: “Your kids are disruptive brats and you cannot control them. They have no place at Mass, so why do you insist on ruining our prayer with these public displays of your failed parenting? Go somewhere else!”

I probably agree with Father here that parents are certainly resentful of priests who point out how their children are being a disturbance. I would also say that if we are really about being pro-life, a crying baby should be music to our ears. A family’s presence at mass should indeed be a celebration for us all.


I do like the idea of a cry room for noisy babies. It’s not a room that people should opt to sit in at mass simply because they have a baby. It should be a place that people CAN go to WHEN their child starts screaming and wailing and is becoming a disturbance. I would also note that parents wouldn’t bring a crying baby into a show at a Broadway theatre–but they are often pretty much OK with having them be a disturbance at mass. That seems to be inconsistent to me.

The “rambunctious child” who should know better is more of my concern. I’ve seen this more often. A kid who simply is not engaged and doesn’t sit still during mass. They are probably 2 or 3 and they are often given everything to play with from keys to racecars to coloring books. Granted mass is not exactly a Sesame Street production that might hold their attention (especially in certain parishes!) but I do think that a parent can whisper to a child to teach them what is happening without it being much of a disturbance. My own mother often taught me to read during mass by having me listen to the priest’s words and following along in the missalette.

A further however…

“Father” and even “lay minister” should be pastorally sensitive to parents at all costs. We should consider what it took for this family to get their children fed, dressed, looking presentable, avoiding meltdowns and traffic jams to get to mass. Here is perhaps the worst story I have ever heard:

A priest in a parish that I won’t name was preaching his homily. A woman was seated near the front with her 4 young boys all close in age, say 7, 5, 3, and an infant in her arms. Her boys (as they will tend to do) began to get rambunctious during mass. One would punch the other in the arm only to be kicked back. The other would kick the kneeler. The baby spit up. This young mother had all she could do to maintain order. Any parent can probably relate. The boys would indeed listen to her when she told them to cut it out but there was certainly a constant need for her scolding them or centering them back on the mass.

At one point mother snapped her fingers at the boys and leaned over to them, kissed one on the head and pulled him closer to her to keep him from killing his little brother. At that juncture the priest on the altar screamed out one word: “YOU!” and he pointed his finger right at the woman.

“YOU ARE A TERRIBLE MOTHER! NOW TAKE THOSE KIDS AND GET OUT OF HERE AND DON’T COME BACK UNTIL THEY ARE BETTER BEHAVED! I have worked very hard on this homily all week and your children are disturbing the entire parish!”

Yikes! Father, you might want to try the decaf. I doubt that they were disturbing anyone except maybe a few nearby parishioners who seemed to be more sympathetic to their cause than anything else.

The mother started up the aisle with kids in tow, eyes downcast. Over 20 parishioners walked out with her in protest of the priest’s arrogance and found the next parish up the block to be much more accommodating to this young lady and her kids.

If I were pastor (and I’m not) I would state at the beginning of mass just “How wonderful it is to see so many families at mass. We are a parish that welcomes all people and how blessed we are to see the children here with their parents. Just one logistical item, we don’t want to lose your presence here so we have constructed a cry room for children that become too rambunctious or who start crying. We don’t encourage you to sit there throughout the entire mass, nor do we wish to exile you there. HOWEVER, if it is obvious to you and to those around you that baby or child is simply too noisy or is in the midst of a meltdown please feel free to take them to the crying room until they can calm down and more peacefully and comfortably sit amongst the congregation.

As laity, I think we also have a responsibility to help young parents. Maybe grabbing the diaper bag from them when they have their hands full? Maybe offering to baby sit for them so they can have a respite for themselves? Maybe bringing them some water or offering to help them with some other matter? We are a community of faith and that means we need to be concerned for the needs of all–babies included.

This is really all about courtesy in my opinion, from all sides. What do you think? When babies cry at mass what do you want to do or wish would happen?

0 thoughts on “Mass Etiquette: When babies cry at mass I want to….”
  1. VIA Facebook:

    From..a user

    Wow, all I can see and hear is that image of the priest now…so wrong. This is a big problem I have, I don't think catholics and priests often FOLLOW what they are praying and preaching! An argument for married priests perhaps, as he is CLUELESS to what it even takes to get four kids to mass! We decided before we had kids that we would not bring them, it isn't prayerful for anyone and mostly them! We spend more time tending to them and missing the point of the mass. Granted we are an almost nun and former priest who had a very contemplative prayer life before, but mostly it comes from not expecting them to understand yet. We have a very prayerful life; before meals, at bedtime, just because prayer. Just the other day I caught my daughter almost 3 in front of her altar in her room praying the Angel of God prayer..ON HER OWN. We are doing something right. I think as parents we really need the prayer to be fed for the task we have at hand of being parents and can receive more if alone.

  2. Again Via facebook

    From: Elaine Kayser Griffiths

    Andrea, I respectfully disagree with the notion of not taking young kids to Mass. With my 4 young children, it is not always easy, for sure. However, I don't believe there will be a certain magic age when they are suddenly able to understand and appreciate the service. I believe that being there each Sunday their whole life, it becomes part of the family culture and just "what you do", and their understanding of their faith will grow and develop as they do. Yes, my husband and I sacrifice some contemplative prayer time, but I think it's worth it to have kids who grow up feeling comfortable in church. They are part of the church community from babyhood, have an emerging sense of the liturgy, sing with exultation and eagerly go up for a blessing at communion time. Sure sometimes they make noise and behave inappropriately, but it's less and less as they grow, so I think it's a good way to start.

  3. Once again: from Facebook:

    From Hope Villella:

    I don't have kids, but it seems like a no-brainer to me. Jesus said, "Let the children come to me." Unless if we've stopped inviting Jesus to mass, it seems to me we are responsible to welcome children. We are all part of the Church community and I like the idea that it is our responsibility to help the parents to teach their children to participate in our faith by lending a hand or offering up a space when the child needs special attention or even engaging the kids. We should do what we can to help make mass the most meaningful space for everyone, but ultimately I think how we choose to respond to kids is all part of the welcome we extend to Christ in our mass and our hearts.

  4. Hi,
    I'm from the UK and I'm not a regular "poster" on blogs.

    I just would like to say that my parents (now both deceased-RIP) always ensured that both my older brother and myself were taken to Mass each Sunday Morning (from a very early age) and in the 1960s,we always attended Benediction in the evening at 6pm so Faith and Religious practice became part of my ordinary life.

    Whether I cried during Mass I don't remember but I do find it very sad that for some of today's babies and young children, their first proper introduction to Holy Mass is when they start the Sacramental Programme for Reconciliation(Confession),Confirmation and First Holy Communion.
    Here in the UK and in the Diocese I live in, children are confirmed first then receive Our Lord in First Holy Communion.
    Our Servite (OSM)Friars always says he loves to hear the sound of babies crying during Mass. The voice of the Church tomorrow and who couldn't agree with that?Pax

  5. Via Facebook:

    From a user:

    Yes, Elaine, but you are assuming we aren't giving them all the gifts that you say you receive from us at home. As I said we have a tremendous spiritually life, they understand all aspects as much as they can. But, we want them to choose their faith. I don't want to force my beliefs on them. I LIVE my faith and our work is all ministry In Lourdes and the US for my husband, they see it…but in the end they have to understand it and want it for themselves. I feel by 'making' them go every Sunday we are choosing for them and telling them to believe. That's not how Jesus would want I believe. And if we aren't getting spiritual time at mass, I feel I can't be the best mother I can…rest and quiet in Him is needed and important. You can't give yourself to Him completely when you are worried about the babies

  6. Via Facebook:

    from Ann LaBeck

    I have friends who bring their several small children to mass, and the kids are amazingly well behaved and not disruptive at all. It's about role modeling. If the kids get rowdy or things get loud, they take them out until things are resolved and then bring them back.

    I'm a cantor, and in one of the parishes where I used to sing, there was a family who attended on occasion, and sat in the front pew with 4-5 kids who appeared to be ages 4-12. I'm not kidding about the ages of the kids. They spread out a blanket, brought toys and books for all the kids, who then ran around, talked to each other, read to each other and just generally created playtime/havoc during mass. The parents were more involved in play time than in the mass. It was unbelievable. This was all going between the front pew and the steps up to the altar. The pastor at the time tolerated it. I've never seen anything like it. Why even bother coming to mass?

    You can't make this stuff up.

  7. Via Facebook:

    From Erin Oates

    Clearly you want to welcome families w/young children and I agree w/Elaine that they need to be at Mass to have it become part of their lives. That said, I've noticed more and more parents who think little Tommy or Susie are just the cat's meow and who ignore others when it comes to noise, crying, over-active children… in Mass, not just in the rest of life. That's when I get frustrated because their needs (and narcissism, I'd say) comes first and has little concern for others. How else can a mother sit with a baby crying at the top of its lungs for more than a few minutes while no-one around them can hear? Sad to say I've experienced this way too many times.

  8. Via Facebook

    From Elaine Kayser Griffiths

    Yes, Erin, perhaps that's a sign of the general loss of civility and manners that is so pervasive in today's society. I think at Mass or anywhere, people are usually more forgiving of an unruly child if they see the parent is obviously trying to manage the situation. And of course, at church or anywhere else, if the child is really inconsolable it's time to remove her from the situation for a while. It's the parents who seem oblivious to the disruption that cause such ire, myself included. At Mass, I always try to pack quiet, religiously-themed figures, coloring books, etc. for the little ones, and once they're school age I expect more in terms of following the liturgy. It helps that our parish has a children's program to present the readings at an age-appropriate level, followed by a related activity. It seems all parishes should do something similar, to engage children and allow the parents to hear the readings and homily without distraction.

  9. From Peter Woolley

    Via Facebook

    A priest once told me if a child is crying I take it as a sign that I'm talking too long…

  10. Via Facebook:

    The esteemed author, Ginny Kubitz Moyer writes

    With two kids under three, we are always in the crying room. That's actually because it's a less stressful atmosphere for US: we can feed and burp the baby, the toddler can play with his cars, and it doesn't bug anyone. That said, I do miss being a part of the whole community. And I totally agree that if we are going to be a pro-life church, we have to stop giving dirty looks to the people with crying kids …and yet that needs to be balanced with basic courtesy on the part of the parents. If my kid were melting down in a restaurant, I'd take him out; same with Mass.

  11. Again from Facebook:

    Erin Oates writes

    Ginny, I agree about not giving dirty looks to the parents and I readily confess to doing so WHEN the child has been seriously crying/being disruptive for long enough that the parent ought to take he/she to the cry room. As a former Protestant, one great thing those churches offer is a nursey and Sunday school for the babies/kids while the parents are in the actual service. Kids usually don't come to 'the big service' until they're about 4 or so.

  12. From your humble Blogger…

    Fr. Frank…I only cried once during your homily but that was because you moved me to tears!

    Ginny..good points and I have been with you when you've taken Matthew outside when we were together at a restaurant. So you practice what you preach!

    Erin…I disagree about the child care option. That might make a church more attractive to parents but I think it's unfortunate that babies and small children are excluded from the community in those churches. It sends an unintentional sign that not all are really welcome and I know some parents who see it as an unwelcome sign to them as parents (e.g. You can't bring your brat to church, so drop them at the door if you want to take part).

  13. It is my experience, over many, many years that children who appear not to be involved or interested (ie colouring books stuff) are actually more attentive of what is going on in Mass than adults may think. I've seen children continue colouring in and joining in the responses.

    As for crying babies – that can be frustrating – but I find that if I turn my mind to thank God that we have this little one in church, and part of the church community, then it doesn't seem quite as bad and then I can re-focus on praying.

    We are fortunate to have a hall adjoining the church with a PA system through to it so parents are free to take their crying babies there and re-join at appropriate times.

    Perhaps we can take a leaf out of the Orthodox tradition and have everyone come and go as they have the need.

  14. Boy am I late to this party… In any case I simply think of two things when I read this:

    1-My own pastor will often be preaching and a baby will cry. More often than not he will see the mom or dad get up to walk away and he almost always says "come back!"

    Then he adds: "That is what God hears when WE pray!"

    2-When my cousin was recently ordained as a rabbi, during a ceremony in which about 10 folks were ordained, he began his remarks by saying, "I am Rabbi James and crying babies are always welcome!"

  15. In my opinion, young children need to be in church. We have 5 children, ages 8 and under. Occasionally, we end up in the cry room when our 2 yr old or 7 month old gets too loud. I have no problem with this. Well…maybe a little. Our cry room is a ZOO, filled with families who think it's a place to let their kids roam free. Most of the time I just take them out into the narthex until they have calmed down. Would it be nice to be able to listen to all of the Mass without being interrupted? Yes. However, I think I understand what a blessing the Mass is MORE because of my experience with young children. I am so saddened when I happen to be in a Protestant church and there are no children around. When people let Sunday Mass be their weekly spiritual food without trying any other day of the week, of course they are going to be on edge that they might miss out on something. Children are blessings, and we should treat them as such!

  16. As a Mom of 9, 7 sons 2 daughters
    and grandmother to 4 :

    My opinion based on 30 years of parenting :Cryrooms are parents choice

    And yes a dead bay is a quiet baby.

    What about old people who bring their oxygen tanks ?
    What a noise …..
    In my parish is a man with tourette's syndrome

    No announcements other than the presence of a cryroom
    No one should feel they must go there….

    And if you are bothered by noisy children
    ask God to help you get over it…..

  17. i don’t think you should bring kids to mass until they are about 5, if younger at least let them have a toy. my parents brought me without toys or anything…it didn’t work well.

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