October 12, 2014
What to do if a child becomes too noisy at Mass
In the Ask the Priest column this weekend you will find that the last question was a collection of requests to address the “noisy” child situation we have at times during Mass. The last time I had these many questions dropped into the box was probably 2 years ago. At that time I decided to interview 3 mothers whom parishioners have often admired to see their many children so well behaved during Mass including the tiny little ones. It’s not unusual that I get asked if I knew the “secret formula” (or magic spell) that they use. Several more families that are like them but I limited at asking these 3 moms because the others seem to have the same methodology. These 3 families regularly go to one of the 3 large family Mass schedules (8:30 AM, 10:30 AM & 6 PM) so it is a good variety of sampling. They also prefer to remain anonymous because their biblically based method of correction (especially Proverbs 23:13-14, 13:24, 19:18) is frowned upon by our overly sensitive godless anti-traditional family values and secular society. All 3 moms admitted that not all their kids were always well behaved in church but they are now because very early in their childhood they got the “biblical correction” when they misbehaved and learned very quickly! (Maxim learned: No pain…no pain!)
But for some reason, the noisy child issue in church got better back then and I decided to hold off addressing it. I spoke about it very briefly before a homily one weekend and perhaps that was all it took. Why write on a very sensitive issue if the problem has already subsided. However, in the past couple of months I have been getting more verbal and anonymously written complaints that the church has gotten unbearably noisy with little children acting up and the parents are not doing anything about it; or if they do, they wait way too long to go to the back of the church. Since this is keeping the congregation from hearing the Word of God and has become a major worshiping problem I felt the obligation to offer some suggestions (not rebuke) to the parents.
First of all, let me make it clear that families should bring all their children to Mass every Sunday and that they are always most welcome in our parish. Jesus says, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14). If they come to Mass regularly it becomes a natural part of their life and they will eventually get used to becoming properly respectful in church. They will learn more quickly that going to church is about being close to God and a preparation for the kingdom of heaven. It would be a major faith disaster if children weren’t brought to church until it’s time to receive their First Communion.
In general I have a very high tolerance for children making noise in church. I am also aware that I am far removed from the noise than the person sitting in church. I’m certain that you are far more affected by the noise in the pews. But recently I do have to admit that there have been occasions when I lost my place during the homily and at the Mass prayers, and this does not normally happen, due to a child’s prolonged noise. Historically, it is not in my nature to correct anyone publicly during Mass about his or her little kids making noise in church but I have noticed (and been told) the frustration among parishioners who are seriously bothered by this. It is my hope that the parents who have little children that are causing the disturbance at Mass would read and prayerfully reflect on what is written here with an open mind and follow the example of the other parents who have handled these situations very well.
One of the best suggestions I have come across from parents whose child has become uncontrollably restless and noisy is to follow the “5-second cookie rule.” If after 5 seconds she was unable to calm her child down, she would go immediately with her child to the back of the church in the narthex (behind the glass doors) and follow the Mass from there. [Most, if not all, are familiar with the “5-second rule” that you may eat (some) food that falls on the floor as long as you pick it up within 5 seconds.] The narthex is our unofficial cry room and speakers have been set up there so that you can hear everything spoken from any of the microphones inside. And if the child regains his or her composure then they rejoin their families back in the pews. Most families in parishes seem to follow this routine already and just a few who do not. And if reading and coloring books are used to keep the kids “busy”, it is preferable that the books are faith-based so as to keep in the spirit of being in the house of God. The 3 moms are also adamantly opposed to giving snacks in church to keep their kids at peace.
Here are a couple of heartfelt quotes from 1 of the 3 moms who originally agreed to my interview. “It is easy to look around and see good behavior in other families when your children are having a difficult behavior day but kids are kids and they all have surprisingly disruptive moments. Some parents are just more experienced at remaining calm and maybe not drawing as much attention. When you have to make a quick exit with a screaming youngster, be assured that the other moms are saying a quick prayer for you because we all have been there.” I really like this one too: “Always remember to thank God for the kind words of strangers in regards to the good behavior of your children, and the restraint of strangers that don’t mention the bad behavior.”
There are many other wise words from the interviewed moms but I didn’t want to prolong this long message already make it appear like some kind of a rebuke of parents with children. That’s not the intent at all. It is great that we have families with lots of children. It is simply to let everyone know that there is a concern to the noise a few of the little ones make and that others are simply asking the parents to please be considerate of the rest of the faithful by excusing themselves at least briefly in the back of the church. They are no less of a Catholic being in the narthex with a noise-making child than if they were sitting quietly in the pews.
Since we’re in the subject of making noise in church, there is also a growing concern with adults who make a lot of noise talking before and after Mass that are disrupting the people in church who are praying. So how about the adults also keep the conversations at a whisper if you need to talk or perhaps go to the narthex to carry on your conversation. If it gets worse, we may need a church sign at the door that reads, “SILENCE—CHILDREN ARE PRAYING!”
Your shepherd in Christ,
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