Then there were little children presented to him, that he should impose hands upon them and pray. And the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said to them: Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for such. And when he had imposed hands upon them, he departed from thence.
— Matthew 19:13-15
As a father with a newborn, I have become more acutely aware of the presence of “cry rooms” at parishes, and the preferences some priests and members of the community have that children be placed in cry rooms during normal gooing and gaaing. The use of cry rooms should be sparing, at most, and should never inhibit the ability of children to be in the presence of our Lord. It should not be understood from this post that there are not legitimate times and reasons to remove children temporarily from Church, but rather that encouraging parents to use a cry room to stifle normal gooing and gaaing is contrary to the practice of most parishes across a vast majority of the Church’s history.
Cry rooms came into mainstream existence after the Second Vatican Council. The idea behind their creation is that more difficult or distracting children may be easily removed and calmed while still within the line of sight of Mass. In this manner, such children and their parents can still view, or participate in, the Mass without distracting other parishoners or without feeling conscious about distracting fellow parishoners.
There are two essential problems with cry rooms.
First, cry rooms perpetuate the fallacy that the Mass is a performance to be observed. The implicit assumption of those who advocate for the use of the cry room is that distracting children can detract from the ability of other parishoners to observe the Mass and prevent the same from experiencing Christ on a personal level — the idea being that the spiritual gain one receives through Mass attendance is connected to the ability of one to observe the events that occur.
It is easy to see how this line of reasoning is mistaken. The man who attends Mass blind, deaf, and dumb receives no less spiritual benefit from the exercise in virtue than the fully able man. Likewise, the parishoner who sits close to a distracting child, and who therefore is less able to hear the homily or Eucharistic prayer, receives no less spiritual benefit from the Mass than a family sitting in the front row. Furthermore, even if one’s ability to “feel” close to Christ is inhibited by a crying baby, the proper reception of the Sacraments and the desire to fulfill the four cardinal objectives of the prayer — adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and asking for what we need — far outstrip any diminishment in the “personal experience.”
Additionally, the desire to control the laity during the Mass is a distinctly modern trend. Those in medieval times had significantly more children than current Catholic families, and certainly no cry rooms. I rather suspect that the medieval Mass was a rather raucous place — children crying, no ushers directing people when and where to receive our Lord, and extremely limited ability to understand the priest’s mediation on behalf of the community. When compared to the modern day, where Church has a tendency to become a low-end Sunday talk show, complete with a quiet set, fancy choir, and cued audience applause, I far prefer the former.
Second, cry rooms perpetuate the fallacy that the Mass is an exclusively individual, rather than communal event. As a communal event, children are equally justified in partaking of the Mass as those in retirement homes. We do not celebrate the Mass at a parish to bond together over post-communion doughnuts and coffee. We celebrate together so that the priest may mediate to the Father on our behalf, and to give Him the glory He deserves.
As a final note, a loud Mass, one which includes plenty of gooing and gaaing, is a sign of a healthy parish. Young people are getting married and having babies, lots of them, and providing more souls for the kingdom of heaven. It would be a pity to shove these little victories aside for our own selfish feelings.