Tuesday 26 October 2021

Kindness from all as the solution to baby noise at Mass

Let's go to the cathedral!

Too many issues are treated as if they were a football game. People almost demand that others take sides. I was just reading a Twitter conversation that began, roughly, "It's so cringe when a priest of a trad parish makes parents take noisy kids outside." Someone asked "Why is it cringe?" and then there were variations on "A parish not crying is dying" and even accusations that priests who ask people to take out children are infected with American Puritanism and that pews are a Protestant invention in the first place.

My thoughts on the last sentiments are the following:

1. Questioning your traditional Catholic priest's decisions regarding how the Traditional Latin Mass will unfold sounds imbued with American Puritanism to me.

2.  Thank you, Protestants, if you invented pews.  

I have been going to a Traditional Latin Mass for 13 years now, and I have seen the congregation transform from a small community dominated by adults without child-aged children to two congregations greatly boosted by both young and middle-aged couples with small children. It is truly a joy to see so many children, and the fact that parents with children have decided to join our congregation has led to at least one couple with children joining themselves. 

As a result, there is now a far amount of babbling and some weeping although I can't recall any full-throated wailing lately. I suspect the parents of the babies, being kindly, conscientious people, take out the babies when they really get going. And that is a very good thing because, as I suspect the Original Tweeter has never considered, it is hard for a priest to celebrate Mass in Latin (or, I imagine, any second language) when someone near you is screaming at the top of his or her lungs. Priests are not Mass-saying machines, and saying Mass is not as simple as reading aloud. 

On the other hand, babies do scream and toddlers occasionally yell if they're not allowed to toddle, and it is passive-aggressive and unkind for other people in the congregation to shoot meaningful looks at their parents. (Sometimes, by the way, these are just looks of curiosity, though, especially if it is the pathetic mewling of a very new baby. I love to look at new babies.) However, if the looker drove all the way from Aberdeen that morning just to get to the Traditional Latin Mass, changed a flat tire on the way, and got to Mass dripping wet, I can understand his frustration.

I used to sit at the back of our church in the choir stalls with the Men's Schola (which is no more: we now have a Mixed Choir), and the Schola, which sang many complicated things demanding much concentration, was put off by babies screaming, let alone by toddlers running up and down the aisles. At the same time, one of my friends was utterly suffused with agonised embarrassment whenever her own baby (and then babies) began just to babble.

My own Schola Wife plan, if God blessed us with a child, was to see if I were blessed with a screamer rather than a sleeper, and if so, to take him to the Cathedral instead. There he could scream to his heart's content to the strains of John Michael Talbot and the St. Louis Jesuits. 

No, I'm kidding. I would have taken him out to the Cathedral's cavernous foyer once he turned purple or, even better, stayed at home with him while B.A. was at Mass and then toddled off to the Cathedral's Polish Guitar Mass after B.A. came home. 

None of this came to pass, of course, so I cannot say if I really would have put this plan into action. But for me, the real rivalry at Mass is not between Families with Babies/Toddlers and Everyone Else but between the Priest and the Choir. If I were Queen of the Parish, instead of just the veteran After-Mass Coffee Lady, I would put "Reserved for families with babies and toddlers" signs on the pews farthest from the Altar, which means the pews nearest the Choir. 

In short, the only solution to the perpetual problem of babies babbling and toddlers toddling at Mass is kindness from everyone old enough to make that choice.

Parents of the under-4 set should be kind to the priest, first of all, by placing themselves as far from the Altar as possible. 

Other parishioners should be kind to these parents and the priests by leaving these pews free for them. 

Parents of the under-4 set would then be kind to the other congregants by taking their babies out (or to the door to more comfortably jiggle them) when the babies cry and by bribing their toddlers with chocolate if they remain in their pew for the duration of Mass. (Well, this worked on me.)

Congregants would be kind to the parents if they refrain from turning around and staring, let alone--as I know happens occasionally elsewhere--hissing their displeasure. I worry for the souls of people like that, and presumably their priests do, too, which is why they occasionally put themselves on the firing line by asking parents to take out their children when they scream. 

As a non-parent, the admonition that worked best against my desire for the Ultimate Mass Experience was the suggestion that if you want a monastery-like Mass, you should have joined a monastery. But as an old-fashioned baby-loving gal, the revelation that worked best against my siding completely with parents was that celebrating Mass is hard work. When my dad was doing serious mental work down in his home office, we kids were not allowed anywhere near him. It's a thought. 


  1. Strange. In my experience the parents of small children always behaved well at Mass. What I remember with irritation were the people who arrived late and expected one to move, often with some difficulty if it was winter, in order to let them in. Not to mention that their clumping and gallumphing noises as they entered interrupted the priest's reading of the Mass and our efforts to concentrate on him or on our efforts to pray. The Cathedral and Basilica of downtown Ottawa (yes, there are two and it's a long story) both have adequate parking facilities and there's no reason for people to arrive late except carelessness. It exasperates me. Sigh.

    1. Yes, I too find noisy adults a much worst distraction than noisy children. Sadly, we are sometimes late.