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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mass Suffering

I guess I did this backwards as, when last we met, we discussed getting children to go to Mass. Much earlier, a reader asked about having children at Mass in the first place. No wonder that person the other day was so mad about me ignoring her. I think I really am quite behind, upside down and backwards. I'd better get in gear, since Lent is upon us.

Here's where we should have begun:
What do you think about children at Mass? What noise level should others be expected to tolerate and when are parents supposed to get their kids out of Dodge? Our cry room can be likened to a toddler version of Lord of the Files, chaos reigning supreme. My three-year-old loves Mass (but only in the main sanctuary, not in the cry room), but my nine-month-old is a bit of a chatterer when I can't get him to sleep through the service. Thanks for listening!

It would be great if it were like the Lord of the Files in there. Everyone would be concentrating on mastering their alphabet.

Who's in charge of the cry room? Is your cry room like the McDonald's ball cage, where the kids get left to bounce around and throw things at each other while the parents are having a smoke on the other side of the building? I thought each parent stayed in the cry room with their child.

Show's you what I know. Our parish doesn't have a cry room.

Show's you what they know. Kid's belong at Mass.

I don't know what's happened to our society that so many people can no longer tolerate children, even people who are practically children themselves, i.e. young people. I remember when I was a little girl being amazed that there was a group of old people who excluded children from their retirement village in my home town. Unheard of!

My mother patiently explained that when you get really old, young children (especially very young children) make old people nervous. That's understandable. Children in what I call 'the chasing phase' (where you pretty much just chase them around, rescuing them, you and the dog from disasters and explosions) can be very nerve wracking for a rickety old thing who might break a hip. I still thought it was just a little mean to exclude them from your world. Peace and quiet is overrated.

Or to put it more succinctly in the words of my great uncle Lloyd, "You can sleep when you're dead."

Still, I understand.

But now the "leave all children behind" phenomena is massive. That might he because there are so many undisciplined children running around. No one likes that. Many parents seem to have forgotten how to say these two important words, "Don't run."

I digress.

Children belong at Mass. How do we know? Jesus said so. "Suffer the little children to come unto me."

Note the word "suffer". He could have said, "Oh, bring the kids over!" Or even "let the children come unto me."

He didn't. He said, "suffer." Maybe each child should have that stamped on his little head. Then, when someone shoots his mother the stink eye, the child can point to his head, or his mother can, and then point to Jesus on the cross. Meanwhile, Mom can have stamped on her head, "Hey! I"m suffering, too!"

Of course, you have to do your part to discipline and keep your children quiet and respectful. I know you are doing that. And if the child is wailing or blabbering he has to go.

Other than that, Jesus commanded the rest of us to suffer having them around. Or suffer while having them around.

Anyhow, old people need a jolt once in a while to keep them perky, so don't worry too much about giving old Aunt Clara a shock to her system because the the five year old just stood on the baby's fingers and the sudden shriek is like pterodactyls coming in for a landing.

Jesus wants his family over to the house every Sunday, so go. He doesn't mind the squirming, shrieking, babbling, poking, climbing or sleeping. He knows they'll grow out of it. I've always wondered what Jesus would be doing in this picture if the children were pulling each other's hair and screaming. The same thing, no doubt, that He is doing now.

And if you are one of the people who has trouble tolerating children at Mass, this is your opportunity to suffer. It's almost Lent.


Rambling Speech said...

At what points should another intercede with noisy children? Occasionally, if a child in front of me is doing something that the parents are unaware of (example, shredding parts of the bulletin and tossing them over their shoulder--on me), I'll hold my finger to my lips, point to the priest and whisper "listen to him!"

But a few weeks ago, an older child (9ish?) and a younger child (4ish?) were in front of me. Playing video games. During church. Intermittently turning the volume on. The sound would go on, I'd hear loud bleeping and music for about a minute, then mom would turn and tell the kids to turn the sound off. Repeat in 5 minutes. Repeat again in 5 minutes. At this point, if I had kids, the batteries would be in my purse. Actually, if I had kids they would be paying attention to mass-- or doing their best impression of paying attention to mass. The kids then started a pushing contest that sent one to the floor. The mother turned, said, "no pushing" and turned back to mass.

I don't know how she was tuning it out (probably just used to it?)-- I was having a hard time focusing. It wasn't so much the suffering- it was the fact that their distraction was hard to look past.

I got up, went to the bathroom, changed seats. Focused much better. Should something be said to mom? Or directly to the kids? Could they have been unaware the noise level was preventing surrounding individuals from hearing the sermon?

What to do? What to say? The older boy was louder than the younger! Noise comes along with a 2 year old-- but video game music with an older boy???

Sir Galen of Bristol said...

Thanks for a great post, Sister! Generally, when you say something that is generally what I was think, I'm reassured that I got it right.

This is one of those times.

Anonymous said...

How about an adult woman texting during the consecration--in the front row!

I'll take my five kids any day. We don't bring toys, cheerios, books, crayons. We teach them to sit, stand, kneel, watch Father, listen, respond, sing and pray.

Video games? I wouldn't know what to say. But I did tell a man (20's) to stop talking on his cell phone.

I am more than happy to hear a baby wail. Easy peasy. I'll even smile at the mom.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Sister!

Mary said...

I love oyur blog sister,and find evrything that you have to say not only helpful,but motivational.
I do have a question for you,and hope that you can give me a great advice on the matter.
I have been feeling for years that the the Holy Spirit is calling me to veil.I veil in Mass only,but it seems that the more that I pray,and the closer that I get to God, I feel that I am being lead to veil daily as well. I know that you may think that I am insane as well as your readers here,but this is just soething that I honestly feel that the Holy Spirit is calling me to do. Im scared to do it sister.I know that I should listen to the Holy Spirit,but I don't want to be mocked or made fun off~My husband says that I should do what I feel I am being lead to do.Another thing is that I don't want any religous to feel like I am mocking them~The closer that I get to God,the more I feel that I am being called to do this. Im sure that this comment will make some people angery,and Im very sorry.

Thank You Sister,

Anonymous said...

I'll do you one better, rambling speech. The two horridly behaving children in front of me would not sit still nor be quiet, despite all sorts of bribes, toys, cheerios, etc. from the incompetent parents. Whining, complaining (they were about 4 and 5), the father turns to one and says: "If you sit still, I'll let you have some bread."

You know what happened next, right?

That's right, he went up to receive communion, sat down and reached into his mouth and started to tear of a piece of the host to give his poor, put-upon daughter.

That said, I can tell you that I only brought my tiniest, sleeping infants to mass. Once they got to the squirmy, loud, toddling stage, I left them home (husband and I took turns) until they were old enough to sit for a mass. It became something the big kids earned and I believe it helped them to want to go. They wanted to be considered one of the big kids, mature enough to sit quietly. For us, it's that 12 months to about 3 1/2 that doesn't work; I believe it was an act of charity to everyone else at mass that I didn't take them when they were not yet ready.

Anonymous said...

We are fortunate to have clergy who are very supportive of even little squirmy kids coming. Father once said he hated it when kids had a cry room or didn't go as toddlers, because then when they were older the transition was awful. Anyway, I take my kids to school Mass, and on the weekends we sit in the very front row on Saturday evening. It's just sort of a given that kids are there and nobody worries about it. All the parents seem to be conscientious, and occasionally there are hasty exits. I would not take a child to the Sunday 9am Mass. If I am too distracted narrating to the kids on Saturday, I go alone on Sunday.

One reason for my conversion was that I was actually able to take my kids, rather than being expected to leave them with strangers in a nursery, as was the case in the previous church.

I have no clue what to do with parents who aren't paying any attention to seriously misbehaving kids. I would be very hurt if someone got after me, but that's only because I'm doing my best and I think that is evident. I have invited a restless toddler to come sit with me for a change of scenery, but that wouldn't be an option for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Sister. I have been to parishes with cry rooms & I've witnessed families (yes, parents too) picnicing & playing video games. I much prefer our parish--no cry room OR nursery. Yes, there is a loud area of families (who knows why we chose right behind the choir where all the microphones are located to congregate!?) that is called affectionately the "chicken coop" by some. The difference is, besides NOT being glassed off, that parents here are giving a play by play to their children...."look, here comes JESUS!" during the consecration and "Sing along with the angels," during the "Holy, Holy." The kids are learning while experiencing the beauty of Christ's sacrifice.

It all comes down to the fact that parents NEED their children exposed to the Mass. We NEED our kids exposed to those graces! It would be nice if our children could also experience others who'd like them there too.

Anonymous said...

Behavioral problems aside, children have the RIGHT to be at Mass; the sacrifice is theirs by their baptism, and they have the right to be there every bit as your or I.

By excluding or even separating (via the cry room) from Mass, are we denying that they share the same baptism that we do?

Anonymous said...

It's been just great reading these posts, but I have a question about another topic. I will quietly wait at the back of the line.

I have a bracelet with a lot of saints on it. It is elastic, with ten little wooden rectangles, and each one has a picture of a saint, or Jesus. For example, there is a picture of Jesus with a Sacred Heart on one, St. Jude on another, Padre Pio on a third, etc. Now, there is one saint I can't identify. It appears to be a woman (but the same bracelet has a picture of the Boy Jesus wearing a pink dress, so I can't be too sure). Anyway, she is a child, and is wearing a long, blue dress. She has a cape or shawl that is stiff and brown. The top of the dress is white. She has shoulder length brown hair and some kind of flat but slightly pointy hat. The hat may have some kind of flower on it. The picture is really small, so I can't exactly tell. She is holding a long sceptre of some kind.

Some of you are great saint sleuths out there...Thanks to whoever identified Kateri Tekakwitha as being of the Turtle Clan of the Mohawks!

Anonymous said...

Here's a picture of the Saint bracelet that Martha is probably talking about:

My daughter has the same one but I don't know who it is. You can see the Saint in question in this photo. If this isn't the right one, Martha will let us know.

Sister Mary Martha said...

That's the Santo Nino de Atocha. It's a child Jesus. Here's the story (scroll down a bit until you see His picture):

PraiseDivineMercy said...

Sister- Off-topic I know, but where did you get that last pic of Jesus with the children? I want to know who painted it so I can look for a print.

Arkanabar Ilarsadin said...

Oh, no! Sister, you've gone and abused the apostrophe, not once, but twice!

The primary use of apostrophes is contractions, such as it's (it is), that's (that is), won't (will not), can't (cannot), and the like. I know of no contraction that becomes show's.

The secondary use of contractions is genitive forms which I think is supposed to exclude all pronouns. Thus, Sister's thing, the car's thing, the Church's thing, and so forth are correct, but we don't use apostrophes for his, hers, mine, yours, theirs, ours, or its thing. This is especially true of its, because it's is always only used for it is.

Jane Ramsey said...

Wondeful reflection, Sister. I would love to put this in our Church bulletin! :-)
(BTW, your commenters are just all over the map, aren't they? Keep those apostrophes comin'!)

Sarah - Kala said...

Yes, Jane Ramsey, we all have to be careful when we type, because we may spell something incorrectly, such as "alter for altar". I've been chastised by the grammar police, too. Sorry, people, but some of us do type fast and don't always check and re-check to see if our grammar is spot-on, because we are more concerned with making our point.

Love this post, SMM!

Dymphna said...

I think it's a lack of discipline. I acted up in church once. My mother promptly removed me from my pew, dragged me to the ladies room and to the hearty approval of all present gave me a old fashioned spanking. She never had a problem with me again.

nicole said...

Thanks for encouraging readers to bring their children to Mass. We bring ours, and while we sometimes have had to flee to the foyer (our nursery is no longer available), we do think it important to keep them in the church. I do think a cry room is a good idea though, for nursing moms who are uncomfortable nursing in the actual church. Some of us are just not good at being appropriately discreet. Anyway, thanks for the positive encouragement.

Anonymous said...

no fair, Martha. I still don't know who my bald scowling saint with the skull at his feet is!

Sanctus Belle said...

I enjoyed this post and all the comments. I would like to add to the above question regarding veiling. This is only regarding veiling for mass. Sister, could you please inform us about the original reason for women (non religious) veiling for mass? Why did this practice stop? Was it a requirement that was actually changed or is it a case of mass-disobedience? I've noticed some women at my parish start wearing them - more so at the latin masses, but now also at the novus ordo. I was told also that the requirement was never abrogated - is this true??

Mary said...

I always veil durring Mass, but I feel that I am being lead to have my hair covered outside of Mass as well. I lift t up to the Lord,and find it very eyeopening.It keeps me intune more spiritualy.Plus I really don't want men looking at me other than myhusband. I feel like the Holy Spirit is leading me to do this daily,and really wanted to talk to Sister Mary Martha about it.Im looking forward to hearing your comments sister.God Bless,and thank you,

Anonymous said...

Rambling speech,
(whisper) "Can you turn the sound off, please? I can't hear Father".

Give them 45 seconds.
whisper, as calmly as before. "I still can't hear Father"

Do the same with adults who talk on their cell phones during Mass.

Great post, Sister. One point, though. If you say "don't run" they can pretend they only heard the word "run". I say "walk".

The funniest (and saddest, really) was at a Christmas Eve CHILDREN'S Mass. It was SRO and there were children making noises, just the background murmuring you always hear. In the middle of the first reading, an old man exclaimed in a loudish voice, "I can't hear a thing with all these G*D* kids in here!"

Anonymous said...

Oh, my. Please don't spank kids for not being able to control themselves in Mass. It's *tough* to sit still and quietly when they can't understand everything going on. Take them out if they can't handle it, but please don't hit them. What kind of an awful connection is that to make? I want my kids to know that they need to be respectful and they will not be permitted to be disrespectful, because we will leave, but I would never spank them for it. There are plenty of times when I am not as respectful as I should be, but because I'm an adult, I can do it in hidden, socially acceptable ways. God has yet to whack me for it. AFAICT, He would far prefer to gently bring me back to attention.

Anonymous said...

Our pastor used to say "If anyone complains to you about the children at Mass, tell them I said THEY are free not to come!"
He was a holy, crusty, sometimes grumpy old guy....but we loved him.

Anonymous said...

I have to second the opinion of the writer who said she felt more welcome in the Catholic Church with her children. We have friends who were physically prevented from bringing their children into the regular Sunday worship service. They are not Catholic, YET, but they were church shopping and crossed that one off their list.

When our children were small and restless I would hold them on my lap and scratch their backs or whisper little stories or songs to them. I wanted them to associate the Mass with feelings of warmth and goodness. Not with being yanked around and scolded and punished all the time. It seems those children check out as soon as they are old enough. Who wants to go someplace where you get spanked every Sunday??? You know what? Our way worked.....they are all orthodox, practicing Catholics who love the Mass. I know I can't take ALL the credit for that, but hey, I'll take a little.

Anonymous said...

I am a priest and I love when children are in the Church. When they cry they remind us to love each other, even those little kids. And we have to accept all people as they are. If we accept only those people that can behave according to our wishes in fact we love more ourselves than those poeple.
We must accept the otherness of the other!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Santo Nino de Atocha, I'm sorry I thought you were a girl. Clothing styles have changed just a bit. (Even our image of a pilgrim is different--I thought they all had big black hats and shoes with buckles!) What I took for a scepter is actually a water-gourd stick. Thank you for that information.

Just Me--I asked a Mexican woman about your saint and she didn't know, either, but she says she only knows the Guadalajara region of Mexico. I said I didn't know what region you'd visited, but she said in Mexico city they have "Lots and lots of different saints all over the place."

Anonymous said...

Hi sister,
love your blog, and informed three of my sisters about it.
On kids at mass, I have a 9 year old girl, and twin four year old boys:
The groans and tutting I experienced while at midweek mass with them, were more distracting than the kids playing up ~ it would echo around the church for all to hear.
Feeling unsupported from the pulpit, I had to approach the offenders myself. and gently said that I was doing my best, but it was "was hard work".
Some folks said I was "brave" to bring them and put up with the "cat calling" from the "congregation." I think they must have got used to us now: seeing that the heckling did not work, they know we are there to stay.
BTW, I always now wear a veil at church, or a small hat. (The kids like to tug at the veil...when there is a lull...)I still get funny looks and some funny comments, but I don't really care, its between me and God.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm in the minority, but I had good experiences in the cry room.

I had a child who was a runner and would not be held. If you tried to hold her it would be a wrestling match and you would not win. Put her in an open space and she would run.

She was also a screamer from the time she was an infant. In the church she would scream. I'm talking infant, not a child you can teach. You can't teach a newborn to 6 month old NOT to scream. She was fed, clean/dry, etc. She couldn't handle the aucostics of the church was my conclusion.

I changed parishes to get a cry room because otherwise I had to leave mass due to screaming.

We sat in the first row of the cryroom. I don't remember it being like a playroom, but then I didn't see what was going on behind us.

The only bad experience was on an Easter morning. I had such a headache it was loud, crowded and full of sugared up kids.

Normally the cryroom was not that full. And a lot of elderly folks sit in the cryroom because it's less of a walk than into the church itself.

I weaned my daughter into the church we would sit part time in each room until she could behave well enough. When she could sit through the mass without running (the screaming did stop as she got closer to a year old) we sat in the front, but to the side of the altar (round church).

I did not have a spouse to watch her (he is not Catholic and was working Sat afternoons and all day Sunday) or any relatives that lived close enough to help. I did the best I could. If I didn't find the new parish and the cryroom I would've been leaving early or missing mass altogether.

If I had someone to help I would've just left her home until she was old enough to sit through the mass with just the usual reminders to behave. But under age 3 it was a struggle to take her.

I've always envied the people that can hold their babies and toddlers through mass and they sleep or coo or jabber a bit. That was just not my girl's personality at all.

mary elizabeth

Anonymous said...

Our priest once replied to someone who complained about noisy children at Mass: "Just about anything a child does during Mass is more pleasing to God than the scowl on your face."

Anonymous said...

My peeve: teenagers talking on their cell phones in the narthex during the consecration. I couldn't take it! I walked over and said, "Father just started the consecration!" As if they didn't know. But in a way, clearly, they don't know.

My scowls are, indeed, more displeasing to God.


Anonymous said...

Mary elizabeth,

I'm sorry to hear that you had a child who just couldn't cooperate. That must have been so frustrating and draining. I was fortunate that until they were about two, both my kids were very happy to sit in my lap and nurse for most of the service. Now they beat on each other and tickle and make faces :P

We have also been encouraged by both priest and deacon to visit in the off-hours, so that the kids can get up front and take a really good look at all the "stuff" and have a chance to ask all their questions. i don't know how comon this is, but kids also bring forward cans/boxes of food from the food pantry collection box when the offering and the gifts are brought forward. Something funny usually happens :)

Sister Mary Martha said...

This is one source for the "Suffer the Children" painting:

Anonymous said...

Wow I can't believe someone above would advocate hitting a child during Mass!
I hope they at least have the sense to not receive Communion right after that.

Katy said...

I love you! I love your blog!

I am leaving my kids at home most Sundays, though. Because I enjoy the peace and I'm selfish.

Carolyn said...

Love this post!

I have 3 kiddos.

One is almost 7, and has autism. She generally sits pretty good for Mass, except for the random bouts of my-dog-just-died crying for-no-particular-reason, and her propensity to shout the word "potatoes!" every time someone says the name "Jesus".

The 4 year old loves to sing and dance during Mass and fight with her brother. She also insists of sitting when it's time to stand, and stand when it's time to sit or kneel.

The 22-month old is... a 22-month old boy. Oy vey. Keeping him contained in the pew and all the pages in the hymnal is a challenge.

I'm generally mortified of their behaviour by the end of Mass.

And you know what? Pretty much every week at least one (and sometimes multiple) person comes up and tells us what a blessing it is that we're there and how well behaved our children are.

Go figure.