Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
I have lately found myself in the middle of a conundrum. It is a good word, actually, it is defined as “a confusing and difficult problem or question.” It has to do with how we address the reality of noise as well as noisy children at Mass.
It is noticeable, how much louder we have become at Mass. For many this is distressing, especially the older members of the parish who grew up with the understanding that the Lord’s house was a place of reverence and prayer. Only the lightest whispers were ever allowed, and then only if somebody was in danger of death. This was also the way I was raised. There was no such thing as a mobile phone, so anything having to do with beeping, chirping or rock-and roll sounds coming from pocketed devices wasn’t part of the picture. The only things we could bring to church as children were religious picture books, I guess. Actually, I don’t think my parents even brought us to church until we were old enough to know it was a special place.
Today’s world is a confusing and difficult place, and I guess the church isn’t excluded, as much as we would like it to be a refuge from all that. At Saint Mary we have tried several things, and I write about it a couple of times a year in the bulletin. Here I’m not talking about the normal level of sound that just comes with a roomful of people. There are some Sundays that there is a hum of conversation during Holy Communion audible over the singing!
Apparently some have now said that Saint Mary is unwelcoming to families. By many others, I’m criticized for not saying enough about it. I understand the particular challenges parents have, and have repeatedly said nothing about it because I don’t want to alienate anyone. Now it seems that since I have stayed silent about it some parishioners have decided they can help me out by shaming parents as they leave Mass for not being more in control of their children, leaving notes on their cars, letting them know they have failed, etc.
So I have a few observations and suggestions, this is about the best I can offer.
1. It is too loud in church, it seems to be getting louder. Lately when I have presided at Mass, more Masses than not, I have had to stop momentarily, realizing that I’m not even thinking about the prayers. The priest, if anybody, has to be thinking about the prayers, right? Instead, I find myself wondering why nobody is doing anything about the distraction. Then I start thinking about how everyone else in the church must not be praying either. Can it be a Mass if nobody is praying? All these things are going through my head and I’m just still saying the words. I have to stop for a moment, reset my own thoughts, refocus, and hope that everyone else can, too. It is not an effort to shame anyone, I am just trying to focus. Especially sometimes during a homily. It’s like the slate wipes clean and I have to figure out where I was.
2. In charity, we have to find ways to encourage one another with kindness, and behave appropriately. Parents, please realize that you are surrounded by people, like you, who are trying to pray. People who are trying to pray, be patient. Refocus. Mostly it is just a momentary thing. Provide encouragement. If you are accusing or reprimanding anyone after Mass, stop it, particularly if you think it is somehow helpful.
3. For those who find themselves going regularly to the same Masses, get to know the people who are around you. A simple encounter and a little conversation can bridge the divide in a challenging moment. Introduce yourselves to families with small children, and as you get to know one another maybe parents will allow you to help them in difficult moments. Maybe even a friendship can develop. Above all, approach one another with reverence.
4. Finally, and I know I’ve said this so many times before, do not use the cry room unless your child is crying. It is not a play area. It is not a room provided for you to get away from the crowd. If nobody is crying, it should be completely empty. It is not general seating for overflow crowds. In this way there is a place where crying people (I guess this would include adults who are crying, too) can go, get past it, and return to the assembly where they belong, with us.
Hope this helps a little, I leave it to you.
God bless you.