By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published February 6, 2014
When it comes to Mass, so many people have this perfect image of how it should be. They long for a powerful and poignant sermon, plus people in the pews who are reverent and reserved.
But let’s get real here! In fact, there are plenty of sermons that can cure the worst case of insomnia, and the pews are often peopled by small, squirmy creatures that are anything but reserved. Yes, they are called babies, and some people would prefer they not be in church at all.
These people often give parents an absolutely chilling stare if a baby so much as squeaks out of turn. They may even suggest to the parents in a hushed tone that there is such a thing as a “family room,” and perhaps they would be much happier there. As a result, I’ve heard of parents who don’t even come to Mass when their babies are very young. They’re not keen on the family room, and they’d rather avoid the icy stares.
Some parents, of course, are quite happy in the family room, but others are there because they don’t feel welcome in the sanctuary. Oh, how I’d love to see a return to the days when everyone—babies included—happily piled into the pews together. Here’s why:
Our Catholic faith celebrates new life as a gift from God and sees big families as blessings, not burdens. So it makes sense that people who have opened their hearts and homes to babies, whether biologically or through adoption, should feel especially welcome at Mass rather than being sequestered in a separate area.
True, babies squeak and squawk and sometimes even shriek at the most unexpected times. Thankfully, most parents know that if Junior is having a major meltdown, he should be taken outside until he calms down. As for minor coos and chortles, I have to admit I find them rather endearing—and I’m guessing God may consider them a spontaneous hymn of praise.
In Jesus’ day, some folks tried to keep children away from him when he was preaching. I can imagine them saying, “Hey, get those noisy kids away—he’s saying something important we need to hear.” But Jesus chided them with the words, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Still, some people protest that babies don’t know how to behave in church and they are annoying. But since these same folks don’t want babies there in the first place, how can little ones ever learn proper behavior? Yes, they can sit in the family room every Sunday, but there they can roam about and chortle to their hearts’ content, so they’re not exactly learning proper decorum.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying a 2-year-old should be expected to sit through Mass, standing and kneeling at the right times, and revealing an attitude of rapt attention. But I’ve seen toddlers whose parents have provided a book and crayons to see them through Mass—and the children have done very well. They quickly learn what “hush” means, and they learn to sit still.
At some point, even the youngest child starts taking an interest in what’s happening on the altar. And by then let’s hope Junior will have learned the most important thing about a Catholic church. It is very much like the kingdom of heaven, a place where God resides in the tabernacle, where the miracle of love abounds—and where the last and the littlest, the meekest and the mildest will be first.