For crying out loud, take the children out of Mass

"Do unto others as they would be done by..."

Marcus Ginantonicus, Roman Prefect of London

No, this isn't the religion page. And since many of you good readers perhaps don't go to church, you may not want to read on. But I've got a pet peeve that's been driving me up the wall for the past 30 years, and a recent Catholic Mass pushed me over the edge.

I'm talking about crying babies and noisy children disrupting church services while their oblivious parents either can't hear them due to blown-out eardrums from rock music, or they lack the class, or the courtesy, or the consideration of other people's rights to not be distracted during solemn religious services. Or perhaps they're child worshipers who don't understand or believe in discipline.

I salute you Protestants for having the foresight and fortitude to have established Sunday Schools and infant care away from church so your parishioners can immerse themselves in the church service. I would imagine that such a Sunday School program relies heavily on volunteerism, but I also suspect that if you need special funds to support your Sunday School and baby sitting operations, you will have little trouble getting the funds because they're so important.

Some of the Catholic churches I've attended over the years have made half-hearted attempts to get children under the age of 7 to retire to the parish hall just before Mass for a sort of Sunday School while their parents attend Mass in the church. But many parents refused to send their kids off to the parish hall. This didn't solve the baby crying problem anyway.

In the 1950s and '60s, most Catholic churches were built with crying rooms, rooms adjacent to the main body of the church, with big windows so the parents could see the Mass proceedings and with a sound system to pipe the priest's voice into the room.

Were these a success? In the beginning, yes. Most pastors and ushers in those days directed mothers and fathers with babies into the crying rooms. But over the past 30 years with the proliferation of laid-back priests, parents ignore the crying rooms, knowing that no one is going to press the issue.

Now, I must at this point tell you that I raised five kids as regular church goers. I took them to church every Sunday before the days of crying rooms. We always sat in the back of the church where disturbances were less likely to disrupt the priest or the congregation, and the instant one of mine started to cry or get fidgety, I whisked him or her out of the church and remained outside until I was sure the child was settled down, at which time we returned.

Today's young parents seem to have the idea that they have to be in attendance for the entire Mass in order to get credit with the Almighty for having been to church. For Heaven's sake, God knows they were there and He also knows about kids. It's nothing to be ashamed of to take your child out of church if the child is disruptive, and that includes crying. I'd really be embarrassed to have everyone around me cringing because my child got noisy.

The facts are that my church, the Catholic church, needs official, mandatory Sunday School for most Masses, and that includes baby sitting. If it's a matter of cost, I know dozens of parish Catholics who feel as I do and would happily fund such a program. I also know that bishops and pastors are more than frugal when it comes to spending money where they think they can get free volunteers. Witness our sorry music programs. But Sunday School is far too important to rely on volunteers. Somebody has to be paid to oversee and manage the task.

Do I think there's a chance for an official Catholic Sunday School and infant care program? No, I don't! Bishops aren't known for being in touch with the rank and file. OK, if it's such a big deal to me then why don't I join a Protestant denomination? I've seriously thought about it, but it wouldn't work for me because my spiritual leaders must be celibate. It's not because I think that only Catholics will be saved. Far from it! I know scores of Protestants who'll see Paradise before I do.

Please try to understand that we older Catholics need thoughtful, contemplative Masses more than young people do because we're carrying more sin baggage, having lived so long. We need to communicate with our Lord during solemn parts of the Mass and it's impossible when our trains of thought are broken by babies crying and kids shuffling about in the pews.

So I'm asking you young mothers and fathers to please think about other parishioners' spiritual needs and remove your youngsters from church as soon as they start fussing. You will be greatly appreciated.

Bob Thomas is a Carson City businessman, local curmudgeon and former member of the Carson City School Board and Nevada State Assembly.


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