Search the catacombs or the great cathedrals of the Church and you will not find any cry rooms. Children are a part of the Church, and they belong at Mass just like everyone else.
The question of whether loud or unruly children should attend Mass with their parents has been extensively debated. Everyone has an opinion. As a father of four children (who endeavors to attend mass with my kids on Sundays, and also as regular daily communicants), I have my opinion, too. But my opinion is not the point; rather, this article examines whether cry rooms or nursery care are part of Tradition, and applies the significance of the objective facts to answer the question that children belong at Mass.
There is no precedent for the “cry room” or nursery care in the Catholic Church. You can go to the ancient churches of Rome, the Holy Land, or anywhere else the Church began to flourish after the Edict of Milan, and you will not find a cry room anywhere.
You can visit catacombs and graveyards and other clandestine places where early Christians gathered before Constantine’s conversion, and you will not hear tales of the nursery care offered during Mass. You can, however, imagine the particular danger of a crying baby in that situation!
You will not read accounts of such things contained in the writings of Origen or St. Justin Martyr. There is nothing in Canon Law or the Catechism on the use of nurseries or crying rooms. Yet, in the Acts of the Apostles, you can read about Cornelius and his whole household (arguably consisting of at least one or two children) who were baptized at the prompting of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10). Before baptizing, Peter didn’t say, “You grownups can stay, but the children have to go outside.”
From the earliest times in the life of the Church, children — the love due them from their parents, their right to receive education and formation in the faith — were important priorities that commanded protection and support from the structures of the Church. James Hitchcock, historian and author of History of the Catholic Church, writes about marriage in the very early Church: “Marriage was also honored in the high value the Church placed on children, against a pagan society in which unwanted babies were put out to die of exposure. The begetting of children was always considered the principal purpose of Christian marriage, so that abortion and contraception were condemned from the earliest times.” (p. 29)
We also cannot ignore Our Lord’s own words: ”Let the children come to me, do not hinder them.” (Mark 10:14).
The contrast is clear: pagan societies were free to remove children from public life when doing so was convenient or expedient, but the Church commanded an entirely different, and counter-cultural approach to the raising and care of children. Children, babies, and young families have been elemental to the survival and growth of Christianity throughout the ages. The cry room or nursery has no historical connection to the Christian life; it is the product of the technological age and protestantism.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The catechesis of children, young people, and adults aims at teaching them to meditate on The Word of God in personal prayer, practicing it in liturgical prayer, and internalizing it at all times in order to bear fruit in a new life. Catechesis is also a time for the discernment and education of popular piety. The memorization of basic prayers offers an essential support to the life of prayer, but it is important to help learners savor their meaning.” (CCC 2688). In other words, “practicing” in “liturgical prayer” requires attendance at liturgy! My three-year-old can recite the Our Father, not because I taught it to him, but because he’s heard it recited over and over, both during Mass and at home in family prayer.
Also, ”In a very special way, parents share in the office of sanctifying ‘by leading a conjugal life in the Christian spirit and by seeing to the Christian education of their children.’ (CCC 902, CIC, can. 835 s 4). We educate our children by modeling the practice of Christian worship. Children can benefit from witnessing the devotion of their parents, family, and siblings in the context of liturgical celebration.
This is not to say that parents do not have a duty to expect good behavior from their children, according to what is reasonable for their age, while they attend liturgical celebrations of the Church. Bringing children to mass carries an obligation to avoid deliberately distracting others, and parents should always try to discern when it is more appropriate to move a child who is causing a disruption.
As a side note, my personal experience is that the only way children learn how to behave at Mass is by going to Mass, over and over again. We take them out when they misbehave, but the goal is to remain in the pew with them.
Children belong at Mass. Period. Efforts to remove children for “special liturgies,” “CCD”, “religious ed”, “nursery care” — or whatever else — is not in keeping with the traditions of the Church or its precepts. Loud children and their parents (whose sin is that they have dutifully brought their kids to Mass) should not be relegated to segregated, soundproofedrooms for the convenience and comfort of people who complain about the noise or distraction at the expense of the good of the whole community.
The good of the whole community requires that the Church remain an extension of the family. Mass is the Sunday Dinner for the Family Church. We cannot expect children and their parents or caregivers to become mere spectators, watchers, of the Sacred Liturgy, rather than full participants, because doing so is a terrible kind of dis-invitation, a violation well beyond that of the “kid’s table” for holiday meals.
Children have always been, and should always be present at liturgical celebrations. Their presence, especially in overwhelming numbers, is a sign of the great blessings showered by God upon His people. The most joy-filled, spiritually enriching celebrations of the Eucharist that you can find often involve the prominent presence and participation of young people and children. It does not matter if you attend the Mass in the Novus Ordo or the Extraordinary Form, when young people are present, Jesus is happy, because the growth and life of the Church is something that ensures a healthy, dynamic and living faith for future generations.
When our Holy Father told our young people at World Youth Day to go make some noise, he did not also say, “but only in the cry room.”
Children belong at mass, and so do you!