There is hardly a thing in most of the column to disagree about. You can tell, quite easily, parish communities that are more interested in communion with their neighbor than with Christ. Churches that place the importance of reverence and silence high on the priority list appeal to people, even though they may not be able to articulate why. It is true that the constant stimuli, "all noise, all the time," mentality has penetrated our holy spaces.
All of this written, however, I take issue with some of Weigel's descriptors of and solutions for noisy children in Mass. Let me preface with a note that I believe noisy children should be brought to the back of the Church or to the cry room when misbehaving, crying or making noise (we all know that the further from the age of reason the child is, the more difficult it is to instill the importance of silence during Mass). On these points, I agree with Weigel to a degree. However, I think he shows himself a curmudgeon more concerned with his personal peace from noise than the reality of what is going on by these turns of phrase:
- “Parents with small children: use the cry-room, if your parish has one; take the squawking kids out of the body of the church when they start caterwauling if there’s no cry-room;”
- " or consider leaving small, fractious children at home, with the parents attending different Masses—a sacrifice, I know, but a kindness to others and a way to ensure that you actually get a chance to pray yourself."
Is Weigel serious? Reading this, you might be surprised that he has three (or any!) children of his own. First, does he mean to say all parents with small children should use the cry room, regardless of what those children are doing? Second, I am convinced that the "squawking" done by children who have not reached the age of reason is a sweeter sound to the ears of our Lord than the most fervent prayer George Weigel or I could utter. Does he forget the words of Jesus in Mark 10:13-15?:
Perhaps all the children brought to Jesus in this passage came with no noise and with hands folded nicely across their chests? I think not. It is true that some kids are brought up to be brats. Some parents don't pay due attention to their children's behavior at Mass, and do nothing to direct it or spare others. But the honest utterances of babies, the joy and energy and wonder of children, even when expressed during Mass is hardly squawking to God. The language Weigel uses here is a shame. It reveals a mindset that is contrary to the reality of just what children are to Christ. We are called to be more like them if we have any hope of entering heaven.
And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.
Even if one might be willing to overlook this choice of language, the suggestion that parents attend different Masses rather than work hard to teach their children how to love the Mass, including the reverence due to God during it, is at best amusing, and at worst insulting. For large families, the suggestion is simply impossible. To do this is to break the communion of the family, as well as hurt the spiritual development of the child. We all know plenty of Catholics who, on the weakest of excuses, find reasons why they should not have to attend Mass. I know one such person who refuses to go to Mass because bringing his two children is simply too hard on Sundays. Is this really the lesson Weigel wants us to teach the next generation of Catholics? No, a family that prays and assists at Mass together, no matter how energetic or irritable the children are on a given day, is in a better position to weather the storms of life and faith than those who, for their own convenience and ease of life, choose to attend separate Masses, or have some of their children not attend at all.
Finally, we all know the "blue-hair" phenomenon in many parishes. The parishes that have only the old are not thriving. The pews should be full of children as a witness to the sanctity and value of life. The Mass should be accompanied by the sweet music of babies who are the best evidence that a parish has a future.
In short, George Weigel is mostly right in this column. But where he is wrong, he is seriously wrong. The Mass is a visible reminder of the invisible reality of union with Christ. The Body of Christ relies on the ones Christ loves the most, the children. The children are the future of the Church, and we must do all we can to put them in the heart of the Most Blessed Sacrament as often as we can if we are to have any hope. A wise priest told me that the graces received by a mother and father who have not heard an entire homily since before their young children were born are great indeed. There are plenty of opportunities to pray in solitude at adoration, or special times during the day at home. If the Faith is to be central to the family, however, the family must be together at Mass as much as possible, and those who view the presence of children - and the occasional noise that accompanies them - as an unbearable burden would be well-served to attend the 6am Mass where the sound of walkers and oxygen tanks fill the air instead.
[Update: I took out the block quotes from Weigel I had in originally concerning the need for silence and reverence at Mass. Read his column, it's worth it on those points, and I agree with him on most everything except as noted above. My post was just too long with the quotes included.]