By FATHER KENNETH DOYLE
Editor’s note: This column is being repeated by Catholic News Service. Father Doyle is now retired.
Q. I love children, and I know that babies will cry at inopportune times. That said, I am puzzled at the young parents in our parish who allow their children to cry loudly in church for extended periods of time.
I tend to believe that it might be part of our American culture of "freedom." But freedom comes with responsibility; in our church of 700 congregants, those three or four babies are ruining the Mass experience for all the rest of us. (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
A. St. John Chrysostom, more than 1500 years ago, wrote this: "Nothing so becomes a church as silence and good order. Noise belongs to theaters, and baths, and public processions, and marketplaces; but where doctrines ... are the subject of teaching, there should be stillness and quiet and calm reflection and a haven of much repose" (Homily 30 on the Acts of the Apostles).
On the other hand, Pope Francis, celebrating Mass in 2014 at a parish in Rome, said this: "Children cry, they are noisy, they don't stop moving. But it really irritates me when I see a child crying in church and someone says they must go out. God's voice is in a child's tears."
As in many things, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Congregations do have a special responsibility to welcome children, and parishioners need to be patient with small children's occasional outbursts. (As one adage has it, "Your parish is dying if no baby is crying.")
But crying that is constant and loud can hold a congregation hostage and, as the letter writer says, "ruin the Mass experience for the rest of us." The answer lies in balance and discretion; parents need to be sensible and take their child for a "walk" when they recognize behavior that is seriously distracting.
Certainly no celebrant should go suddenly silent, focusing attention on a disruptive child and the offending family; but perhaps an occasional bulletin announcement, prudently stated and in a kindly fashion, can remind parents that the Mass should be, as far as possible, a positive experience of prayer.
Q. My daughter went away to college last year and now chooses not to attend Mass -- although there is a Catholic parish just a couple of miles from her school. When she comes home (every few months), she attends church with me.
Should I tell her not to receive Communion -- since she has not been to confession and has been consciously neglecting her Sunday obligation? (I want to encourage her to stay with the church, so I am not sure how to proceed.) (Richmond, Virginia)
A. Your question, as I view it, is more one of strategy than of theology -- and reasonable minds could well differ as to how to respond. Everyone's goal, of course, is the same: to get your daughter back to regular practice of the sacraments.
The teaching of the church is clear; the Catechism of the Catholic Church says this: "The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants). ... Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin" (No. 2181).
Gravity of matter, though, is just one of three necessary conditions for a mortal sin -- the others being complete consent of the will and full knowledge of the sinful character of the act or omission. In that light, I would not be certain that your daughter has been committing mortal sin because I don't presume to know the state of her mind (how fully she recognizes her duty to be at Sunday Mass.)
So I don't think that I would tell her directly that she can't receive Communion. I would, though, find a way -- in a low-key manner that is not confrontational -- to explain to her from time to time what the sacraments mean in your own life and to suggest that she might find a similar benefit in her own.