Question: I read your recent answer concerning divorced Catholics and their standing in the church. You and others fail to remind Catholics that the Catechism (No. 2384-85) calls divorce a grave injustice to the abandoned spouse and the children and also introduces disorder into society. How can you (and, it seems, most spokesmen) say that someone who inflicted this can still receive Communion? In order to be forgiven in the sacrament of confession, don’t people need to repair the damage they have done? Isn’t the abandonment of sound Christian moral teaching the reason the church is in the mess it is right now? How many spouses who have abandoned their marriages would return to their families (and maybe wouldn’t have left in the first place) if the church clearly taught — as Christ did 2,000 years ago when speaking to the Pharisees — “What God has joined, no man may sever.” (suburban Cleveland)
Answer: In the column to which the reader refers, I was asked whether a divorced person, never remarried, may serve as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion in the Catholic Church. I responded that he or she can — and is encouraged to — participate in all aspects of parish life, including as a minister of holy Communion. I mentioned that sometimes it can happen that a person winds up in a divorce through “little or no fault of their own.” I stand by that answer because it is the solid and consistent teaching of the church. But I run the reader’s question because it makes the valid point that divorce can bring considerable pain to families and should be avoided, using every opportunity for counseling, if at all possible. Truly, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, children can be “traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them” (No. 2385). The view of the Catholic Church on the permanence of marriage, besides having been taught by Christ, represents wise social policy.
Question: A follow-up question on the “crying babies” issue: I have ruined Sundays for many of my fellow parishioners. My children were very fussy during Mass and always at their worst. They would scream and wail, and there is not a “cry room” in our church. I would go to the gathering area and stand there (there’s no place to sit) — feeling more alone than ever — for the entire Mass. I felt like such a failure as a parent and as a Catholic. I had postpartum depression, and this Sunday experience only served to deepen it. I desperately searched the internet looking for permission to skip Mass and recover some semblance of mental health, but the only opinions I could find said that I should be able to make Mass work even with a struggling child. I spent my Masses wondering why I should even continue to be Catholic. So my question is this: When is it acceptable for a parent to miss Mass to care for children who are healthy but who create turmoil in church? (Missouri)
Answer: It seems to me that while you were going through postpartum depression, you could well have been excused from Mass while recovering — especially if your attendance needed to be compromised by bringing very active young children. Generally, though, I would counsel a mother to seek out ways to be faithful to Sunday Mass — not only because it is a serious obligation for Catholics, but also since it provides important moments of respite and peace in the difficult job of raising children. I know parents who attend separate weekend Masses while the other stays home with little ones; others seek out a parish with a “cry room” or — even better — with volunteers who offer babysitting during Mass. The Eucharist, after all, is the one way that Jesus said he wanted us to keep his memory alive, so I don’t think we should feel lightly dispensed.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, NY 12203.