Our Diocese's Best Kept Secret
When you have a new baby, everything in the world is wonderful. A long 10 months of hopeful anticipation culminates in you finally getting to hold your new little one as they snuggle up close to you and sleep. It's an amazing time and also an exhausting time. The joy of holding your warm baby is mixed with the terror that at any moment they could have a blowout and ruin your Hallmark moment.
As your family adjusts to its new life, whether this child be your first or your twelfth, you get to go to Mass together and bask not only in the peace of the liturgy, but in the joy of everyone around you. People love babies and our love of them is on full display at Church.
In these many weeks of happiness and serenity at Mass, there’s one thing that doesn't cross your mind: this child will be a toddler soon enough and Mass will become an epic struggle. No longer are you struggling against the urge to mentally check out or to resist reading the bulletin. No, you and your wife's struggle is to maintain order and discipline with your tiny human who wants nothing more than to be moving, squirming, walking, holding the hymnal, ripping the hymnal, throwing toys on the floor, taking off their socks and shoes, reading a book, shouting to hear their own echo and so on.
Young parents are trying to balance instilling the practice of going to Mass in their child with the rights of other parishioners to not have a little kid screaming right next to them for an entire hour. It's an incredibly stressful situation for any parent to be in. Worse, taking your child to the back of Church means there's no longer any comfortable seating or the opportunity to actually see or hear what's going on. Most Churches have woefully inadequate cry rooms that amount to nothing more than an afterthought.
This goes on for months and months until the family can reintegrate with the Parish when their child is old enough to know that Mass is a quiet time.
Alison and I faced this stark reality starting just a few months ago. Gone are the days when Benedict would be content to be held by us or sleep in his seat during Mass. He’s a boy on the move and he’d love to tell you all about it!
Our parish, like so many others, had little room to work with in the construction of the Church. That meant that shortly after Mass began, sometimes even before Mass began, one of us would have to take Benedict into the narthex and experience Mass from there. The sound was good, but there was no comfortable seating. After the homily we'd switch places-the upside was that it gave us both half of Mass to be quiet and prayerful. The downside, which completely outweighed the upside, was that our family was sadly split during our most important activity of the week.
Thankfully, our parish is also staffed by genius priests. 7 years ago, they built a new Church on the parish lot. Our community is huge with six Masses on the weekend, all packed to overflow capacity. Instead of knocking down the historical Church which was built shortly after the end of the Civil War, they kept it as an Adoration Chapel. In a stroke of pure genius, instead of letting the old Church sit empty on the weekend, they wired it for sound and video from the main Church and it now is the cry room. The Mass being celebrated right next door is broadcast to a large TV on an AV cart through a camera that pivots in the back of the main sanctuary. So, when someone is at the Lectern, we can zoom in and just see the reader. When the priest is praying the consecration, we can zoom in just on the Altar. All Mass, no distractions.
What makes this "cry room" so special is that it's a fully commissioned Church with the Blessed Sacrament still in repose. It's not a random room at the very back of the Church, it is a Church! Benedict can still have the experience of being in Church and going to Mass without Alison and I having to bear the stress of not wanting him to disturb others. I call the Chapel, jokingly, St. Benedict's Chapel.
It's a wonderful blessing to have this opportunity. There are other families with children who go to Mass in the Chapel and no one has any expectation of complete silence. We still try to regulate Benedict, to a point, but if he screams, we don't blush. If he throws a book on the ground, we don't shudder. Even better, since there are far fewer people, we have space to spread out with the large amount of things we bring to Mass these days to keep Benedict appropriately engaged.
Perhaps what I love most about St. Benedict's Chapel, apart from it being a real Church, is the relief that it brings to parents. We're able to pray and enjoy the experience of Mass in a Church, without worrying about the erratic behavior of our toddler. We're able to be together, as a family, at Mass. We're able to form good habits in Benedict and help him understand not only what's going on in the Mass, but what all of the things are in the Church.
I look forward to the day when our family is able to participate in Mass with the whole community again, but for now, I'm quite content celebrating in St. Benedict's Chapel, where families can pray together without stressing over every sound their child makes.