Let the Children Come to Me: On the Cry Room

by Peter Dobrowski, appearing in Volume 6

How can anyone oppose a cry room (a.k.a. a “family room”) in a church? Young parents want it to avoid being embarrassed by an unruly child and to be with understanding people struggling with the same problem.  Children like it because they can play their games and not be called to account.  Prayerful people encourage it so they won’t be bothered by the problems of children.  And most priests favor it because it’s a physical place to isolate major distractions at Mass.

However, as a priest for thirty years and a pastor for more than half of them, I oppose cry rooms on theological grounds. Vatican II identified the Church as the “people” of God (Constitution on the Church, Ch. 2).  A “people” is not just calm adults and well-behaved children.  When young children are segregated out of the assembly into a cry room, the assembly lacks its full identity as a “people.”  We enter the Church through baptism, so a baptized child belongs to the Church as much as the old lady aggravated by misbehavior or the old man concerned about the “smells.”  The Church is “catholic,” which means she embraces all ages as well as all nations.  The Church doesn’t segregate by race or language (i.e. non-Spanish speakers are royally welcomed at a Spanish Mass), and in the same way the Church loses her visible catholicity when she segregates her assemblies by age.

Another theological reason for opposing cry rooms is that the gospel is promised “to your children” (Acts 2:39).  Dividing the children from the assembly removes them from the space where that gospel is given.  A “family room” puts pressure on families to use it and teaches the children that they’re not held to the same standards as everyone else.  There aren’t two Churches (one for adults and the other for families with unruly children) so there shouldn’t be two places where the one Church assembles for her public work (Constitution on the Liturgy #10).

A third and more practical reason for opposing a cry room is that the space it takes can be put to other uses.  No church ever has enough storage or devotional space.  By taking up an assigned and specific location, a cry room “clutters” the worship space of a community and usually has its own clutter (and unpleasant odors) as well. Of course, there has to be an emergency place for an unruly child when there’s no other way to establish control. That place should have doors to isolate its distractions from the assembly, glass windows to provide the parents and children visual contact with what they came to see, and an audio system to let the family hear what they’re missing.  However, it should be a temporary place, like a vestibule, which has other uses so that once an unruly child starts behaving the family can return to the assembly. That family—parents and children—belong with the rest of us. They’re a visible part of the (gospel) people that we are.