Dante’s Advice for the 10th Circle of the Cry Room
As 2000 years of sacred architecture attest, we Catholics love to infuse our structures with sacramentality. The physical form of any church worthy of its parishioners speaks to spiritual realities. The sanctuary correlates to heaven, the altar to the throne of the Triune God, the nave to the Mystical Bride of Christ, His Church, and the cry room to the 10th circle of hell.
One theory of hell, mentioned in Benedict’s Spe Salvi (47), is that it is, in a sense, the same thing as Heaven – the fire of divine love “which both burns and saves” – as experienced by those who hate God rather than those who love Him. A soul in Hell will curse that same love it would have praised, had it not lost grace. A visit to the cry room similarly turns beautiful things on their head. A touching reading, an edifying homily, a moment where the song of angels almost seems to pierce through the human veil of our perception: all become pain because of the knowledge that – in this cry room, this place of wailing and gnashing of teeth – we parents are unable to partake fully of the graces pouring forth from the sanctuary.
The trick to the cry room is to make the experience less like Hell and more like purgatory. Allow me to play the role of Dante and provide a few tips for parents and priests:
- Remember the purposes of purgatory and hell, and treat the cry room likewise. Hell is a place without hope. If the cry room is hell, the hope lost is the prospect of ever returning to the nave of the Church. Purgatory, on the other hand, is all about coming to one’s proper home in heaven and completes the return of God’s people to Him, started in a lifetime of repentance and ongoing conversion. When you enter the cry room, remember that you are trying to calm your child down so that he may return to his proper place in the nave. To that end, stop treating the cry room like a play area. What child is going to calm down and return to Mass when he knows that, for his poor behavior at Mass, he gets rewarded with immediate recess? Instead, leave the toys in the pew when you make your exit. Calm your child in the cry room, resolve the issue that’s got him worked up, and show him that you – and he – will continue praying along with the Mass as much as possible. After a few minutes, ask if he’d like to go back to his pew and return to his toys. (Note: it’s my opinion that toys at Mass should be 1) silent, 2) non-electronic, and 3) a temporary, transitional solution.)
- The cry room is for those kids who have shown themselves unprepared for Mass on a given day. Your child’s behavior probably changes frequently enough throughout the day and from one day to another. Don’t assume that you need to go straight to the cry room every time you attend Mass. If you do, the poor kid will never really practice proper behavior at Mass, nor realize or understand what’s going on in the liturgy, and will be surrounded constantly by the fun all the other children are having – and he’s missing out on – leading to resent and rebellion at the prospect of going to Church.
- The cry room is for those kids who have shown themselves unprepared for Mass on a given day. Are your kids unprepared for Mass? Can you do anything to prepare them better? (I’m seriously examining myself with this question, too.) Perhaps you could dress them well, tell them the stories from the readings in narrative fashion, and pray an Our Father with them on the way to Mass? Don’t forget to end Mass with a visit to the tabernacle where they can express their love for Jesus and practice the proper reverence.
- The cry room is for those kids who have shown themselves unprepared for Mass on a given day. (Getting a little sick of reading that sentence?) The cry room is NOT for adults. I don’t care if you arrived late. I don’t care if you plan to leave early. (Note: you know that Judas left Mass early, too, right?) If you’re an adult without any child supervision, stop acting like a child! Go into the nave of the church!
- Fix the walk of shame. Like Hell, a trip to the cry room brings a touch of nervous embarrassment. If you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about: the “walk of shame.” You make your way up the aisle (preferably a side aisle) with a whining, crying, or screaming child, sometimes with that extra special added awkwardness of carrying your the purse your wife forgot to take out with the other child she’s already removed. This is the #1 reason for the problem I mentioned in #1 on this list. People figure if they’re going to be that ashamed, they might as well just spend the whole Mass in the cry room. Priests: make your parish a family-friendly place. Change the attitudes of parishioners – as well as your own attitudes – to appreciate children with sincerity. I know, I know, the bratty tots interrupt your homily on the connection between silence and patience and it just makes you want to scream! Yes, I get it! Nevertheless, make the parish a family-friendly place. Parents: There’s only so much priests can do to change attitudes in the parish. You know what would help them? Your fellow parishioners need practice getting used to young people at Mass. An increasing presence of tiny humans might just do the trick. Procreate and dominate!
- Don’t thrust your perception of the cry room as hell on the people around you. Can you imagine what purgatory would be like if you were surrounded by lost souls screaming aloud the entire time? When you’ve resolved to use the cry room the right way, you’ll inevitably find other parents who fall under the impression that, once in the cry room, it’s perfectly fine to allow their children to do whatsoever they please. As a consequence, you can’t pay attention to what little of the Mass you can hear through the speaker and your kids really resent you – and this fun-less church – for not being as lax as that other parent. So if you’re one of those parents who make the cry room hell, cut it out!