Last week I went to a morning Mass at a friend’s parish church, the Mass intention was for his late mother on what would have been her 100th birthday. Two other people I know were there and they asked me that question that always raises a smile in an infantile me “Hello Tony, what are you doing here?”

I always want to say “me, a Catholic, at a Catholic church, 10 minutes before Mass starts, que penses tu?”  But I have resisted so far.

As we headed into church the porch was chocablock with people.  My first thought was “wow Marge was popular” but getting inside we found the door between the porch and the nave was blocked by a buggy containing a little girl aged about two years old.  She was, it appeared, being berated by a lady aged about 40 with words such as “most unsatisfactory” “awkward situation” “it would not have hurt grannie”.

The bottleneck cleared when another lady asked if they could move so we could get into church.  They did, but the noise, in spite of the closed doors, continued.

Just before Mass started the little girl was brought into church by her grandparents.  They took a seat at the front of the church, to the side and she sat in the buggy holding grandad’s finger with one hand and a soft toy with the other.

Sometime before we got to the first reading the child started to cry.  Grandad did his best to placate her but after a few minutes he took her outside. However, one ot two people in the congregation waved at him and indicated not to, they had expressions of “it’s ok” “don’t worry” (although the waving had us all looking, bless ‘em), but grandad took the little girl outside and grannie went and got them back as we stood when father said “pray my brothers and sisters that…….”

After Mass I was told the berating lady was the child’s mother.  She had wanted her parents to have the child while she went to work, the parents said yes, but wanted their daughter to meet them at church so they did not want to be late for Mass.  This did not suit mum but she had no choice.  The congregation were very sympathetic to the grandparents, they in turn were very grateful.

The matter of children, Mass and noise is always a tricky subject, and one to which I have no answers.  I was exceptionally blessed that I only had to take my younger child out of Mass twice.  This was twice more than her sister.  I put this down partly to where we sat in church.  We sat with other families and the parents, all in turn, would remind the children where they were and what was expected.  Yes the children did play, but they played quietly, as a rule, and (picture it) would ‘shh’ each other if anyone got too noisy. in fact the words “ok Marlon, that’s getting a bit too noisy now” are still laughed about over 20 years later.

But something I noticed at the time was this;  if another child from another family was making what someone considered to be too much noise, or perhaps they came in late, the level of tutting was always in relation to how much the, shall we say errant, parents were liked.

One lady spoke to me after Mass once telling me “you daughter went to the toilet at the moment of consecration”.  I was not able to answer as others jumped to my defence with comments like “why did you watch her go to the back of the church, you would not have known if you had not watched her” and “Toilet! How vulgar”.

As I headed for the car I made a point of going up to the lady and saying “I’m sorry it upset you”, to which she told me “and you literally drained the chalice last week”, which is true, but in my defence it was all but empty.

This week the Holy Father has got people talking about family life, and he’s been talking about acceptance.  If we are to accept families, we have to accept all they bring, good and bad, after all, they are there, so they are obviously trying.  As church we should be accepting of every single person who walks through the door, and if we spot anyone who perhaps does not, well a decade will go a long way.

Try it