SARTRE's contention that hell is other people can only be matched by the knowledge that purgatory is other people's children, particularly in church.
Kneeling amidst the banging and caterwauling. striving to pray against the insistent distraction of "Muu . . ummmy" followed by a slap, a yelp and a hiccup, it is no wonder that the ordinary human being not burdened with young children has grave difficulty in remembering that famous dictum, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me."
The first four words are sufficient indication of what actually goes on, only seine people are better at "suffering" than others.
The argument rumbles back and forth and barely a month goes by without a reference to it in the correspondence columns of the CATHOLIC HERALD. One faction, not usually the parents, want no young children to disturb their peace and they have a point of view.
The others. headed by the parents, don't particularly want them around either. but believe that the only way to accustom a child to church is to start him young.
A mother of four children aged between two and eight years old stressed that although IL is an exhausting, unprayerful business taking the children to church from her personal point of view, she finds that taking them regularly from an early age helps them to get used to the idea.
To the people who complain about noisy, rowdy brats in church, another mother pointed out that parents must take the blame in such cases. "You cannot stop a tiny child from shouting or crying but anyone over the age of two can be prevented from toddling up and down the aisles.
"Personally," she added. "I don't see why children cannot be made to sit down quietly for an hour when they have the whole of the rest of the day to heat about in.
"Some children are appalling the fact and I get very angry in church, there is no denying the fact and I get very angry myself when I see them charging up and down. Parents who allow it are being very selfish for they would never allow their children to do such a thing in any dangerous place like a station platform or a busy road. if they have to control their children under those circumstances I can't see why they cannot control them in church." Methods of controlling children in church, or not doing so, vary from family to family so I asked a neighbour whose four small children behave admirably to tell me the reason why they manage to put up with an hour in church without going berserk and disturbing everyone else.
"We take masses of books," she told me, "both pious and otherwise and of course for the smallest we take some toys. I've become quite expert over the years at catching anything from ducks to bunnes of keys.
"We always sit at the front so that 'the children can see what is going on and not be bored by seeing nothing but the backs of people's heads.
"We do a fair amount of talking in church. I'm afraid but I feel that the older one's need explanations and we do keep the conversation down to tvitispers as much as possible., We also find that silting down throughout the Mass with the younger ones on our laps is a great advantage. There is no point in jumping up and down at all the appropriate places because this merely disturbs the quiet, almost soporific state the little ones' have lapsed into.
"Of course, there are the unprepared-for occasions like the other Sunday when our sixyear-old whipped out a very realistic-looking mouse and flicked it under someone's seat. but luckily they are fairly rare. "Having the children in church with us really isn't too bad at all, it is the getting there I find so wearing. By the time I have dressed them respectably, made them reasonably clean, equipped them with books or toys and put the joint in the oven, I am absolutely exhausted."
It is obviously far less wearing to leave the children behind and go to separate Masses. Some parents never take their small children to church, believing that there is no point in taking a child until he or she can understand what is going on.
This attitude, commendable in many ways, still doesn't get over the difficulty of encouraging the habit of going to Mass or making the Mass a family affair.
Some parishes run special Family Masses but these are frequently such bedlam that one would rather take the family to an ordinary Sunday Mass. Some more modern churches do have sound-proof sections which are partitioned off from the body of the church so that the little ones, although seen. cannot be heard while their parents can hear the mass through microphone systems.
Al one London ebureb the parish priest had the bright idea of setting up a playgroup for the younger one's while their parents went into Mass but this excellent plan was scotched by mothers who coin
pIaincd that their little "darlings" were not wanted. They refused to co-operate.
Another friend discovered a church where she could wheel her baby into the back and hear Mass herself without having to disturb the child.
At a time when new churches and chapels are being built it seems ludicrous not to make provision for small children. God knows, we have enough of them.