Tuesday, February 13, 2007

From Sir John Ninian Comper, Of the Atmosphere of a Church, 1947

These words were written by the great English ecclesiastical architect regarding the so-called "Children's Corner," an Anglican fad of the last century which kitted out a small section of a church with a miniature altar and pews. We can apply his comments, I think, to the equally unfortunate tendency to put fish-tank-like "cry rooms" in our parish churches, often at the expense of a confessional or narthex, or trucking kids out to listen to bowdlerized versions of the day's lections:

But why should we put children in a corner in their Father's house? I do not think they do so anywhere else. In France and Italy, the children still come in to pray where they will and lay their offerings of flowers where they will. I remember an Epiphany at Siena (in 1888) where, even during the Cathedral High Mass, children were playing below the altar steps, like the cherubs before the throne of the Madonna and Child in pictures of the Renaissance, and much later, I recall standing in a crowd of worshippers at High Mass in Budapest, and seeing a child's balloon with a face painted on it floating above our heads.

These were instances of freedom within the limits of what destroys the atmosphere of worship.
I recall a Protestant friend who, in response to a crying baby at one of our Masses, remarked on the "family atmosphere" in Catholic liturgy. She explained, "We send our children to Sunday school when they're younger, and when they get to age 7, they don't know what to do with themselves when we let them sit through a full service."

Expect further quotations from Comper's magisterial essay in the future. There's much food for thought within.