Some Hard Questions about Sunday Mass and Our Young People
If I were to ask clergy, staff, or adult parish members whether or not their parish was “young people” friendly, I am sure that many would say that they are. Parishes, I think for the most part do not intentionally set out to exclude- we want everyone to come to our parishes and leave with a good and genuine faith experience centered on the Eucharist and fed by the Word. But the fact is, many parishes are no longer filled with young people like they once were. While parents certainly have some control over their young people’s Mass attendance when they are growing up, especially if they put faith development as a top priority in their family. But once the young people get older, it becomes quite evident that something is happening once they are confirmed, usually around 8th grade. It is almost as if they graduate from their faith.
While there are certainly other factors such as an authentic relationship with Jesus that are involved in why young people are no longer in church on Sundays, it is important to realize that the Liturgy is the gateway to make that happen. The Church offers such a richness that no other faith tradition can provide, but yet we tend to downplay it. Now other things such as parental influence and societal expectations, (especially when it comes to sports and other activities on Sundays), also have an influence. But those are factors we cannot control.
Making the Liturgy, our primary form of worship, more inclusive, is certainly part of the solution. While there are some things about the Liturgy that cannot be changed, there are many ways we can assure that young people are integrated into parish life while at the same time feeling like the Liturgy is speaking to them.
This requires us to ask some hard questions and to be honest with the answers. But asking the question and even admitting the answers is not enough. Once we arrive at those facts, we are compelled to change those things within our capability.
Preparation for Mass
First, if we operate under the theology that our liturgical celebration actually begins at home, then how do we allow families to prepare to gather? Do we catechize that Mass begins at home with non-hurried preparation? It’s not something we just get ready to check off, but it is something that we work hard at making a priority. Mass can’t be treated like any other appointment we attend. We must put ourselves at home within the right frame of mind. Giving families an hour before and an hour after Mass allows them to make it a priority. How many of us dash out of church after our hour is up to football or chores or some other activity? Why not give the hour after Mass to the Lord as well by spending quality time as a family. This might include a small social gathering where families can pick up a snack after Mass or even just sit and catch up on the week with each other.
If we are blessed with a large gathering area, do we use it to allow families to gather before Mass to catch up with their priests and their friends on the week just past and then even make plans for the week ahead?
Do the staff and priests stand at the doors and welcome each and every person- not just the adults? Do the children and teens feel like the staff and priests want them there. Are they greeted and asked about their week with a genuine concern and caring?
When we greet young people, do we give up on greeting them after a few tries because they consistently walk in like they do not want to be there? Many times, we need engage the young people and showing an interest in them as people, separate from their parents and siblings, makes them feel special.
Is the music something that draws us into the celebration no matter what our age?
Is there a proper balance between the “old stuff” and the new?
Do we choose our music like the parish is stuck in 1950 or even 1975? But at the same time, those choices should reflect an effort to learn traditional music and even chant. These musical forms are part of the Church’s rich history.
Do we teach the music to the assembly allowing the older folks to learn the new stuff and the younger folks to learn the old stuff?
Are young people encouraged to not only participate in the children’s or teen choir but also in the parish choir as well?
Is the homily delivered in such a way that the young people do not tune out?
Does the homily give practical advice to the young people on how to live their faith or is the advice only for the older folks?
Does the homily give advice to parents on how to live their vocation as parents?
Does the homily occasionally engage the assembly in dialog- something very valuable for young people today where they are asked to engage and question?
Are all of the liturgical roles reserved for adults or are young people asked to be greeters, ushers, lectors and extra-ordinary ministers?
Is there a proper balance between the adults and young people in these roles?
Do the adults who serve alongside the young people engage them in conversation or are young people asked to serve in the less prominent parts of the Mass.
These are just some of the questions you need to ask yourselves in your parish whether as clergy, parish council, staff, or parish member. The future of the Church depends on us making sure that our traditions are maintained but more importantly there are those young people in the pews who will one day carry on those traditions.
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