John Henry Newman once remarked that the Church hierarchy considered all converts dangerous.
As a temperamentally disputatious ex-Methodist, I am sensitive to the charge and try, usually in vain, to take a properly measured response to the provocations that attend Catholic life.
In the 20 years since coming to the Church, I have found Chesterton’s observation that Catholics agree on two or three sublime principles and argue about everything else to be disturbingly accurate. So in writing an article on why young people find the Mass boring, I am aware of the threat to which I expose myself from captious clerics, prickly parishioners, and mortified musicians.
It should be noted that adolescent boredom manifests itself far beyond the precincts of the Church. It perplexes secular society no end that recent generations, blessed with entertainment opportunities, technological wonders, and facilities for sport and culture vastly superior to anything that has gone before, should be the most bored in history.
That said, it remains a fact that the numbers of young people at Mass in our parishes are far below what they ought to be, especially in a world beset by so many demoralising existential crises. And it seems reasonable to relate this absence to the boredom professed and demonstrated by many of the young people who do attend.
So what is the problem?
Well, let’s start with what is not the problem. Pop music, entertaining homilies, dropping Latin, and trying every possible strategy for speeding things up have been, if you’ll forgive the pun, a massive failure in terms of appealing to young people. And I have nothing against pop music, the vernacular, or entertaining homilies.
More traditional forms of worship were not the problem; and neither are more contemporary forms of worship, although these may sometimes reflect the problem.
And, to put it in a nutshell, the problem is the erosion of meaning.
I recall a story of a Protestant who told his Catholic friend that if he believed that our Lord was actually in the Tabernacle, he would enter the church in the prostrate position. Of course, we know that Jesus welcomes us as Saviour, brother, and friend, but the anecdote should still prompt us to ask ourselves: Where is the sense of awe? Where are the adoration, gratitude, and self-sacrifice due to the Creator of the universe? Where is the humility before the Love who died for me? How do I conduct myself in the presence of God?
Pope Benedict, in The Spirit of the Liturgy, sums up the startling truth of the Mass: “Can man, the finite and sinful one, cooperate with God, the Infinite and Holy One? Yes, he can, precisely because God himself has become man, become body, and here, again and again, he comes through his body to us who live in the body. The whole event of the incarnation, cross, resurrection and second coming is present as the way by which God draws man into cooperation with himself.”
How on earth can anyone find that boring? But, of course, you first have to know it and believe it.
The awe-inspiring message of hope, the very meaning of life, is there for us in the Mass.
It doesn’t need us to make it more entertaining, or more “relevant”, or more up-to-date; it needs us only to approach it in reverence, humility, gratitude, and a spirit of self-sacrifice. And that applies to ensuring that music, readings, the homily and everything else is in harmony with the spirit of the liturgy.
If our young people aren’t joyously uplifted by the mysteries of the Faith and feel no sense of awe at Mass, the reasons are not difficult to fathom.
We are failing to teach them cogently, and the insistent and irreverent dogma of physicalist secularism is winning the fight for their hearts and minds.
The war of the worldviews is undisguised and unrelenting in the post-modern West, and Hollywood, the music industry, and the media routinely denigrate the Faith and seduce the unwary.
Moreover, the worldview promoted in state schools is brazenly secularist.
How many Catholics actively oppose that tide of propaganda to which young people are exposed seven days a week? Are we prepared, with Peter, to “make (our) defence to anyone who demands from (us) an account of the hope that is in” (us)?
J. M. Barrie observed that one’s religion is whatever interests one most. In a narcissistic culture like our own, the religion of most people will be self-gratification.
For people in that frame of mind, regardless of age, of course the Mass will be boring. Our duty is to see that young Catholics are not in that frame of mind, rather than trying to adapt the liturgy to accommodate it.
Andre van Heerden has been a teacher, soldier, policeman, refugee, advertising copywriter, creative director, immigrant; has had a variety of roles in the corporate world, and is an expert on leadership.