The heavy exhale. The almost lifeless body beneath the covers. You beg, you plead, you offer the ultimatum that threatens a loss of phone or Xbox or car. Slowly your teen’s overtired, hormone-driven corpus emerges from the darkness, bloodshot eyes rolling back in their heads as they make their way to the bathroom in hopes of being presentable … for Mass.
Perhaps this is your typical Sunday morning. It was absolutely the scene in my home growing up. Once we had transitioned from the elementary school years of “altar server engagement” and hit puberty, all of a sudden Mass wasn’t all that interactive or engaging anymore, and the bribe of donuts after liturgy no longer held its influential power over our sugar-crazed young bodies. It’s as though when the teen years ushered in we realized that while Mass might have begun at 10 AM sharp, it consistently ended at 11 AM dull.
My cradle Catholic parents instilled in me the importance of going to Mass religiously (no pun intended) but were never able to articulate why we went, answering only “because we are Catholic and that is what good Catholics do.”
It wasn’t until a youth minister explained the significance, depth, and beauty of the Mass that my eyes (and heart) were truly opened. Slowly, over time, I began to see the Liturgy differently. It was as though, with every fact and insight I learned, the dots began to connect between the history and the mystery—between God’s divinity and our humanity, all colliding within the parish walls. I was given a great gift, a proverbial “pearl of great price” by a soul who not only knew about the Mass but who was patient enough to walk with me as my heart and soul opened up to this timeless, inestimable treasure from heaven.
Change Takes Time
It’s not that modern parents, priests, or youth ministers are uncaring in their pursuit of educating teens and young adults on the Liturgy. Rather, the problem more accurately lies within the lack of formation, time, and resources to adequately unpack the richness of the Mass.
This is not to assert that there is no success within families or parishes at all, only to point out that many teens are left with well-intentioned catechists who either aren’t in a theological position to catechize or who lack the time (and patience) it takes to cultivate a love for the Mass.
We all desire for the next generation to develop a deep and abiding love for the sacraments, in particular the Eucharist, but how do we develop and “unleash” that love in an increasingly overstimulated, disengaged, and screen-obsessed culture? I have several suggestions which I’ll share below; the first two center around relationship and resource.
First, our teens need our time more than our teaching points. My youth minister was patient with me, and didn’t expect my disinterested attitude to change overnight. He didn’t try to “convince” me of the beauty of the Mass, rather I witnessed its mystical magnitude every time he made the Sign of the Cross and within the reverence of his genuflection. I was struck by the care he took in receiving communion and the obvious depth of his eucharistic meditation. I may not have understood the timeless sacrifice of Christ pouring out upon that altar, but I was aware that something ethereal was transpiring before my earthly eyes. He didn’t lead with doctrine (the “what”), he was a living example of a soul encountering a “Who” that led me to genuinely ask the question “why.” My youth minister understood an evangelistic principle many sorely miss, namely “If you want someone to care about the “what” (Church teaching), they must first encounter the “Who” (Lord).”
Go the Extra Mile
If you want your teens or the teens in your parish to really engage in the Mass, it begins with asking yourself this question, “How far am I willing to go for that to happen?”
Are you willing to be a consistent example to your own kids of what it means to enter into worship? Are you willing to fulfill your baptismal call and sacramental pledge to raise them “according to the law of Christ and His Church” (i.e. take them to Mass whether they want to go or not)? Are you willing to volunteer for a core team within your parish youth ministries? Are you willing to help equip the youth minister with the right resources to aid their catechetical efforts? Are you willing to learn more and dive more deeply into the Mass personally, so that you become that living embodiment of a soul engaged by the majesty and mystery of the sacred liturgy with every response, antiphon, and prayer?
Once our young people see our own passion for the Mass and humble interaction with the Lord, they will begin to recognize the joy that it is to pursue virtue and their hearts will begin to soften through God’s grace and our intercession. The soil will be tilled and far more “receptive” to the seed of the Living Word, Jesus, which brings us to the second point: Once they begin to develop that personal relationship with the “Who,” which resources will impart the “what” about the Mass? Not every parish has a priest with the time to walk young souls through the Mass in an engaging way. Many of our most educated catechists may have an A+ in theology but struggle in articulating theology at an understandable and engaging level.
It was with this in mind that I wrote Altaration: The Mystery of the Mass Revealed. Having spent the past 20+ years in youth ministry and, now, parenting teens of my own, I know firsthand how long it took (and still takes) to get modern teens excited about the Catholic Mass. Bearing in mind the truth concerning why teens experience boredom at Mass, I wrote the videos and leader/student guides to first introduce teens to the “Who” (God) and the “why” (his love for us) of Mass, before moving through all the “what” (the flow, movements, and parts of the Mass).
Over the past few years I’ve received emails and Facebook messages and tweets from around the globe, from both teens and parents—in parishes and in homes—who have gone through the study together, amazed at both the simplicity and depth that the Catholic Mass offers! (For those adults looking to go even deeper into the biblical roots of the Mass, I also recommend my good friend Dr. Ted Sri’s resource A Biblical Walk through the Mass also available at ascensionpress.com).
Of course, regardless of how beautiful the videos and resources are, and how talented the presenters, a resource is only as effective as the humility and diligence of the soul implementing it. With that in mind, I’d love to suggest a few reminders for parents (and for all of us, really) when it comes to raising your kids in the Faith and going to Mass:
Remember your actual goal
Change takes time, even for young souls un-jaded by life. Don’t let yourself get discouraged if the teen you’re parenting or journeying with doesn’t respond on your timetable. In fact, lose your timetable all together. Pray with 2 Timothy 4:1-5.
Remember your audience
The modern teen is the most overstimulated creature in existence (followed closely by the modern adult). They are constantly bombarded with screens and music and distraction. Getting them to enter into the stillness and serenity of the Liturgy is a tall task. The odds are against you right out of the gate, but grace is real and God is bigger. Pray with Romans 12:11-13.
Remember the Sabbath
We all know that “keeping the Sabbath holy” is the third commandment. That being said, keeping it holy means far more than just attending Mass … that’s the minimum. Do everything you can to recapture your Sabbath. Make it a day of rest, not of tasks. Enter into the day, into family time and into true rest and communion with God and one another. The more we begin to set aside the entire day, the more our lives become balanced and the more we will be able to truly enter into the sacramental embrace of God. Pray with Exodus 20:8.
Remember not to come to Mass empty-handed
This doesn’t mean to bring your wallet … father wouldn’t like that, either. No, it means to arrive at Mass with intentionality and with intentions! Know who and what you are going to offer up to the Lord in prayer and encourage your teens to have someone/something as an intention, as well. Pray with 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
Remember the basics of communication
Where you sit matters. Teens are easily distracted. Proximity to the front is far more engaging than the typical “Catholic” spot in the very last pew. Responses matter. Encourage your teens to offer audible verbal responses, singing, and engagement. Let the priest hear you! Pray with Psalm 86:12.
Remember to be consistent
Consistency speaks to the fundamental importance of something. Give your teens the gift of consistency. Parents, take your teens to Mass no matter what, regardless of if they “feel like it”. No breaks. No excuses (not even on vacation). Actions follow beliefs. Pray with Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
Remember to keep learning
A true disciple is an eternal student. Keep learning more about the Mass yourself, not only so that the Spirit can utilize that knowledge and wisdom with your teens but, also, for your own sanctification. The holy Mass is an inexhaustible font of grace, but we must come thirsty and come often. Pray with John 7:37-38.