Catechist Chat: Let Teens Pick and Choose

Catechist Chat - advice for religious educatorsAt his (fabulous and new!) website, Patrick Madrid posted about young people and the Mass. You’ll want to read in full, but here’s a snippet from a priest’s comment on the subject:

Young people do not want a Mass the reflects the world, but a Mass that reflects heaven, which is other worldly and mysterious. Drums, guitars, clapping, etc., do not reflect heaven, they reflect a rock concert.

I am in total agreement here – well, at least, about the appropriate music for Mass.

But there are lots of kids who really, really, really like Praise and Worship music at Mass. Lots of adults, too. It hasn’t been my personal experience that Praise and Worship music doesn’t work to get teens to Mass; it just doesn’t work to get all teens to Mass.

I’m not trying to launch some apocalyptic showdown of chant-versus-guitars here. My point is that we need to be okay with the fact that teenagers, just like every other demographic…well, aren’t one big demographic.

If a teenager likes youth group, loves LifeTeen, and is on fire for retreats – awesome. And if not? That’s okay, too.

Give kids a menu to choose from as far as how they’ll be involved in their faith. That autonomy is what they’re hoping for, as they enter adulthood, anyway.

The best youth ministry programs already accomplish this – they offer a wide variety of ways for kids to share and grow in their faith.

But I’ve also seen families – and religious educators – try to “force” kids to fit a certain mold of what an Active Catholic Teen looks like – you know, the ones from the pictures in the youth Bibles?

See, I’m an expert on teenagers, because my own children aren’t in their teens yet. (heh) What I hope to do with my own kids as they enter their teenage years is to allow them to decide, to a certain extent, how they’re going to be involved in our parish beyond what I consider the minimum (Mass attendance and some form of religious ed – either Catholic school, if we decide to go that route, or CCD.) If they don’t cotton to the youth Mass but really enjoy volunteering at the food bank or Gabriel Project, that’s fine with me.

Isn’t that what we want for them as adults? To discover their unique charisms, and put them to use? How are we helping them to do so if we try to make all teens fit into a certain mold?

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  1. Joyce Donahue says

    Amen, Dorian!

    There are people out there who would read Patrick Madrid and say – yes, he’s right – no rock music at Mass – let’s all chant – it makes it more reverent and holy.

    But he IS right in the sense that teens want Mass to have substance – to provide them with real opportunties for engaged worship and a sense of the presence of God.

    That being said, musical style – no matter whether it’s Gregorian Chant, or Rock ‘n’ Roll has very little to do with it. When music speaks to the heart and the songs are chosen to support the rest of the liturgy – the readings and prayers of the feast or season, there is no reason to say that one is “better” than the other – it’s just “different.” When the readings and prayers are proclaimed clearly and sincerely, when the homily helps teens as well as adults see the connection between faith and life, it doesn’t matter what “style” the music is in. Each community has its own voice in matters of the music – and that’s as it should be under this great big umbrella that is the Catholic Church, where there is room for people with any number of preferences for worship “style”.

    Thanks for your great post.

  2. says

    Music flavors aside (heavy metal Mass, anyone? Country & Western Mass? Hiphop Mass? Disco Mass? Reggae Mass? Synth-Pop Mass? Thought not.), one reason kids/teens/adults/(your agegroup here) find Mass boring is that they don’t really understand what-all is going on. If Catholics emerge from the Catholic education pipeline with a faith formation appropriate to their age.

    I’m ancient enough to remember when there was one kind of Mass with one kind of music. There was no choice, and it didn’t occur to anyone that there should be a choice. Kind of like breathing air. But now that the choice genie is out of the bottle, it splits the flock into any number of separate, and sometimes antagonistic sects, whether they coalesce around music, language, or something else.

    • says

      I think you’re right there Christian. Understanding what’s going on in the Mass and the significance of everything is much more of a motivator for interest than the music being played. That’s the most important thing because that’s what is really going on there.

  3. says

    You know, some of the best Masses I’ve ever been to were the praise and worship Masses they do at Franciscan. They are truly worshipful experiences!

    The traditionalists look down on that kind of stuff because they say it’s all an emotional high and is not conducive to prayer. But I don’t think it was overly emotional. That music is often an adaptation of the Psalms. I think think what is so special about it is that it’s addressing God directly. It’s singing to him, speaking to him, praising him. That is very special.

    Most of the music we sing today is sort of doctrinal. It’s about the Faith and not about loving God. The point of worship is loving God!

    Now, I so see the point that the Mass is meant to be contemplative–given to silence and reflection. In that case, praise and worship music most definitely does not fit the bill. Chant is much more conducive to prayer in that way.

    That’s an interesting point that kids should have different experiences and should be able to choose. I think it’s true that not all kids automatically like the praise and worship, rock music style. The majority relate to that more though I think.

  4. says

    Yeah, my overall point was that we should avoid centralizing about what “teens” want, because they are not monolithic in their preferences – and they often have very STRONG preferences about things like music.

    I would argue that discussing liturgical music in terms of what a particular group supposedly prefers is missing the point of music in the liturgy and boiling it down to “what gets ’em in the pews.” And I think we can each argue “well, I have seen kids flock to the Mass when there was XYZ music,” which may indeed be true – but we may be talking about different groups of kids.

    Very true that music that is chosen to reflect the readings and that is “performed” reverently and without putting the musicians in the spotlight is very important, regardless of genre. I am definitely more old school in my own preferences 😉 but I am more sensitive to whether the music at Mass is “the cantor show” or exists to truly lead the congregation in worship.