tisdag 11 december 2012

Young people shun Catholic church

I was talking to a priest the other day who has been working as a chaplain to university students. He mentioned the loss of young people. Obviously there is the influence of the wider society, but a repeated comment from young people is that Mass is boring. And it usually is.

I lived in Brighton, England, for many years. The parish flourished until the introduction of the English Mass in 1990. Then, an initial loss of about one-third of the congregation was followed by further steady decline. In 2001 a new priest was appointed. By then the parish was almost moribund. During his first months, the only change he made was to be available to hear confessions after every Mass. Nobody came at first, then people started to take this Sacrament regularly. The new priest also started to talk to the parishioners by inviting them for a coffee and a smoke in the presbytery kitchen after Mass, where he joined the group after he had finished hearing confessions.

These were the last years of Pope John Paul. New books, including Ratzinger’s “Spirit of the Liturgy” and “Turning towards the Lord” by Uwe Lang were passed around, read and discussed. Experiments were tried with the liturgy. With each change, the reasons were carefully explained to the congregation. We began to sing the Ordinary in Latin, followed soon after by the Credo and Pater Noster. Parents with children were asked to sit in the front benches. Sometimes Mass would be celebrated Ad Orientem. The Canon was sometimes said silently (in English), as suggested in Spirit of the Liturgy. The reception of communion kneeling and on the tongue was encouraged. The communion plate was brought back and communion was given only under the form of bread.

Then came the election of Pope Benedict in 2005. Summorum Pontificum was issued. The parish priest learnt how to celebrate the Extraordinary Form Mass and introduced it as an extra Friday evening Mass, followed by coffee and a catechesis study group. Young people start to come, and return. The congregation continued to grow, not dramatically, but steadily. A weekly Sunday EF Low Mass was introduced.

The Sunday Novus Ordo Mass was also changed. A choir was formed to sing the Ordinary and Proper, the fomer by now always in Latin, and the latter sometimes in Latin, but more often using the new English translations which appeared in 2011. To summarise, we concluded
  1. The new ICEL is an improvement on the old
  2. Setting the English translations to music remains a problem.
  3. There is no benefit in celebrating Mass facing the people.
  4. When celebrating Mass in Latin there is no advantage in using the Novus Ordo rite.
The parish is in better shape than it has been for over 20 years. Young people and families are coming to Mass regularly. Two men are trying their vocations to the priesthood. All of this seems to be the result of having a more traditional liturgy and regular confession. An important factor, also, has been a soup run for the homeless. The parish of St Aloysius in the middle of Oxford had a similar experience after the Oratorians took it over and did similar things. The EF Mass seems to be particularly attractive to young men.

From what I have seen since over the past 40 years, I am convinced that the liturgical reforms from 1970 onwards are a major reason for the decline of the Catholic church in Europe. Worse still, it is now emerging that those reforms were based on a false interpretation of Vatican Two and not what was intended.

Now that things have moved on, what would best meet the spiritual needs of the present younger generation? I would urge any priest with young people in his charge to consider learning how to celebrate the EF Mass, and to introduce it, as an experiment and occasionally at first. If experience elsewhere is any guide, they would get a pleasant surprise, especially if, the young people were also encouraged to do some kind of beneficial work eg with homeless people through the St Vincent de Paul Society or something similar.

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