Tradition Draws Catholic Youth

The Rev. Jeffery Fasching elevates the Host
at Saint Agnes Cathedral in Springfield MO.
Photo Credit: J.B. Kelly
Copyrighted, All Right Reserved
Used By Permission
On July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued a motu proprio addendum to canon law entitled Summorum Pontificum. The document clarified Church law by stating that the traditional Latin mass, otherwise known as the Vetus Ordo or 'Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite' (the mass used before 1969), had never been abrogated, and that it has always existed as a legitimate liturgy alongside the newer vernacular mass, otherwise known as the Novus Ordo or 'Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.' At the time many within the Church dismissed this as a "mere concession to nostalgic traditionalists" and a not-so-veiled attempt to win back the affections of the ultra-traditionalist 'Society of Saint Pius X' (SSPX). It was assumed by many that this was merely a "passing fad" and would die out in time.

So here we are seven years later, as we approach July 7, 2014, and in the space of that time the number of publicly offered masses according to the Vetus Ordo (Extraordinary Form) has nearly doubled. More Catholics are requesting the traditional Latin mass, existing Latin masses are growing, and there is no end in sight. Clearly, this is more than just a "passing fad," and far more than a mere concession to nostalgic traditionalists. The way the youth goes, so does the future of the Catholic Church, and it is apparent the youth are going traditional. Throughout the United States we are seeing a growing number of young Catholics turning to the Vetus Ordo mass. When I say "young" I do mean young adults and teenagers. They are the future of the Church. Our bishops and priests need to listen to them.

Across North America and Europe, the leadership of the Catholic Church has been attempting to minister to young people as if they were from the 1970s. That generation is no longer "young," yet the leadership of the Church continues to minister as if they were. It's as if they think the youth of 2014 is the same as the youth of 1970.  As a result, youth ministries at many Catholic parishes are becoming irrelevant. Young Catholics are falling away from the sacraments, the faith, and finally the Church herself. As the Catholic Church seeks to imitate the music and worship styles of many popular Evangelical churches, it isn't long before many young Catholics simply dispense with the imitation and flock toward the original. Evangelical worship-style may have its place, sparingly used here and there, but when it becomes a staple of the weekly Catholic mass, it leads many Catholic youth to Evangelicalism, where the music is better and the preaching is livelier. However, the majority of Catholic youth who turn away from the Church do not move toward any particular religion at all. Rather, they become non-religious ex-Catholics. Some of them may still identify as 'Catholic' on a purely cultural level, the same way one might identify as 'Irish' or 'Italian,' but that's it.

As we scan the panorama of Catholic youth we really see only two kinds of Catholic young people; those who are falling away, and those who are drawing nearer to Our Lord Jesus Christ. Sadly, the former is much greater than the latter. This is not to say that one type of worship style produces one result, while a different worship style produces another. It is likely a bit more complex than that, but it would be foolish to assume there is no connection at all. There is probably room for both contemporary and traditional worship styles in the life of the Catholic Church, but throughout the Church, one of those worship styles has been neglected for forty years now, and this is likely one culprit behind the loss of Catholic youth.

The Youthful Choir at Saint Agnes Cathedral Latin Mass
Photo Credit: J.B. Kelly
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Used By Permission
Catholic youth today are simply more sophisticated than they were thirty years ago, and a lot of them are turning back to the tradition of their ancestors.  As I've said on many occasions, there is nothing more "dated" than a contemporary mass, and such is the case in many parishes today.  No sooner than the praise band learns all the songs in the latest praise book, the congregation is ready to move on to something more new and fresh. As I've written elsewhere on this blog, when a Catholic parish pursues Evangelical-style worship exclusively, it should be no surprise that the Catholic youth eventually lose their faith for a more Evangelical cafeteria-style of religion. As a former Evangelical I can attest that the two go hand-in-hand. Clearly, what is lacking in the Church today is a more traditional option for Catholic youth, to explore the depth of Catholicism that stretches centuries into the past. This is something the Catholic Church can give to youth that no other church can, and in doing so she affirms her solid belief in the sacraments and moral teachings of the Church in a way unique only to Catholicism. When youth have this option available to them, something amazing happens.

With this in mind, let us turn our attention to a rural missionary diocese in the centre of the United States. The Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau spans the entire southern half of the State of Missouri. The Catholic population is so sparse here that the bishop requires two cathedrals, one on the west side of the state (Springfield) and the other 270 miles away on the east side (Cape Girardeau), in order to minister to them all. In an attempt to restore an element of tradition to the diocese, His Excellency Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. has placed a traditional Catholic priest in his Springfield cathedral (Saint Agnes). There, The Reverend Jeffery Fasching offers the Traditional Latin Mass, according to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, no less than five days a week, with a high mass on Sundays, and a low mass on weekdays. The sacrament of confession is also offered five days a week as well, just before mass. The Latin mass schedule for Saint Agnes Cathedral can be viewed here. The schedule has been offered since 2008, with Father Jeffery Fasching taking over in 2010.

Over the last six years something amazing has happened to Saint Agnes Cathedral. Young people are returning to the Catholic Church, and those raised in this Latin mass are maintaining an interest in the faith. Priests and bishops need to listen to these young people, because the future of the Catholic Church is contained in their words. Over the course of a few Sundays, some of these young people were interviewed by associates of this blogger. The following is their account for why they attend the traditional Latin mass, and what it means to them:
"I’m going to share with you some of the blessings that I received at Latin mass. I feel that for a shepherd to know how his sheep are doing is to communicate with them, especially when they fall. I feel that Father plays this role in confessions before mass. What people need in this world is direction, and I feel like Father Fasching is a big light for the community. The experience of the Latin mass is extraordinary. I like how traditional it is. I love the respect and the fear of the Lord the Church has. You can see the respect in the kids. One of my favourite parts is receiving communion on my knees. I really feel like I found myself a place with a group of people that I can express the love I have for the Lord. Those are only a few of the blessings I have received at Latin mass." --Mauro E., age 24  
"It is the most fitting way to re-present the Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the climax of all human history. Everything from the elegant composition of the prayers, the Sacred Music, the incense, the numerous images of Saints, the Sacred language, and the vertical orientation of all prayer helps to lift one's soul to a more intimate state of communion with God. It is truly the Mass of the Saints, and has been virtually unchanged since the third century. While protestant churches are based solely on Sacred Scripture, the Catholic Church is anchored on both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. The mass exodus from Sacred Tradition after the Second Vatican Council was extremely contrary to Catholicism and a most protestant act indeed."  --Spencer C., age 21 
"When my family first started going to the Latin Mass, I didn't like it. It was longer than most masses, it had a lot of kneeling, and it was in a different language. But as I continued to go, (I was only twelve, I didn't have much choice in what Mass our family went to,) the reverence in the Mass really drew me in. As I got older, I began to better understand the beauty in the prayers of the Mass. (However, I don't think anyone fully understands the beauty of the prayers.) The whole Mass is a form of worship, and in the Latin Mass, it is very apparent that God is the centre of our worship. That is why I love the Latin Mass." --Lauren K., age 17 
"Initially, it was some close friends who drew me to the Latin Mass. I hadn't heard much about it, but I thought that it sounded cool because all my friends were going to it. But when I finally went, I fell in love with it immediately, and I've loved it ever since. I've been going for a few years now and it's really strengthened my love for the mass. What I love most though is how reverent and how beautiful it is. Everyone and everything is so focused on God that there's no time to become distracted, because you're always focused on what's going on at the altar."  --Katie F., age 16 
"We love the Traditional Latin Mass for the beauty of the liturgy, the discipline and the great reverence and respect it helps us show for Our Lord." --The V. girls (oldest age 18) 
"I love the Latin mass because it is so much more traditional, simple, and less distracting than the Novus Ordo. I always know what mass is going to be like when I go to the Extraordinary form of the mass. Nothing ever changes and I do not feel stressed. My dad and my brothers drew me to the Latin mass." --Greg K., age 15 
"I have seen that the Traditional Latin Mass is the most reverent and prayerful form of worship that Catholics can show towards God. Having grown up attending the Latin Mass with my parents and family, I have had the privilege of serving as an altar boy for the past 10 years. The beautiful liturgy and reverence shown by both the priest and faithful towards this form of worship continues to be truly inspiring. The opportunity of going to the Latin Mass is awesome each and every time I go!" --Charles B.. age 18 
"I appreciate the Latin Mass because the extreme reverence and respect shown to God through meditation silence and rich traditions of the liturgy draws me closer to my faith and helps me strengthen my relationship with Christ." --Susan J., age 19 
"I was initially drawn to the Latin Mass by my family and a few friends who decided to attend when the Mass first came to Springfield. The Mass is one of the highest forms of prayer, and praying in Latin is extremely important for many reasons. Latin unifies all Catholics around the world in prayer, and having that unity also promotes consistency within the Church. One can travel anywhere in the world and attend a Latin Mass and know exactly what is going on and be able to pray efficaciously. Latin cannot be misinterpreted and helps one to focus and concentrate during prayer; not to mention, the devil hates Latin! The Latin Mass therefore is the highest and most efficacious form of prayer, and I have learned to love it over the years. The sacred music, the incense, the prayers, the movements and interactions of the priest and servers all direct ones attention to the altar and to God, and away from ourselves and our worldly cares." --Tanya D., age 22 
"I like the Latin Mass because it is very reverent and the prayers and beautiful." --Valerie D., age 14 
Young people regularly assist in the Latin Mass
Photo Credit: J.B. Kelly
Copyrighted, All Right Reserved
Used By Permission
This is just a small sampling of the youth at Saint Agnes Cathedral Latin Mass Society.  However, from this we should be able to get a snapshot of what is drawing the youth back into the Church and keeping them interested. As I said above, priests and bishops would be foolish to ignore these young people. This is the future of the Church, and if we don't listen to them, we risk losing them. The hardest part for many of our priests and bishops to accept is that the youth have indeed changed. This is not 1970 any more. Nor is it 1980 for that matter. This is 2014 and youth today have access to more than the previous generations could have ever imagined. Contemporary masses do not excite them like they used to. Watered down sermons, that are designed to not offend, are a bore to them. They're looking for something with depth, something that challenges them, and something that has stood the test of time. Tradition is the answer, and this is what's bringing the youth back home. Imagine this small example at Saint Agnes Cathedral multiplied in every parish across America. What would happen then?

Bishop James V. Johnson Jr. administers communion
at the Latin Mass in Springfield Missouri
Photo Credit: J.B. Kelly
Copyrighted, All Right Reserved
Used By Permission
Granted, many priests are not trained in the Traditional Latin Mass, but one doesn't need to be trained in it to implement its lessons for today. Many of the elements of the Extraordinary Form can be reinserted into the regular Ordinary Form of the mass. With a little training, the choir can be schooled in Gregorian chant or Old Roman Chant. Both are beautiful in their own way. With little effort, a parish priest can reinstitute kneeling for communion as the norm. With a little courage, and explanation to the congregation, virtually any priest can turn toward the Lord in the ad orientem posture. At minimal cost, an altar rail can be reinstalled, or at least a couple kneelers placed at the front when it's time for communion. With a little practice, the entire Novus Ordo liturgy can be renovated to look and sound like a Traditional Latin Mass -- minus the abundance Latin of course. All of this costs virtually nothing in financial terms, yet the potential reward is so great. I would challenge any parish to implement such reforms for just one year and only one year. Then re-evaluate to see if more youth haven't been drawn in. I guarantee more will come.

Beyond that however, nothing will ever substitute the Traditional Latin Mass, and some young people will settle for no less. This is where the local bishop comes in, because according to Summorum Pontificum, the bishop must supply a Traditional Latin Mass to a stable group when it is requested. Some bishops have been hesitant to implement this provision of Canon Law, and their dioceses have suffered because of it. When the time comes, bishops should be generous and liberal making the Traditional Latin Mass available, and in doing so, they can in time expect to see similar results to what is now happening in Springfield Missouri.



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Steven said…
I would agree entirely with your premise except for one issue. I would incorporate as much of the "Latin" Mass into the current ordinary form of the Mass except for the use of the Latin language. There are many beautiful forms of worship in the Latin mass that could be observed in the ordinary form, e.g., the music, bells and smells, prayers, devotions, dress, the sacramentals, etc. I can just barely remember the Latin Mass as a youth and a few years ago I attended one to see what it actually is about. I'm a pretty devout and traditional Catholic but I have to say that the Latin left me totally lost and unfulfilled. Not that this couldn't change in time but I don't believe that the vast majority of people want to return to a Mass in a foreign language. I certainly don't oppose the extra-ordinary form for those that wish to worship that way, however. I think a lot of us "traditionalists" lose fellow Catholics when we say that we love or would like to bring some aspects of the "Latin" Mass back. As soon as people hear the word "Latin" they tune out because they want to hear the Mass in the vernacular without thinking about all of the other beautiful things contained within that Mass that could be reincorporated in the ordinary form. I think the tide is turning very slowly towards more traditional worship in the ordinary Mass but it is still going to take probably another generation before the 60's and 70's laity and clergy are a minority. You are certainly on target about the youth. My wife and I attend a university Newman Center/parish and I am sometimes embarrassed by my Mass devotion compared to the vast majority of those college students attending.
johnnyc said…
I agree with the previous comment except the part about Latin. We celebrate both OF and EF in my parish and both are celebrated Ad Orientem. We have prayers after Low Mass even after an OF Mass. We are invited to say the Litany of the Blessed Mother after both OF and EF Sunday Masses. We have altar rails and are encouraged to receive kneeling with COTT in both forms. We have a 24/7 Adoration chapel. What all this leads to is that people who in the past would not attend one form or the other for various reasons now attend both. Those who had no interest in Latin now want to learn it to follow along in the EF and now also you see head veils at the OF. Both forms can live side by side if given a chance.
I understand your concern over the Latin. My parish is fairly traditional, but there is a small group of older folks that creates quite a stir when they hear Latin at Mass. I find it interesting that you refer to Latin as foreign, because most of these folks contend that they want to understand the Mass in an American language.
For me all this is quite problematic. First, the language of the Roman Catholic Church is Latin, so that every other language such as English is the foreign language. This reminds me of folks speaking about the American Catholic Church even though there is no such entity; rather, there is the Catholic Church in America.
Second, the Council called for Latin to be retained in the liturgy, except perhaps for the readings. That is a difficult one for many folks in America to accept, so there is still along way to go for the Vatican council to be implemented. I have heard a lot of curious arguments against this such as that the Church switching from Greek to Latin for the people to understand. That is not quite true, considering it was the educated classes that used Greek because Latin had become so pedestrian. When Latin gained in respectability among the educated classes, the Church switched to it, even though the common people not longer spoke pure Latin but its dialects which eventually solidified into the Romance languages. The Latin of the liturgy is a hieratic special Latin, have centuries of symbolic and allegorical understanding added to it, and quite beautiful.
There are perhaps two ways to address this problem. One is to learn liturgical Latin, and many young people are interested in this. Another is to use a Latin/English Missal where eventually, because of the level of education, today's faithful can learn Latin through an osmosis. But one must be open to Latin to start with.