Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The lost 85 %

Further to the observation of this post--namely that young people are fascinated by and drawn to sacred traditions once they are exposed to them--a new survey by the National Catholic Reporter paints a devastating picture of Mass attendance by the young.

This chart presents trends broken down by generation: pre V2, V2, and post V2 (for whom V2 might as well be the Council of Basle).

Among the pre V2 generation, 60 percent attend Mass every week (a figure stable since 1987). Among the V2 generation, 36 attend Mass and say that Church is "among the most important parts of my life"--a figure that has fallen in 1987 (from 42%). Not a good trend here.

But the shock comes from looking at the post V2 generation. While 30 percent say Church is important, a mere 15 percent attend Mass every week. This is a dramatic fall from 30% in 1987.
Now keep in mind that liturgical trends for decades have been driven (in the US) by a central concern that we must appeal to the young.

All of us involved in music hear this all the time: the young people don't want chant and polyphony, and certainly no Latin; they want community-friendly music with a beat, "relevant" homiletics, lost of flesh-pressing and the like. Nowadays, in the typical parish, we must deal with the preposterous scene of aging and bulging 50 somethings dictating to teens and young adults what music can be properly called "young" and "contemporary"--much of which turns out to be 30 years out of date in style if not year of composition.

But how have the young responded? The demographics suggest that they find ever more compelling reasons not to attend Mass. Perhaps this is because liturgies are too much like the rest of life, with homilies that sound like civic-club lectures, music that sounds like Musak, and an absence of space for contemplation and serious reflection? Perhaps so. In any case, this data indicate that the advocates of the sacro-pop liturgical status quo--who assure us that they and only they know what the young want--have some explaining to do.

I recall a few years ago visiting a high-school kid who was all excited about a Baptist church service he attended without fail, one specifically designed for young people. He said it was amazing: a shadowy evening service, candle lit, no microphones, and unaccompanied singing, with far more silence than talking. The place was packed every time. Hearing him tell of this really stung this Catholic's heart.

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