Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Liturgical Problem of Campus Ministry

I received a fascinating note the other day from someone moving back to the town where she went to college. After leaving college, she made a discovery about Catholic liturgy, namely that it is not about being hip and doing rock music and the like; rather Catholic liturgy embeds truth within its core ritual. This person is now a mother and is trying to protect her children from what she went through, and crying out for something other than what she had.

I hope I'm not overstepping my bounds in e-mailing this to a stranger. I grew up in [blank] and am planning to return there this fall to live with my family while my husband attends law school. My husband and I appreciate the Latin Mass and prefer it.

One of my qualms about moving back is having to go back to the parish. Like I said, I grew up in there and attended the parish through college. To be bluntly honest, it is not my preferred style to celebrate the Mass. I thought I would e-mail you to ask if you knew of some realistic alternatives. It's going to be challenging to keep my children in the faith living for the next three years with my family. My father and my oldest brother (who is at home right now too) are not Catholic and do not attend any kind of church service. My son idolizes my brother and I'm worried he will be a bad influence as far as views on church goes.

Adding that to the difficulty I feel in making myself attend and it worries me that I will fail in passing on the faith to my children. I have some personal issues that stem from the way in which I was catechized there, in both the way the liturgy was presented and in the teaching I was given. I am a Catholic revert and spent many years away from the church. Though I recognize it was my fault, I feel like having grown up at this parish didn't help.

Any way, I feel like if I can at least surround myself with other Catholic mothers who take the faith seriously, my son can make friends with children who would be a good influence. My children are 3 and 15 months. I'm wondering if you could maybe help me to make contact with some good Catholic mothers who may be willing to help me out when I move back.

What we have here is an example of someone raised in the prevailing ethos of the eighties and nineties, which was all about departing as far as possible from tradition and un-schooling people in traditional Catholicism in order to usher in something else (what precisely is being ushered in is never clear).

Teaching in class is a big part of it. But also central to this ethos was the music. The propers were never sung. In fact, hardly anyone knew about their existence. Instead, they were replaced by insipid songs (not really hymns) with words of questionable theological orthodoxy. Many of these hymns are now gone from our hymnals but many yet survive. But most people who came of age in these times were never exposed to anything like Catholic music and so they had no link to the past and its sung prayer. What they carried with them was like cotton candy: sweet but insubstantial.

Music was performed by kids who picked up the guitar in college. Mostly they could not read music. They just followed the chords that floated above the music and strum away. They tried to replicate the sound of the recordings. The attitude that develops among them is that of rock performers seeking fans, not servants of the liturgy. That absence of comportment in the music filters down to every aspect of the liturgy.

Times have changed so that heterodoxy as it was once practiced is no longer as all pervasive. Sadly, many of the liturgical habits of this period of persisted in different guises. They have been practiced in the name of "charismatic Catholicism" and become a reflex among many Catholic leaders who believe that "reaching people" is more important than doing what the Church asks. Today, the practice liturgical deconstruction knows no partisan boundaries. You are as likely to find it on the right as on the left.

Again, the drive here is not always toward the unraveling of Church teaching. I've known very strong conservative Catholics who have this confusion. Take a look at the retreats run by many Catholic youth organizations and you see this confusion at work. They program every kind of rock band for liturgy, thinking that this will show who relevant and contemporary Catholicism is. These are good people who have never really understand the liturgical imperative.

I raise this because there is often a confusion about how to draw people into parish life. People come to believe that the best way forward is to draw on the world's standards of what constitutes entertainment or fun or inspiration. The more a liturgy can replicate the look and feel of big events like sports programs or concert venues, or inspirational speeches, the more people will be drawn to the faith or some version of i - or so they believe.

They forget that the liturgy is not something manufactured by us; it is our task not to make it but become servants of it. Only in this way can its mysteries be revealed - not by our own doing but rather by our participation in this divine ritual. If we humble ourselves and defer to what we have inherited, we will find ourselves surprised to discover truths we did not know about and find ourselves transformed in ways we did not expect.

When I've questioned the liturgical practices of big youth rallies in the past, I get answers like: but didn't you see how many of these kids were weeping and plunging into the confessional and otherwise dedicating their life to Jesus? My answer is that there is a big difference between a temporary uplift, often times stemming from showtime manipulation, and a lifetime commitment to something serious that only comes through slow discovery of truth.

The thing to remember about young people is that they grow up and mature. Then they are in a position to evaluate the merit of what they have been given in their youth. Then the resentment sets in. Why didn't these people teach me what was true when they had the chance? Why did they give me all this rock and roll and phony emotion and manipulative lights and sound when all I really needed was the truth as revealed in the beauties of the Roman Rite?

The leaders of campus ministry need to think about this subject seriously. Are they pandering to the youth culture, such as in this video, or are they helping people to grow in the faith? Are they trying to make a splash in the present or looking to the future? When the current crop of students grows up, will they be anxious for their children to experience what they experienced or will they avoid superficial liturgical environments for fear of the results in their children's lives?

(Thank you Adam Wood for drawing my attention to the video link above)

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