I’ve had several conversations with people in ministry lately regarding possible liturgical changes, linguistic concerns, basics of Latin and, even, foundational hermeneutics. Basically, it’s been a lot of discussion over topics that I never in my wildest of dreams envisioned myself having when I got into ministry.
I’m not a liturgist. I’m not a theologian. I’m not a Bishop (though I do look good in hats). And while the conversations are engaging and the “concerns” people have valid though a little premature, it has gotten me to thinking.
Why are we so concerned about teenagers not understanding Latin when they currently don’t really understand a good deal of the English we are speaking to them?
There are several terms that Catholic teenagers hear throughout the Mass, in the course of homilies or teachings, in prayers and during conversations that, quite truthfully, they could not explain in a term paper or less. To a majority of postmodern adolescents, not only is there is seemingly no difference between Latin or Greek terms denotatively, but there is little difference between “miserere”, “eleison” or “mercy”, connotatively.
The fact of the matter is that even if our teenagers have learned the definition of a term during their Confirmation preparation, within their parochial education or through their parish religious education/catechesis, many have yet to connect the dots between the definitions and a living them out, daily.
I’ve been conducting an admittedly rudimentary “survey” in the past few months with teenagers all over the country, middle school and high school, in classrooms, at youth groups and during conversations at diocesan gatherings. The following inventory is in no way complete, just a working list of terms that we frequently hear but that I’m finding our young people are unable to explain.
I’m sure you’ll have more. I do, too. Feel free to reply to this post with your own.
A glossary of terms teens don’t seem to understand:
- Grace – Ask a teen, “What is grace?” They’ll probably respond, “Amazing.” Go ahead, ask a teen to define it or even explain it in their own words. We hear the term a dozen times in the average Mass. We sing songs about it. Grace is sacramentally efficacious, life-altering and life-saving and, still, our young people don’t understand what it is or “how it works”.
Answer – Begin with the simple explanation “God’s life in us” and go from there. Particularly important is explaining how the effects of grace are normally not readily recognizable; it’s more vitamin than steroid. Spend time in Romans 5 and 6, 1 Cor 15, Eph. 2, James 2 and 4 and the CCC #1996-2005.
(This one has been so much on my heart lately that I devoted an entire talk to it at the last XLT – 4/17/2007 – available on www.lifeteen.com).
- Mercy – Mercy is seen as a philosophical concept for most, but lacks practical application or tangible examples. They have heard that God is merciful but watch as people challenge His divine Mercy on YouTube. They may have an image of Divine Mercy in their parish or home but most have no concept of the Chaplet or why we need God’s mercy in our lives, daily. It’s an idea but not a practical reality. So, how do we make this a reality?Answer – We need to help our teenagers understand that mercy is not just something we “receive” but something that we offer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers great thoughtfulness in the Church’s explanation, “…loving kindness, compassion and forbearance”. Teens can relate to kindness, sometimes struggle with compassion and, often, have no concept of what forbearance even means. Start there. Discuss not only what it means for us to have exercise forbearance and compassion toward others, but how fortunate we are that our Heavenly Father exercises those fruits of mercy, with us. Assist the teens in finding examples of mercy in their everyday faith walk.
- Worship – It might seem as though worship has become a Catholic “buzz word” in the past decade. Teens can hardly venture to an XLT, a Steubenville rally, a camp or conference without hearing the term “praise and worship” thrown about. As leaders, though, we know the times that singing Jesus songs actually transcend into moments of deep worship, where the mind, lips and heart are united in an all out response of loving adoration, praise and honor directed to God the Father.Answer – Do your teens understand that worship is more than singing? Praise and worship cannot be separated; true praise cannot exist without surrender. We are called to give glory to God no matter what we are doing. Spend some time in the Catechism (2095-2098) and in the Scriptures (Rom. 12:1- 2, Jn 4:24, the Psalms). Flush out the difference between petitionary prayer and worship, for instance. Spend time, too, on helping those in your group to recognize the difference between honoring God for “what He does” and adoring God for Who He is. One gray-haired Canadian, music minister friend of mine (who will remain nameless) even suggested to me recently that we should go a year and substitute the word “surrender” for the word “worship” in all of our events and nomenclature with teens, until they see the two as inseparable. There’s a thought.
Other terms and phrases to consider unpacking further:
- God the Father
- Fellowship of the Holy Spirit
If you catch yourself saying, “My teens know this stuff already”. Test them. Give them a sheet of paper. Ask them to explain them in two sentences or less. If they get them, that’s great and that means it’s now time to go deeper.
If you catch yourself saying, “My teens aren’t there yet, they don’t care about this stuff”. Remember, relevance leads to reverence.
One thing is for sure…God is speaking their language, regardless of what country or time period they find themselves in.