My first year in Youth Ministry was painful.
I had a few solid Core Members and our Life Nights were going well. I had a supportive priest and a decent budget. I had a talented music ministry and parents who would do anything for me. I developed strong relationships with teens; saw an increase in the number of teens coming to Mass and a heightened interest in potential Core Members.
All this…and I was really frustrated.
“Frustrated?” some of you reading this might say. “How could you be frustrated? I’d kill for that situation at my parish.”
I was frustrated because although we had seen a huge resurgence in the youth ministries, the masses coming to Mass were irreverent. Watching the lack of reverence from the teens and their parents drove me insane! With each passing Sunday I grew increasingly indignant. Half way through the semester I almost exploded at a Life Night. I barked at the teens about their behavior. At the end of that night, I drove home more annoyed than words could express.
“What’s wrong with them?” I asked myself. “Why don’t they get it?” I wondered.
That night, I had failed at heroic virtue. I failed in virtue, period, but I continued to justify my behavior because of the unacceptability of theirs. At that moment the Lord humbled me. I was their leader. This was my responsibility. While the parents are the primary catechists, yes, the fact is that when those souls were in my care, it was my job to help them connect the catechetical dots. They didn’t know what was going on in liturgy because, quite frankly, I didn’t know enough about liturgy.
The teens’ ignorance about the Mass was directly proportional to my own ignorance about the Mass. The teens’ lack of reverence was rooted in a lack of relevance. The why we are at Mass is indivisibly linked to the Who and What and How of the Mass…which I had not been teaching them.
I tore up the rest of the semester calendar. We shifted around Life Nights. We did our homework. We instituted a bold new effort aimed at getting everyone, young and old, on the same page within the Mass.
Just a few of the things we tried:
- We made sure that every Life Night tied back to the Liturgy. If it was a night on modesty, it ended with a challenge for teens to dress nicer for Mass. If it was a night on chastity, we discussed the need to use our bodies to glorify God in our worship. If it was a night on honoring your parents we discussed ways in which teens could help the Sabbath become more than “just going to Mass” each week. You get the idea.
- We better utilized our song sheets. We cut and pasted pieces from the Life Teen Liturgy Planning Guides on them to help people understand the key themes of the readings. We listed next Sunday’s readings on it and encouraged Sunday night Mass-goers to take them home and begin reading for next week.
- We asked Father to do a short series of “Teaching Masses.” Everyone was encouraged to come and learn more about the movement and elements within liturgy.
- We did a Bible Study series on the Mass. This took a lot of prep and study to pull off because, again, I was not a liturgist. It was the absolute best use of my time. The Study went so well we actually had teens asking if they could go through it again – and if they could bring their parents and non-Catholic friends!
Reverence begins with relevance. The teens weren’t irreverent because they were unholy, but rather uninterested. As soon as my expectations for the teens “to be where I was” were gone, I was free to meet them where they really were and help them get to where they needed to be (Luke 24:1-35).
The series we did on the Mass was so successful that I wanted to share it with more parishes. A few years back Life Teen released two training videos entitled Mass Appeal. They acted as quick “overviews” to the Catholic Mass and were very well received. They’re available as a 2 DVD set, now, in our Life Teen Store.
In the past couple years, however, I’ve had more and more Youth Ministers and (believe it or not) teens asking me if we had a Bible Study on the Mass that they could do. People wanted to go even deeper and I really felt called to help them. I called my good friend, Fr. Dan Beeman, and we got to work. I’m now very pleased to announce the Mass Appeal Bible Study.
It’s a four-week Bible Study that you can immediately implement within your program. It’s designed to work along with the Mass Appeal DVDs or to stand alone on its own. Each study is laid out with plenty of Scripture citations, discussion questions and background information to insure that the person facilitating it doesn’t have to have their degree in Scripture Studies to pull it off. Some of the parishes that are implementing the Study are doing so on a parish-wide basis, inviting people of all ages to come and learn along with the teens! We pray it blesses your teens and your parish!
Following all of these efforts at my parish, our communal reverence was markedly improved. God is not outdone in generosity. If you put in the effort, if you do the work, and if you are humble enough to evaluate yourself and your ministries, He will bless and anoint your efforts.