Young Catholics: why 'updating' the Church will not bring them back

Young Catholics: why 'updating' the Church will not bring them back

Rocco Loiacono

0ver many years, explanations have been sought as to the whys and the wherefores of declining Mass attendance, and apathy towards Church involvement in general - particularly among younger Catholics. Surveys have been conducted, workshops held, experts have spoken, reasons enunciated.

More often than not, the conclusion arrived at is that our modern culture is racing ahead, and the Church must adapt even further to keep up with the times or be left by the wayside. I find this an incredibly shallow and shortsighted view.

If these "experts", or as the late Archbishop Guildford Young once called them, "that lot of freebooters", took a step back for a moment and actually sought grassroots opinion, they would see that the problem is not "modern culture", but the misguided haste of certain decision-makers to appease it that is a significant facet of the crisis.

As a young person (22 years of age), I am asked by people to give possible reasons as to the decline, especially among those in my age group, of their involvement in Church activities. I say, constantly, the answer lies within.

The Church’s effort to satisfy the insatiably hungry beast - as it apparently perceives modern society - has alienated many people. To those who profess the "if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em" mentality, I say you need look no further than Sacred Scripture to find that "To God a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day!"

In trying to appease our contemporary secular culture, the Church (or those who act in her name) is trying to satisfy mere men. What did Christ say about this? "No one can serve two ! masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt 6:24). In trying to serve men, those acting for the Church have allowed God, in effect, to be sidelined.

Hence we are witnessing a loss of the sacred and of a perception of divine inspiration. The simple fact is, young people are not uplifted by the ‘nanny’ religious education classes at school, nor even by pale imitations of sixties and seventies ‘pops’. Young people can access as many real hits they want at the flick of a switch, without having to attend Mass for the privilege of hearing poor imitations along with ‘soft’ homilies that prompt the reaction: "What am I doing here?"

How many young people know of or understand the Real Presence? Or even realise that the Mass is the Sacrifice of Calvary re-enacted by the same victim, Christ Himself? As Hamlet said, "Aye, there’s the rub!"

In reality, our modern culture does not need to be appeased by marginalising the sacred in our churches and schools. One need only note the astronomical sales in recent years of Gregorian Chant and Polyphony. Why do people - even non-believers - enjoy listening to these? Because it is inspiring music offering them - even if they may not realise it - a sense of something other-worldly.

Sense of sacred

How many now recall the words of Vatican II that "Gregorian Chant and Sacred Polyphony must be given pride of place in liturgical services, and their special stature must be maintained" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 116).

Surely it is common sense that this kind of liturgical music be fostered as far as possible and where appropriate so that a greater sense of the sacred be put within reach of an often spiritually impoverished people, and many more be attracted to the Church. However, as a friend once said to me, "Son, the problem with common sense is that it isn’t all that common!"

We hear much about that over-worked and misunderstood concept "participation". But as our Lord said: "When you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and on the street corners for people to see them. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward" (Matt 6:5). There are many ways to participate, but these need not be limited to talking and bodily movements. Much of it can be interior - both spiritual and intellectual.

We have been baptised into our Catholic faith in order eventually to attain eternal life – not to cheapen or trivialise it via unsuitable liturgical practices as is all too often the case in our schools and parishes. In the end, all this does is turn many people off - including my own peers.

Young Catholics need to be taught from the very outset about the meaning and importance of the sacraments, the fundamental doctrines, the Church’s traditional prayers (including the Rosary) and the lives of the saints. These need to be taught properly - neither haphazardly, nor worse, force-fed - with the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the main source. The faith we have is so rich we cannot afford to water it down to appease the unappeasable elements inside and outside the Church.

The solution to the present crisis - particularly in the case of young Catholics - lies to a large extent within: in the spiritual domain and in the quest for greater holiness. Our bishops, priests and religious need to take the lead in this regard, fostering the supernatural focus of our Faith, given to us by Christ, who is God.

As St Thomas Aquinas wrote: "If ... a man submits perfectly to God, as a result of this very fact his devotion will increase."

Rocco Lioacono is in his fourth year of a Law Degree at the University of Western Australia and is also completing Honours Italian in a Diploma of Modern Languages.

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