Helping the Mass come alive for young people

Monday, April 09, 2018 - Updated: 11:59 pm

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

Matthew sounded frustrated and hopeless as he described the stalemate with his 18-year-old daughter, Kelsey, who no longer wants to attend Mass.

“She complains that she doesn’t get anything out of it, that people aren’t friendly, and she just doesn’t want to go anymore,” he said.

“Finally, one Sunday, I got fed up and shouted back, ‘Fine, then don’t go to Mass!’

“I don’t know what to do,” Matthew admitted. “And I’m worried about the future of the church. There are very few young people at Mass.”

It’s a significant trend. Half of young Americans who were raised Catholic no longer identify as Catholic, and 85 percent of those confirmed stop practicing their faith by age 21.

Kelsey, a high school senior, listed her complaints. “The Mass needs to be more joyful,” she said. “It’s not an uplifting experience for me. People should be more welcoming — at least make an effort to smile. Change the music, and help me understand the readings.

“Kids in my school laugh at me when I tell them I go to church,” she said. “They say they stopped going when they were younger, that their parents lost interest or that they’re just too busy.”

The National Study of Youth and Religion, conducted by the University of Notre Dame, found that parents are the key spiritual leaders.

“Nothing can out-influence Mom and Dad,” said Gary Roney, diocesan director for adolescence and college ministry. “They need to lead the way in providing credible witness and helping make the faith come alive.

“It goes beyond attending Mass,” he said. “Other encounters with Jesus Christ must be pursued through faith formation, service projects, retreats, camps, national conferences and World Youth Day. These are mountaintop experiences on a much larger mountain range.”

“People have lost sight of why we go to church,” said Jason Zych, youth minister at St. Louise de Marillac Parish in Upper St. Clair. “Many don’t even realize they’re supposed to have a relationship with Jesus. When you’re in a relationship with someone, it’s not about an obligation.”

Offering more vibrant, welcoming Masses is a goal of On Mission for The Church Alive! However, many parents have difficulty explaining the faith to their children. They often can’t articulate what the sacraments are, how they empower Catholics to fulfill the mission God has given them, and how to help spread God’s love and mercy.

“We have to talk about the importance of Mass,” said Cindy Deschaine, catechetical administrator at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Conway. “A lot of people don’t understand the Mass, and often that’s why they don’t feel it’s important.

“I stress to our faith formation parents that taking their kids to class, but not to Mass, is like in sports if they brought them to practice but didn’t let them play in the game,” she said. “Children are confused when we bring them to CCD but not church.”

“Most of our young people are busy,” said Andrea Wheeler, youth minister at St. Ferdinand Parish in Cranberry Township. “Many have a tough workload at school and are involved in several activities. It’s almost like the church is competing for their time. They need to realize the significance of faith as a priority.

“I think parents and the church must work together to teach why it is important to have a relationship with Jesus,” Wheeler said. “And we can’t just teach it; we have to live it.”

Dan Dupee, chairman of the Coalition for Christian Outreach and author of “It’s Not Too Late: The Essential Part You Play in Shaping Your Teen’s Faith,” said young people who make a successful transition into adulthood have parents who acknowledge their limits of control, but still find ways to remain influential.

Kelsey said she is looking for reasons to keep the faith. She’s also willing to take some responsibility.

“I could learn more about why Mass is important,” she said. “I know God wants us to be alive in our faith.”

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