The following article is reprinted from 2014.
Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the fact that more formal worship styles appeal to a surprising demographic: the young.
While many youth liturgical outreaches continue to focus on the casual and the near-secular in order to attract young people, this type of pastoral programming seems to be doing less well in many cases than those using more traditional forms.
Not long ago I visited a parish that within a couple of years had built up a large group of young servers and a sizable youth schola for the traditional Mass–celebrated on a weekday evening. And this is hardly a unique case, just in the parishes I’ve personally visited.
There was a time, a naive time, when it seemed there was a desire among the young for an authenticity that had as its heart a certain casualness and spontaneity. In the 60s and 70s, it was the fashion to speak one’s mind, follow one’s heart, and go with the flow.
I believe that it is likely that today’s young people are likewise interested in authenticity–but in authenticity that has a much different character. Spontaneity is wonderful, in its place. Casualness, chattiness, hanging out–these are activities as popular among young people as they have ever been. But there seems to be a growing sensibility that not every place is the same. Mass is not the place for relaxed, casual activities. The true liturgical joys can be found by going deeper, by being more quiet, and by experiencing more and richer beauty.
When I was young there was no leadership in the Church of my experience for this kind of liturgical experience, which leads to a second and more practical reason that young people are enjoying good liturgy: it is available. If a teenager would like to attend a polyphonic Mass on a given Sunday, and if s/he is willing to travel a bit, it is available. If a family has been singing chant at home and would like to join a schola to improve their skills, it is possible–not always at the local parish, but somewhere.
I sometimes wonder why there was this enormous temporal gap in leadership of the sacred liturgy. I suppose some of the reason was political, some was a misunderstanding about the aims of the Second Vatican Council, and some was a skill vacuum of a kind that we are thankfully not likely to see again soon, if all the young people now involved in liturgy continue to persevere and serve.