I can’t hope to speak for every young adult, but I can speak for myself and those whom I know. Existence easily feels unanchored, uncertain, and confining. When guidance is lacking, we often idolize distraction, making rituals of Facebook stalking, Instagram checking, and relational and sexual fantasizing.
As a generation that thinks it does not need ritual, we slip so easily into pseudo-ritualistic practice, simply replacing the traditional with the current. What I came to realize is that the Mass gives us that structuring without the hollowness; it affords community and transformation instead of separation and stagnation.
I was raised in a mostly secular environment. Though a few of my relatives identified as Catholic, they didn’t see the need to go to church. “I can pray at home. And that’s between me and God,” went the basic formula. In my own journey, philosophical Christianity came much more easily than did faith itself. I happily assented to the critiques of my surroundings I found in the Church (as well as in secular philosophers). The world was still bewildering, but at least more sensible when informed by the Gospel. Faith, however, actual belief, was harder in coming.
The missing link was something we teens, tweens, and twenty-somethings seem allergic to: namely, ritual.
The Mass was nothing new to me. I had attended Catholic school for years and knew the routine (and it did feel like a routine): stand, sit, kneel, etc. But the “why” remained ever-present. At some point, realizing that philosophical assent had done little to change my life, to make me a more charitable, caring, and generally accepting human being, I decided to give Mass a shot. Because of my studying abroad as well as my moving back and forth between school and home, I attended all manner of meetings from the high Latin Mass of the Oxford Oratory to the Jesuit liturgy of my alma mater, the College of the Holy Cross. I heard organs, guitars, and drums; sang in Latin, English, and Spanish; prayed in richly-decorated basilicas, basements, and suburban churches.
Regardless of the place, however, I came to feel myself a part of something. Routine and simple performance gave way to transformation, not just in behavior but in perspective. Humility now made sense. Concentrating on the words in prayers could produce meaningful reflections in the context of community, image, and Eucharist. I was not only a part of something, but growing within and with something.
Of course, the Mass is much more than a ritual. It is the remembrance and reenactment of the sacrifice of the Cross, the meal of and with the Bread of Life. But that language only makes sense to a Catholic who’s been there, who has seen, felt, and believed the Good News. Most of my generation has not. A pity, but, I think, an understandable one.
In a society fragmented and splintered with transgression and rebellion the praiseworthy norm, there’s little room for obedience to seemingly nonsensical mandates of weekly attendance. What we need to realize is that we have made rituals for ourselves in this absence, though ones dictated by apathy not by authority. What I can profess is that, as hard as it can be at times, a fiat can be more than a fiat, the Mass can be more than an obligation.