Young People and Liturgy

Many young people will be participating in the World Youth Day closing Mass in Sydney today, either in person or by watching the TV broadcast. It is certain that one consequence of World Youth Day will be an increase in attendance at parish liturgies by people, young and old, who have been touched by the events of the past week.
How can parishes ensure that new-comers as well as regular Mass goers are nourished through their participation in communal worship?
Improving the quality of our liturgical celebrations is an obvious place to start.
Some Christian traditions have put a lot of effort into experimenting with new styles of liturgy that draw on popular music and instrumentation. Rather than looking for innovation, however, the way to better worship lies in a renewed commitment to doing the basics well: training readers so that the scriptures are proclaimed with clarity and conviction; forming people with musical talent so that the parish’s liturgical music inspires faith; creating a worship space which enables the full, conscious and active participation of all present; purchasing good quality liturgical vestments and vessels which show that what we celebrate is of great value and significance to us; giving high priority to the time the preacher needs to prepare a weekly homily that engages people and relates to the realities of current life.
In the Catholic Church, we have been inclined to put all our ‘liturgical eggs in the Mass basket’. Mass is often the only form of liturgical experience that parishes offer. The Mass is indeed the high point of our worship, but it was never intended to be the only form of worship. For Mass to be an encounter with the Divine, participants need a certain degree of liturgical literacy, of familiarity with the structure, language, and symbolism of the Mass. For seekers, the ‘uninitiated’, the uncatechised, occasional worshippers, etc, it may not be the most welcoming or relevant style of worship.
Parishes need to evaluate what opportunities they offer for public worship. Is it only Mass or are other forms of worship celebrated regularly - morning and evening prayer, liturgies of the word, ecumenical scripture and song services, Taizé prayer gatherings?
People will feel more at home at formal liturgy celebrations if they understand the nature of liturgy and ritual and how to participate in communal prayer and praise. The homily provides a wonderful opportunity to offer the worshipping community regular information and education on how to pray communally. Parish newsletters can also be used to great effect to make the assembly more conversant with the rituals, symbols and words of worship.
Liturgy is the summit and source of the Christian life. We all need to be nourished regularly at the table of the word and the table of the Eucharist. Faith weakens over time without the support of a like-minded faith community and without the pastoral care offered by belonging to a parish.
Worshipping with a community of fellow believers takes us beyond ourselves to become part of something bigger. It enables us to experience Eucharist as participation in a cosmic event which is celebrated by others in every corner of the world and which has been celebrated by men and women of faith for over 2000 years.


Elizabeth Harrington