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Monday, September 10, 2012

"Teach the children well..."

While driving to San Antonio with my father, I switched the radio from Sirius to the regular band and caught my dad's favorite station, KONO, an oldies station.  I caught the beginning of Crosby, Stills and Nash's hit, "Teach the Children" (at least, that is what I think it's called).

The song seemed appropriate enough because the night before, a friend of mine and I were talking about what his parish planned on doing for the CCD students and Youth Group this year.  As we are on the cusp of the great "Year of Faith", I asked him how his parish was going to incorporate the Holy Father's vision into his parish's plan.  "What do you mean," my friend asked after a pregnant pause.  "Just what is the Pope's idea?"  I explained to my friend that Pope Benedict XVI called for this "Year of Faith" to strengthen the Church and to re-open that door of faith that Christ, Himself, had opened for the Apostles as they went all over Judea and the Roman Empire.  I further explained that one of the areas where the Holy Father wanted to stress the issue of faith was the sacred liturgy.

As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Porta Fidei;

It will also be a good opportunity to intensify the celebration of the faith in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist, which is “the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed; ... and also the source from which all its power flows”. At the same time, we make it our prayer that believers’ witness of life may grow in credibility. To rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, is a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year.

My friend asked me what the Holy Father meant about the Mass.  I told him that Pope Benedict XVI wants us to rediscover the beauty and the sacred nature of the Mass.  We need to pray as we believe.  I went on to suggest to my friend that he could encourage his parish to help the children and the youth to get a better understanding of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  My friend told me that his parish does this by having a Children's Mass and a Youth Mass.  Each group has a Mass "tailored" for them, including music.  They use "kiddie" songs for the Children's Mass while the youth have music along the lines of "Praise and Worship", drawn from OCP's "Spirit and Song."

I told him that this may not necessarily be the best means to transmit the Faith and the Church's form of worship, especially where the music is concerned.  Sacred music is our birthright and to deny the children and teenagers this sacred heritage is to cheat them out of something that is rightfully theirs.  "Kiddie songs" like "Venimos/We Come", may be alright for CCD, but, they really don't give the children any sense that what they are doing at Mass is something sacred, something important.  "I Will Choose Christ" may work as an anthem during a youth-oriented prayer meeting, but it's too much "Me-oriented" for the Mass.  The parents might think that this is all "cute" and "hip", but, it really isn't.  If we reduce the Mass to something "cute", "fun" and "hip", we run the risk of losing the very ones we are trying to attract and retain.  Kids and young people will grow out of the novelty.  Sadly, not a few of them will eventually grow out of the Church because, based on their experiences as youngsters, they were not given very much to develop.  It's all show and very little substance.

My friend was taken aback by my comments.  He railed a little, asking me how I can offer an opinion if I do not have any children.  I replied that my status in life is not relevant, as I am going by my own experiences as a child and as a youngster.  I was a kid a decade after the council and came of age in the early 1980s.  Even though the nuns exposed us to much of the new and trendy stuff from the St. Louis Jesuits (which, after awhile, lost its new and trendy feel and was somewhat tired), they also gave us a very healthy dose of traditional sacred music.  This sense of the sacred was also re-inforced by my paternal grandmother who had no qualms about encouraging her oldest granddaughter to grab a hymnal and belt out "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and "Pange Lingua".  During my college years, I went to a parish that was across the street from the University of Texas and, although the preaching was a bit on the liberal side (some of the time), the music, surprisingly enough, was nearly completely sacred.  The faithful, young (children, included) and old, appreciated the beauty of the music. To this day, the parish still continues to maintain its solid reputation of sacred music and those little ones who were CCD students in the mid 1990s are now members of the schola and the regular choir.

On the way back from San Antonio, my father and I took up the conversation.  He told me that he could see my point; however, he has no qualms about making the Faith accessible to the young outside of the liturgy.  He did that for many years when he was in charge of the CYO.  He made the faith accessible to the kids by way of basketball.  But, he was not (and is not) in favor of bringing the roundball and the hoops culture to the Mass.   The kids, he told me, need to learn what the Mass is all about and not simply be entertained.  He told me that, as a kid, my grandmother would take him to Mass and she made sure that he learned his responses in Latin so that he could serve.  He said that the beauty of the Mass and the sacredness of the music made an impact on him.  In fact, he tries to instill that same love in the altar servers that he now trains.  While the priests at his parish would play basketball with the kids and chaperone the dances, they instilled in their young charges (my dad included) the fact that the Mass is the Church's highest prayer and her most valued treasure.

Having read through Porta Fidei, I believe that this is what the Holy Father is trying to recover in both young and old.  However, this recovery and rediscovery can only be accomplished if we truly work to "teach the children well."

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