Katie Faley: Responding to those who feel Mass is boring or ‘too traditional’
In a conversation recently, a friend said she “doesn’t like Mass because it is too traditional.”
She is far from the first young adult to say this to me. I personally know dozens of people who have decided to not practice the faith because they felt Mass was boring and not enticing.
There are many reasons people feel this way. But what I’ve found in engaging in conversations about this is if it’s the Mass that they find boring, it’s not so much their problem with tradition as it is a lack of understanding what tradition means within the Mass.
SAME OLD RULES
I believe what my friend sees when she participates in the Mass is a set of rules and motions that are obligatory and unchanging. I know how it feels when Mass seems like nothing more than the same old motions. Many may believe it is tradition that has made Mass boring, but I believe it is tradition that has made Mass enticing. It is tradition that tells us that the Church is so much bigger than rules and motions.
Because we live in a culture that values innovation, oftentimes innovation and tradition are pitted against each other. Some Catholics believe that if we go back to the “old way” of Catholicism, it’ll be better. Some Catholics think if we change the Church to keep up with the changing world, it’ll be better. But either solution would reduce the Church to a stand-alone, human-created institution with no eternal value and nothing to tie us in the present to both the past and the future.
FINDING OURSELVES IN TRADITION
It is interesting that our current culture is so fascinated by ancestry. Everybody wants to know that they came from somewhere, that there is a richness to their life story, that their experience is bigger than just the here and now. When we learn about our ancestral roots, we come to know ourselves more fully.
As children of God the Father, we all share a rich DNA, a family history, that is far bigger than what we may see during one Sunday Mass worship. When we participate in Mass, we are participating in thousands of years’ worth of faith in a loving God who offers us eternal life in God the Son made present in the Eucharist. It’s more than just motions and rules. When we participate in the life of the Church and habitually experience the traditions of our faith, not only are we connecting to something beyond ourselves, we are also coming to know our own selves more fully, much like finding out our ancestry.
In the Catholic Church, and especially at Mass, we are a part of a rich tradition of worshippers. From the people of the Old Testament who followed the Word of God to the early Christians who worshipped in underground homes to the saints who stood up to kings during the Reformation to my own grandparents, all of the traditions of these different times and places are present in the Mass. These pasts have become a part of our present.
INNOVATION FOR THE FUTURE
Each time we participate in the celebration of Mass, we also become part of that tradition for the future Church. We become a part of both tradition and innovation. We are part of something that is so much bigger than ourselves. Tradition and innovation meet where Christ is present.
The Catholic Mass may not offer 3-D light shows, games, or glitzy performances, but it does offer the Eucharist, and with that, thousands of years of a family history and a richness. Communicating this spectacular reality isn’t always easy, and feeling this reality isn’t always natural. But when we work within our own hearts to recognize how beautiful, surprising, and enticing tradition is, sharing that becomes more authentic and easier.
I wish I had solutions to all of the Church’s challenges. I do, however, have complete hope that if we all do our best to live out a faithful and holy life together, those challenges will become easier to navigate and the Church will become more enticing. Not because the tradition of the Church has changed, but because the conversation has changed.
KATIE FALEY is a member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria and digital marketing coordinator for the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. She has a master’s degree in theology and theological studies from the University of Notre Dame. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org .