Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Inspiring Reverence

Inspiring Reverence

I am very blessed to work at a Catholic school at which we take the kids to Mass every Friday.  Though we work hard to teach them the importance of the Mass, and what’s happening at Mass, some kids get it and some kids don’t.  What is really hard to instill is a sense of reverence.  We live in a culture in which reverence as a concept has been almost completely thrown out the window.
We generally do not show reverence for God or holy things.  Men no longer show reverence for women; as a culture we don’t even have reverence for human life, by and large.  How many comedians or radio personalities advertise their “irreverent humor,” as if we could even tell the difference anymore.
And yet, we try to tell kids who are surrounded by and saturated with this culture, that they need to be reverent in Church.  It’s a losing battle.  To be sure, there are many kids who are reverent, and who are taught reverence at home, but particularly by the time they reach junior high, that virtue is often lost.  The kids aren’t trying to be disrespectful; they just don’t know how to act in the presence of sacred things.
However, this Holy Week we had an eye-opening experience.  Our all-school Mass is usually on Fridays, but we were not going to be in school on Good Friday, and we thought it would be a good idea to start off Holy Week with Mass.  So we had Mass Monday morning, which also happened to be the parish day of Adoration.  Occasionally individual classes will go over for Adoration, but we had never done it as a school before.
Well, Father thought it was a great idea and he decided he was going to pull out all the stops.  He brought out plenty of incense, we sang the Tantum Ergo in Latin, and finished with Benediction.  The result was astonishing.  The kids were transfixed, on their knees, with their gaze on Jesus.  When it ended, the entire school exited the Church in reverent silence, as opposed to their usual impression of a talkative herd of elephants.
Why the change?  We have been preaching reverence for years, and it hasn’t stuck.  Yet that day they all displayed it instinctively.  I think the difference was the extraordinary display of reverence in the ceremony.  We tell the kids that Church is special, but they come in and hear the same music that’s on the radio (on the Christian station), with hand motions, etc., and the atmosphere in general feels somewhat casual.
Now I am not disparaging contemporary music and I recognize that it is something the kids connect with, and that there’s value in that.  But I also think we would do well to have more ceremony, more tradition, even at children’s Masses.  We should feel when we step into Church for Mass that we are taking one step into eternity.  We are participating in Heavenly worship, so we should be lifted a little off this earth.  Things should be different.  The air should be different, at least occasionally perfumed with incense.  The music should be different, at least sometimes.  The language should be different, with the inclusion of occasional Latin prayers.
The Masses we have every Friday are wonderful and beautiful, but I think everyone was amazed to see how the students responded to the tradition and ceremony of Adoration that Monday.  Just the fact of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and seeing our priest on his knees doing the same, drove home the message that the Eucharist is something special, in ways words never could.
This is exactly what Pope Benedict was trying to encourage when he suggested that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (the Tridentine Mass) could inform the Novus Ordo.  I hope many schools we will begin to consider ways in which we can truly make the celebration of the Mass feel like a participation in eternity.