Whatever it is we’re doin’… ain’t workin’!

I don’t know how many times my own proposals, or those of others I have heard about, were rejected because of "young people".   "No, no.  We have to do [FILL IN BLANK] for young people".

Pretty much you know in your heart that [FILL IN THE BLANK] is going to flop because a) young people aren’t stupid and b) young people don’t have 1960’s-70’s baggage and c) what ever hip bad groovy sick cool thing you attempt in church is always done better elsewhere by people who are actually good at it.

Over at NLM I saw an interesting graph.

This graph concerns age groups against frequency of Mass attendance.

My friend Jeffrey Tucker puts it this way (with my emphases and comments):

The upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s were justified largely based on the desperate need of young people for a liturgical experience that meets their needs and speaks to a new generation. [Sounds about right.  Ever heard that yourself?] Apparently the "new generation" didn’t much like what they heard, because they left in droves. Meanwhile, the strongest attachments to Catholic Church can be observed among those raised in a liturgical environment widely decried for its failure to connect to people and its propensity to foster alienation. These are the survivors who cling to the memorized portions of the Baltimore Catechism for sustenance in difficult times.

Knowing nothing other than these facts, one can easily conclude that the conventional wisdom is complete wrong and that the truth is the reverse of what we’ve been told. The hip and happening style at Mass backfired and emptied the Church. It is the "bad old days" that instilled deeper attachments. The proper direction for change, then, is to recover what we lost.


Do I hear an "Amen!"?

You can read the rest over there.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in The future and our choices and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Stu says:

    So no more big puppets at Mass?

  2. The hip and happening style at Mass backfired and emptied the Church.

    Maybe that’s why some of the wreckovations shrank the seating space (e.g., taking the altar out of the apse and sticking it in the nave): so the churches wouldn’t look so empty.

  3. LOL, Stu.

    The Mass is timeless. However, for the aging hippie wreckovators, their world stopped in 1970. Not quite the same thing.

  4. JonM says:

    I suppose I qualify as a ‘young’ person (the upper range of the 18-30 age group) so my assessment is particularly germane.

    My parish is traditional in architecture, solemnness, and lacks innovations. It is clear that each mass is a sacrificial rite. Sometimes the music includes some of the more notorious offenders, but more often we are singing Ubi Caritas and other beautiful hymns.

    In fact, today at a packed mass we sang the Agnus Dei (that is, in Latin).

    When I was little, I was always attracted to the Church precisely for the richness (elaborate rites, deep history, beauty in art and music). It was depressing that when I began my conversion at a different parish (which has since been ‘retaken’), I was initially given no guidance apart from being asked to stand in place with other new or visiting people (at my old Presbyterian USA community we would not have even thought of doing that!)

    One year later trying again, the RCIA program began with a lounge chat and puzzlement as to why someone would even want to become a Catholic (perhaps because it is the one holy and apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ?!?) I kid you not Father Z, the coordinator worked in not only Dawkinsian evolution, but also woman ordination (for the future of course) and criticism of Latin.

    RCIA kept getting canceled and a dear friend suggested my current parish. WORLD OF DIFFERENCE.

    Going beyond basic submission to the Magesterium, I am very partial to Latin in the Novus Ordo. I can only read parts of the language, but usually can get the overall of something (I have studied French and Spanish and enjoy reading in general). It might take a little more work – but worthy things usually do.

    I really can’t begin to compare who I was 13 months ago to where I am now. It did take humbling after my Confirmation, so I don’t want a reader who is considering converting thinking that life is perfect after you join the Church. More likely, you will be tested somehow.

    Where I am now is thanks to real guidance in Confession, encouragement to do things, and Eucharistic adoration (which I couldn’t understand even seven months ago).

    A Mass that is not centered around me has been critical to changing myself and more deeply discovering all of the treasures in the attic that the ‘cool kids’ ignore. Understanding that God comes first and is lord of all is so important because then you eventually stop worrying about trying to impress people or trying to lift the world yourself. And as I keep learning, He gives you what you need.

    So, from this self-confessed ‘young’ person who used to be pretty worldly and who was not Catholic, it was the fullness of the faith that attracted me and not some banal innovation marketed to my demographic.

  5. medievalist says:

    What’s most interesting is that the “rarely or never” attendance has barely changed in over fifty years. It’s the shift from weekly to less often attendance that is most marked. This means that people are still retaining some links to the Church, and that there is hope to draw them back. Of course, different people have different views on how to do this…

  6. Doc Angelicus says:

    In trying to make the Mass more relevant to young people (and to the whole modern world besides), one can go two ways: One can change the Mass itself, or one can show those target audiences (or demographics as JonM says) how the Mass is relevant in their particular lives and cultures. The first is clearly the easier task. And it was what was done.

    The problem is, no one can make a single celebration of Mass to be relevant to all the particularities that particular people bring on a particular day. Folk music is not relevant to people who like rock, inept ballet is not relevant to people who like night clubs, and so on. But if you try to say, “But Father, I want rock music (or traditional hymns, etc.), not this wimpy folk stuff,” and you get slammed for being disrespectful to the tastes and the efforts of the people who do the folk music for YOU. You are expected to accept its relevance. So, the changes were not really about “us” in the pews, but about “them” in the sanctuary, and not about the relevance of the Mass but about the relevance of “them.”

    That generation was left in a catechetical vacuum. Since the relevance of the essence of Mass was never explained, not even the outwardly “more relevant” Mass was seen to be relevant. But it was seen to be as just another option in a world that prizes choice.

    By God’s grace somehow in my catechetically vacuous life, I retained a sense of what the Mass was. And now that I understand it better, I want less and less of the garbage that hides the essence. I don’t want “me” at Mass, I want HIM. I have “me” all the time.

    Which is another thing…. Having Mass in English gives the false impression that one understands its essence and its mystery because one understands the words being used.

    Oh, I better stop. I could go on and on.

  7. MrsHall says:

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I think it wasn’t just an attempt to appeal to the young. I think it was also an attempt to appear _less_ Catholic and appeal to the Protestants and lapsed Catholics. I think it was an “ecumenical” move—“if we look like them we might get them to come over to our side.” I grew up Protestant—evangelical, charismatic movement, we-wish-we-were-a-megachurch Protestant. All of the yucky stuff that poured into the Church (which I am glad I was not there to witness) smacks of the Protestant “church growth” and “seeker sensitive” junk. And it is junk, and it doesn’t work for them, either. It draws a crowd for sure but they never stick around. One of my professors at Bible college used to sigh, “People go where the goodies are.” Sadly, it’s true—when it’s all about the “performance.” The Catholic Church does not need to make things up as She goes along… It seems to me that there is a fear of being “authoritative,” but that’s what a Mother has to do. It’s both a right and a responsibility.

  8. Supertradmom says:

    We have a problem in the universal Church, but especially in America, thinking that teens and young people need “their own Mass”. Look at the recent liturgies at the National Youth Conference last week, with non-liturgical instruments, very contemporary and therefore, bland music, African drums, and a general attitude of charismatic liturgical practices as totally acceptable. Why do we pander to the extravagant and loud, instead of teaching youth that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most solemn, beautiful and respectful event in their lives? Priests and bishops in some areas, sadly, feel that we must lower our presentation of the Holy Eucharist to meet the demands of modern culture. Needless to say, those young people in the Latin Mass community with which we are familiar did not go, nor did any youth in our family.

  9. Carolina Geo says:

    MrsHall: I agree with your assessment. From a marketing point of view, when the Novus Ordo was introduced, it attempted to compete with the Protestant liturgies in an attempt to attract Protestants and to retain Catholics. The problem is that after several hundred years, Protestants do Protestant liturgies (for what they are) very well. Catholics do Protestant liturgies very poorly. Suddenly the Church finds itself in a liturgical position where the Catholic aspect of the Mass is wanting, and the Protestant aspect of the Mass is also wanting. Hence, people leave.

    I find it amusing that in various dioceses, there are pushes to welcome back lapsed Catholics into the Church. That’s all well and good, but if those dioceses don’t address the reasons that people left the Church in the first place, then those same people will simply leave again.

    Also, the graph is an indication of how often Catholics go to Mass. There are many lapsed Catholics who simply left the Church and no longer identify themselves as Catholics. In other words, the graph only counts those Catholics who have chosen to remain in the Church at all. A parish can celebrate all it wants when a dozen people enter the Church at Easter, but when we compare that to the three dozen who left the Church, we still face a net loss. (I’m making those numbers up, by the way, merely to illustrate a point)

    Bring back the Traditional Mass in all of its Catholic glory, and the pews will fill up again. And as a side benefit, those Mass-goers will come with their offertory envelopes. A win-win situation!

  10. Rebecca M says:

    As much as those numbers (especially for younger people, of whom I am one) can be construed with dismay, I think they actually show signs of hope. Of those surveyed, a minority have pretty much given up their faith. 21% attend weekly, which isn’t great. But there are still 35% that attend 1-3 times each month. For a twenty-something, that is not a BAD statistic. Likely a number of those will attend more consistently when children are in the picture. But young people respond well to challenge – to something that is worth a sacrifice. So yes, the statistics should call us to action – to evangelization, but certainly not to despair!

  11. Which is another thing…. Having Mass in English gives the false impression that one understands its essence and its mystery because one understands the words being used.

    Yep. Seems like, after 40+ years of Mass in the vernacular, we understand the Mass less now than we ever did. But I don’t think this is purely the fault of the Novus Ordo. In fact, I think we can make the case that the Novus Ordo is actually proving to be a remedy for this failure of understanding that took hold long before Vatican II. The loss of what is now called the Extraordinary Rite unmasked the rot that had been lurking below the surface for a long time.

    As far as the idea of spicing up the Mass goes, the very idea that something has to be done to the Mass to make it “relevant” is itself a sign of a total lack of understanding of the Mass. Nothing could be more relevant than Calvary. Besides, as somebody commented above, it’s really not about the kids anyway. Nobody in the two “LifeTeen” bands I’ve seen in my area looks a day under 40.

  12. JMody says:

    Hmm — do I need God/the Church to change for me, or am I the one that needs to change?

    Digby’s Maxims of Christian Chivalry said it best, and this in the 1820’s — music used to be such as would draw in the curious pagan and inspire him to seek baptism, whereas modern (in 1820’s mind you!) music is more likely to DRIVE THE PIOUS OUT OF CHURCH than to draw the pagans in.

    Or something to that effect.

  13. john 654 says:

    As someone born Post-V2 and in a conservative diocese (Lincoln, NE) I knew nothing of Vatican II other than it was a church council, big whoop to a teenager of the late 80s, early 90s, that could care less about the church and its teachings. No one ever discussed that the Mass was different prior to V2, No one ever discussed the changes that took place other than to speak highly of the documents that came from V2.

    After falling away from the church only to return later in the years post 9/11, I do have difficultly with worshiping at a TLM (I’ve been to 3), but I have greater difficultly in understanding how the church made the leap it did from the TLM to the Novus Ordo after V2. In a way I feel robbed of the faith of my ancestors. No matter the dogmas we believe are still the same, the way we worship is entirely different.

    When Fr. Z says “rupture” I would say he is being kind. Its more of a vast “chasm” between the two. And even though I attend a Novus Ordo Mass to this day, and prefer to worship in English because its been embedded in me since my birth, I know the Novus Ordo is substandard to the TLM. After all if the TLM is Extraordinary, does that not make the Novus Ordo ordinary?

    I cannot say that the changes in the Mass since V2 are a good thing. Very few of my generation take their faith seriously that all can’t be blamed on V2 but it certainly didn’t help matters. My preference should never trump God’s preference. The Mass isn’t about me, its about Him!

  14. I think that there are many young people who are starving for Tradition. To put it simply, they are not being fed at their home parishes. Therefore, they go and seek out the most conservative Novus Ordo Missaes or the Latin Mass wherever it is offered because they are looking for something that the bland Novus Ordo with its warm and fuzzy sermons and bland music from the St. Louis Jesuits cannot do.

    Coming from an extremely ultraconservative background, I have always been a stickler for solemnity and reverence in the liturgy. I don’t care if it takes place at St. Suburbia’s or St. Peter’s, the standard always remains the same. After all, the Mass is not just another Sunday service or another way for people to socialize. It is the nucleus and center of our faith. It is the Sacrifice of Calvary being renewed daily and weekly on our altars.

    Sadly, that reality isn’t conveyed in many places. I think it is because we have lost the sense of the sacred that comes with the liturgy. Therefore, young people go and look for it wherever they can find it and when they do, they tend to hold on to it for dear life.

  15. DavidJ says:

    Having been involved in teen ministry for the better part of 10 years, the thing that attracts young people is the authentic TRUTH. Period. End of story. Any trappings that make it easier for them to connect with the Truth will be more effective. Strangely enough, reverence and holiness seem to do that job quite nicely.

  16. Maltese says:

    I would love to know the number of “Life Teen Mass” Catholics who stop going to Mass once the happy-clappy feel-goodism wears off?

  17. Melody says:

    Here’s why “relevancy” doesn’t work, both with masses and religious life:

    Making something perfectly relevant to everyday life only makes it more boring and pointless. Ordinary life is not that interesting. It is human nature to rebel, and properly done the holy faith is a place to rebel against the evil one and the culture of death.

    If my agnostic, uncatechized friends are inspired by anything about the Church it is the image of the priest, crucifix in hand, battling Satan and the forces of darkness, the image of the Church Triumphant, a force keeping the light alive, untouched by time. And then what tragedy if one of those captured souls should enter into the nearby parish and find only the same mediocrity and worldliness they had hoped to leave behind.

  18. Tradster says:

    With all this talk of relevancy and which rite to use, one critical point never seems to be mentioned. There is a simple reason why the NO was so successfully foisted on the Catholic world so quickly. We were raised with the fear of God and Hell, and believed that missing Mass was a (dare I utter those two forbidden words?) Mortal Sin. The danger of losing one’s soul is nonexistent in today’s feel-good, everyone-goes-to Heaven Faith, so there’s no moral incentive to go to Mass. Bring back sin and you’ll bring back the sinners!

  19. bookworm says:

    I understand the importance of good liturgy and am quite pleased to see a return to the solemnity and tradition that were in many cases lost after Vatican II.

    However, I don’t think that it’s necessarily a sign of great intellect, virtue, or wisdom to be overly picky (as an attendee or participant; NOT as a celebrant, whose duty it is to be careful about details) about every single detail of any liturgy, so long as it is celebrated according to the rubrics and nothing contrary to Church teaching is preached in the homily.

    I used to work full time for a diocesan office and as such, got very caught up in issues such as whether holding hands at the Our Father was allowed, communion on the tongue vs. in the hand, etc. Then I lost that job and had to start living full time in a secular environment. Weekly Mass and “St. Blogs” are the only contact I have with the Church these days, and when I go to Mass, I’m just happy to be able to make it.

    If I’m starving for the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist I’m not going to complain about whether my “meal” is served on china or plastic, as long as it’s clean and functional. I will agree, however, that some of the grosser liturgical abuses and bad preaching that occurred after V-II were the equivalent of being served spoiled food on a paper plate pulled out of a garbage can and should not have been tolerated.

  20. Bornacatholic says:

    Born into a large Catholic Family In Vermont in 1948, I was raised as an old school Catholic.

    I stopped going to Mass while I was in High School once I chose alcohol and fornication over the Church.

    I eventually became an apostate and reached the point where I was suicidal but because I was too craven, I took some LSD hoping to blow my mind and escape the reality of choosing to live in opposition to Jesus.

    After a prolonged psychiatric crisis (including stints in a local psych unit and a State Crazy House) I eventually rejoined society and became productive but continued to lead an empty spiritual life.

    Once, as I was driving around in my car feeling hopeless and depressed, I asked the Lord Jesus to come into my life and save me.

    He did. And, eventually, I made it back into the Church.

    After having been away from the Mass from about 1967 until the late 1970s, early 1980s, I went to my first Mass in South Portland, Maine.

    “What the hell has happened to the Catholic Church?,” was my first response.

    It is my response to this day.

    To this day, I remain a serious sinner with a sometimes but tenuous grip on reality but, for me, it is the the Catholic Church that has gone far crazier than I ever did.

    I do not even recognise it anymore. (It goes without saying that I love Pope Benedict, Fr Z, The Restored Mass, the FSSP, Clear Creek Monastery etc etc etc) but The Catholic Church as an institution?

    It no longer exists. It went crazy and it ain’t making sense anymore.

    When I needed it more than ever. It was gone. Long gone.

  21. Rachel Pineda says:

    My Mother in-law is 63 and from Mexico.She remembers very well the changes of Vatican II. We just had a conversation about this yesterday. She says she remembers when they started implementing the changes people would move from church to church to try to stay away from the changes that were happening. She and others in their town felt these things were too foreign and forced upon them. Everyone moved until they were backed into a corner and could not move anymore. So they left. Just stopped attending Mass. These were towns who had the Cristeros war still fresh in their hearts and minds. She has many stories of the fight her mother, father and towns people had to put up during this persecution all to be repaid with such drastic changes to what they fought for! It seems to have felt like a deep betrayal to her and others she knew in these towns when she talks about it.
    The Church has been greatly affected by this. Both old and young feel cheated out of something very precious and irreplaceable. They want the sacred back.
    When I told my mother in-law yesterday one of our sons is going to be preparing for his First Communion this coming year. Her response was happy then turned serious. She said to my husband and I, ” Teach him the old way. If you teach him the old way he’ll stay a Catholic all his life. If you teach him the new way…” she just shook her head. She has had first hand experience with lots of people including her family losing their faith because this rupture was too much for them to handle.
    Pray, pray, pray.

  22. Mark R says:

    Industrialisation and urbanisation has a larger impact on religious practice than any changes in religion itself, which are just short sighted, ex post facto reactions to I and U.

  23. Francisco Cojuanco says:

    Mark, then explain why the parish my mother was baptised in underwent the same changes, despite being in a Third World country and being a rural parish. I’m not being sarcastic, just asking.

  24. ds says:

    As some have pointed out, these are bad, but not as bad as they could be the number of “never” attends is actually on the decrease.

    One statistic I don’t understand is the people who go “once/A few times a month.”

    Maybe it is just me, but I really don’t know anyone like this? If it is 35% of my demographic I have not met many of these folks.

    People either go to Mass every week without fail, or they just go on Christmas and Easter. I don’t know anyone who goes twice a month or something like that. I think this whole catageory can be combined with the “A Few Times a Year,” these are the Christmas/Easter/Wedding/Funeral people (who of course always do go to communion despite never going to confession.)

    Now that I think of it, the only peole who would go a few times are month would be lukewarm young couples who want a Catholic wedding (though they don’t really care for the teachings of the Church) and while they are engaged they make apperances at Church, once in a while, for form’s sake, but it’s not really that important to them other than as a wedding venue.

    All things considered though, the fact that 85% of people under 30 still have some level of connection to the Church is a solid groundwork to build upon.

    Something interesting that comes up with people my age, be they devout Catholics or just the Christmas and Easter types, there is an almost universal destesment of holding hands during the our father. Only a few “charismatic” types like this, but most people find this really unsettling for some reason, it is not a germ-a-phobia or anything like that, but it just feels so patronising.

    Oddly enough, even liberal Bishops like Weakland and Mahoney have voiced opposition to this practice.

  25. paladin says:

    JonM wrote:

    One year later trying again, the RCIA program began with a lounge chat and puzzlement as to why someone would even want to become a Catholic (perhaps because it is the one holy and apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ?!?) I kid you not Father Z, the coordinator worked in not only Dawkinsian evolution, but also woman ordination (for the future of course) and criticism of Latin.

    Argh!! It’s stories like this that make me want to–well–decorate my keyboard with my previous meal! (I’m really sorry you went through that tripe, Jon!) Is orthodoxy really so hard to understand and embrace?

    My wife and I are RCIA coordinators, and seriously: it’s not at all impossible, or even hard, to teach the Faith as it truly is (and not as the 1970’s burlap-types tried to reshape it). Sure, you have to do your homework, as opposed to making things up as you go… but then again, truth has a way of holding together… while “make-it-up-pablum” has this nasty habit of falling apart when it’s challenged (aside from the “small” problem of it endangering immortal souls).

    Heck, one of our “RCIA field trips” is to a local chapel where they offer a TLM, Missa Cantata. When teaching about the Mass, it’s really almost impossible to give coherent reasons for “why we do this/that” *without* talking about the TLM… since the NO either borrowed from it, or–forgive me–made up things out of whole cloth (and are hence mostly inexplicable, strictly speaking).

  26. becket1 says:

    Quote from Rachel’s post “Both old and young feel cheated out of something very precious and irreplaceable. They want the sacred back.”

    I completely agree with this statement!. Nice post Rachel and God bless your family.

  27. geoff jones says:

    I’m from Australia, which is a much more secular country than the US, and these statistics surprise me. I come from an island off the south east called Tasmania, and I’d say the number of mass going young people is more like 3%. IF ONLY we had something like 22% attending every week.

    The only remnants of what can be called a Church in Tasmania are the charismatics (who are strongly devoted to the rosary, eucharistic adoration, and the Holy Father) and the Trads, and even they are very, very small.

    The only seminarian Tasmania has produced in the last 10 years was raised in a very conservative NO family, who has begun his training for the very conservative Wagga Wagga diocese.

  28. Dr. Eric says:


    The people who go to church 1-2 times per month could be in the demographic of nurses, physicians, surgeons, or others who have to, because of their jobs, work long hours on the weekends.

  29. ds says:

    Dr. Eric, that is a good point I failed to consider but medical workers surely can’t account for 35%. Also I am sure a certain number of medical workers work in Catholic hospitals and have easy access to Mass. I used to live near a Catholic hospital and would see doctors and nurses at the Masses there.

    I myself have worked weekends for the past several years, sometimes it involves waking up earlier, driving a little more, keeping up wit the Mass times at diffrent parishes and jumping around from parish to parish, but if there is a will there is usually a way.

  30. Genevieve says:

    I’m 25; I have plenty of nominal Catholic friends (they call themselves ‘cultural catholics’ and say they attend Mass for the ‘community’) who only go a few times a month – in fact, I used to be in that category. It wasn’t a wedding or the baptism of children that changed my faith, but an intense study of what the Mass *is*. Now that I “get it,” I wouldn’t miss it for the world and even go on weekdays when I can.

    I don’t think it’s the NO that has impacted attendance; I think it’s poor catechesis. Sure, people left when the change was made. People don’t like change(!). They’ll leave, too, if you change it back. But going weekly? How could anyone pass up that opportunity if they really understood what it was. I may not like the praise band, the OCP hymns, the insistent old lady trying to hold my hand, or the looks I get when I get on my knees to receive Jesus, but I go because who else has the words of eternal life?

  31. Mark R says:

    Surely the place where your mother was baptised has gone through the so-called Third World development phase in the last 40 or so years? The people running her country surely had some education in Northern Hemisphere schools, or were influenced by ideas germinated in such schools — this includes the priests as well as those in the government. There is really no escape in the rest of the world from paradigms imposed by the First or formerly Second Worlds even if they did not reach their fullest expression.
    The changes in society over the years have provided institutional growths that have on the one hand usurped the role of the Church and on the other strained the hearts of the people to make them less receptive to the Gospel and the Spirit. A Church can only rely so much on the kind of people comprising it. They aren’t everything, but the better the Christian, the better the Church — I am a very poor example, by the way.

Comments are closed.