In the late 1980s, I traded in my computer for a chalkboard, swapped advertising clients for high school students, and became a religion teacher.
Within a few weeks of my first day at that all-girls Catholic high school, we had the first all-school Mass. As a liturgist-in-training, I left that first Mass fired up—because it was terrible. Everyone sat in the bleachers in the gym. The teachers and administrators were clearly there for disciplinary enforcement, not to celebrate the Sacrament. No one sang except for the performance choir that had been drafted into service. In fact, no one spoke except for a few of the adults. None of the lectors were students. The homily had nothing to do with the lives of the young women gathered there. Though Jesus was really and truly present in Word and Sacrament, I’m not sure that more than a handful of us were really and truly aware of that.
It was a spiritually and emotionally exhausting experience. I had experienced the Mass in so many different settings with so many different people that I knew that this sacramental encounter with Jesus Christ has such incredible power to transcend even the most difficult circumstances. But this was so disappointing. It felt almost empty.
Driven by the belief that if we didn’t do something, we would lose a generation of Catholic young women, our campus ministry revamped the way in which we prepared Masses. Some things were easy. We invited presiders who understood teens and how to preach to them. We chose and taught songs that everyone could sing—and gave everyone the words. We formed a strictly liturgical choir.
Some changes were harder to implement. In order to treat students as the confirmed adult Catholics they were, we gave students the choice between attending Mass or going to study hall. We also arranged to distribute Communion under both species—and had to trust the students to be respectful of the Sacrament. We trained students in liturgical ministries that were open to them, as lectors, cantors, and even extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. The biggest challenge was working with the other teachers to trust the students enough that they could lead by example, focusing less on student discipline during Mass and more on hospitality and participating in the Mass.
This week’s two CatholicsRead resources made me think of those weeks and months of change management. We had a two-part task: one big picture, the other very detailed and culturally relevant: start with Jesus and then prepare a sacramental encounter that was relevant for our community.
Joe Paprocki’s A Church on the Move from Loyola Press starts with the “big picture”—Jesus Christ. Then, with 52 practical strategies, each chapter takes an honest look at a particular problem in the Church before moving to a creative, redemptive, and achievable solution.
Intercultural Marriage: A Pastoral Guide to the Sacrament by Simon C. Kim and Ricky Manalo, published by Paulist Press, tackles the second part—how to make sacramental unions culturally and generationally relevant for today’s Church.
Adapting our approaches to better serve the needs of the Church can be a daunting task. Thankfully, Catholics today have resources to help.
Therese Brown is the Executive Director of the Association of Catholic Publishers. She holds a master of arts degree in youth and liturgy from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She previously served as senior marketing specialist at United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Publishing Office. She is the author of Graced Moments: Prayer Services for the Lives of Teens (World Library Publications). She resides in the Baltimore area.