A discussion about Lifeteen isn’t just a conversation about a particular youth ministry model. It’s about the nature of liturgy, parish life and catechesis in general.
What should we do with the kids? Is the basic question here. In the past, the answer was fairly simple: CYO and religious education of some sort or another, maybe. Fifty or a hundred years ago there simply wasn’t the concern about “youth” that there is today for many reasons. Adult Catholics weren’t terribly concerned about the need to minister to youth beyond CYO because people weren’t as religiously mobile as they are now. In other words, adults could be fairly sure that Once a Catholic, Always a Catholic.
That’s not the case anymore. The American religious scene looks more and more like a big mall with all kinds of different shops competing for our kids’ attention and spiritual dollar. The culture encourages questioning rather than submission to authority as the mark of adulthood. So our questioning, shopping youth no longer take their Catholicism for granted, especially when competitors are beckoning.
Lifeteen is one way the Church is trying to say it won’t take youth for granted, either. I won’t go into great detail about the program. You can read about it here.
The central concern about Lifeteen seems to be the Lifeteen liturgies. You can read all about that below.
My issue, though, is separation. Although I understand what people say about the value of Lifeteen liturgies for young people they know, I just don’t see how a separate liturgy for a designated group within a parish fits into our sense of what Eucharist is. I know, I know, we do it all the time for other groups, and most parishes have more than one Sunday liturgy that usually end up being divided along some kind of lines anyway – music style, generational, and so on. But a designated “youth mass” is different, and I don’t think it’s a spiritually sound practice. It cuts to the heart of the “unity” that “communion” is all about and it immediately, from the start, puts the focus on the nature of the congregation, rather than on God.
One more point about youth ministry. I think one of the mindsets youth ministers really need to divest themselves all is this conviction too many of them have that all teens are alike, and that one program will appeal to all teens. We don’t do that with adults. We don’t expect all adults to be in attendance at all designated ‘adult” events in a parish. Sure, the very passionate, emotional style of Lifeteen and similar ministries appeals to many teens. It scares the dickens out of some of them, too. It bores some and makes still others uncomfortable.
I’m not going to say anymore, except that I agree with what our first reader, a youth minister, says about the goals of working with youth
The Holy Father (should be the patron saint of YM someday IMHO!) challenged the church to become the traveling companion of young people (a paraphrase) -- not to create a sideshow experience in which they can wallow in adolescence and not move forward.
The setup of only young adults can minister (over 40 need not apply, with a few exceptions), parents are banned from youth ministry activities (except donating and kitchen help -- don't let yourself be seen!), no young children at masses due to content of the homilies, does not sound like travelling companions to me. In practice, it tends to denigrate very quickly to guru, cliquish ministry led by those more in line with the psychosocial maturity of those in their charge.
All instances I am aware of here have been divisive that have alienated youth from the larger faith community and worse yet, their families (don't trust anyone over 40!)
My philosophy on YM is this -- we are part of church and are charged with companioning, mentoring and challenging youth to grow in their faith to a more adult relationship with God. They need the wisdom of the over the hills, the presence of children and the experience of being apart of something bigger than themselves to get there -- we all do.
A similar view, this one offered specifically in response to Mary Beth Bonnacci's positive assessment of LifeTeen on HMS Blog:
Most of the work done in LifeTeen is put into the "LifeNight” which I found silly, filled with heresy (based upon the misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of the Cores and youth ministers) and superficial. The very structure of the 30 minutes prior to the Mass, the "Jay Leno show", precludes them from access to the Sacrament. [of Reconciliation] "Father" is too busy entertaining the crowd. It is all about the "personality" of the priest. In fact, you will hear over and over..this or that priest doesn’t have the "personality". ????
I don’t know about you folks, but when I go to Holy Sacrifice, I don’t want to see the priest’s personality and I think we are setting our kids up for a lifetime of seeking Liturgy based on the entertainment factor.
I will agree that Fr. Dale has 600 teens in the Sanctuary. We only had 30 or 40 kids in the Sanctuary and I can personally attest they told me over and over they felt self-conscious up there like everyone is watching them. They were right. Everyone is watching them and thinking isn’t that "nice". Problem is, the Sacrifice gets lost to everyone. Even in Mary Beth;s description, she offered that she witnessed what the teens were doing during Consecration. She was watching them. You just can;t help it. It is a distraction.
My interpretation of a program that is converting, is assessed in the changes taking place in the lives of those to whom we are ministering. The percentage of teens and Cores who changed their lives were relatively small. I want to see them making steady progress cleaning up their lives in surrender. It just isn’t happening. Let me just say this in closing - I know that some good things are coming out of this program. But the bad things outweigh the good by too far a margin to place this in any category of healthy ministry even on the most basic scales.
A liturgical objection:
My wife and I did once stumble upon an official LifeTeen Mass in North Carolina and were shocked. The worst part of the whole thing was that after Communion, the LifeTeens sat down on a rug in front of the altar, some leaning on the altar, some sprawled out, stretched out their legs, etc. I don't know what the point of this was, a post-communion meditation on these youth and how nice it was that they were going to Mass? It was far from reverent.
My wife & I attended a Lifeteen Mass a few years ago at another parish and were appalled: Teens are treated as a separate, better class of person. They have reserved seating in front, and sit there flirting, yakking, looking around & making sure they're noticed. Psalm was some glib hooey pop thing, not the scheduled Psalm from, you know, the Psalms? Sermon was kindergarten-level from vine & branches, priest walking up & down aisle with a potted plant.
Liturgy of Eucharist had all the Precious Ones standing with the priest behind the altar with arms around each other! All the songs were dreadful, I saw no reverence, and the focus of the Mass was The Darlings, not Christ. I wonder how these kids will make the transition to going to a Mass with us peons when they're too old to be special. My crabby guess is they won't.
Hey, I've been driving Mustangs, Camaros & Firebirds for years now, and Mass seems so bland, the same thing every week....maybe I should ask my bishop for a Musclecar Mass? I wanna be special, too.
A more..uh..measured response than the last:I have attended several such Masses and will try to share my thoughts. First, I think it can be dangerous to generalize. My sense is that Lifeteen is like Kleenex or Coke -- often mistakenly used as a generic term for all teen or youth oriented liturgies, when, on the contrary, I think it is actually a "branded" liturgical approach. But even within the brand, my impression is that there is considerable variation in the liturgy.
Second, it is true that some aspects of some Lifeteen Masses seem to run afoul of liturgical norms. For example, several years ago Atlanta's Archbishop Donoghue had to remind, in writing, all pastors that teens are not to be invited from the Nave to the Sanctuary for the Eucharistic prayer, which had been a sadly common feature of these Masses. Needless to say, in these cases the teens were not asked to kneel (though I bet they would have been happy to had they simply been so instructed).
Generally speaking, I do not prefer these Masses. Being the consummate traditionalist, some of the music and lighting effects (lights are turned on or off for effect) seem tasteless or even hokey. Yet the kids seem to prefer it, including my two teens. So where does that leave us? I think that we traditionalists should hold fast to our liturgical norms. As Catholics, we are not freelancers. Even so, we should be careful to not conflate those norms with our aesthetic preferences. There is nothing wrong with various types of Masses as long as they are in keeping with the Church's standards. Frankly, I love a traditional Mass with beautiful classical music. For me, a transcendental event becomes emotionally moving. Most of our youth do not (yet) share my taste for a traditional liturgy. I do not see why they should be deprived of an emotionally moving experience as long as we honor all our norms in good faith. That said, I have read with considerable amusement the recollections of the horrible and embarrassing song selections (for Masses) that have been shared on your blogspot over the last couple weeks. The risk of these occurrences presumably is greater in youth or teen Masses. Accordingly, a pastor must not only police the fairly clear-cut questions involving liturgical standards, but also exercise reasonable good judgment about music selection and other aesthetic matters as well.
To borrow a pan-denominational maxim (often wrongly attributed to Augustine) repeated by John XXIII in Ad Petri cathedram (his first encyclical, in 1959), "in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty and in all things, charity." I submit that outside of genuine liturgical norms, issues raised by Lifeteen Masses are something less than essential.
Moving to more positive end of the spectrum, slowly but surely:
My older girls were somewhat involved in Lifeteen in Saint Louis… The masses I saw were up-beat rock and roll affairs, some touchy-feely things, but the theology was orthodox. I think the thumb rule here would be-it depends on who’s in charge from place to place. The kids in the local Lifeteen were also affiliated with a Group called “God’s Gang,” a charismatic youth group that has sent seven young men to the seminary in the last ten years (my girls claim to be Charismaniacs; when Karen, my wife was confronted by this reality, she responded, “I think that’s great; go clean your rooms.”).
From Nick Alexander:
I have nothing but positive things to say about LifeTeen. I've seen only tremendous fruits from participants, from the students to the leaders. Every other ministry, Catholic-or-Interdenominational has focussed upon ways to communicate God's unconditional love and purpose using the language of the youth, but does this outside of Mass. The problem with this is it makes the Mass seem superfluous and unneccessary to one's relationship with God. There is no other ministry that I know of that has attempted to reconcile the needs of teenagers and the MASS.
Lifeteen was smart to integrate the mass with the language of today's teens. The Eucharist is still God, the homilies are God centered, and Reverence is still displayed.
Where does Lifeteen fail? I've seen a Lifeteen mass presided by a priest who *hates* to work with youth ministry. The kids take it personally, and thus they respond in kind. For Lifeteen to work, the priest has to be completely willing to relate to teenagers, even tho being a teen today is different from being a teen a generation or two (or three) ago.
Some people don't like the music at a Lifeteen parish. But really, isn't this the issue? I've been to Lifeteen masses at different parishes and have found that it varies from congregation to congregation. Some masses heavily prefer the rocking (and singable) praise and worship choruses that are prevalent today. Some masses use the missallette, using the same music the parish is familiar with. If this is the issue, it's a pastoral one. Some don't like it when the youth stand around the altar. This too, is a pastoral issue. I have witnessed Lifeteen masses where the Code of Canon Law was observed, and those which kids stand around the altar. If this is the crux where one disregards Lifeteen, then it's foolish--the priest can very well preside a Lifeteen mass while keeping the laws of Code of Canon Law intact. But even with the straying of this, the fruit of the Law is kept intact--community joined together, with Jesus on the Altar in the center. Even if they err, they err in _grace_. You should know them by their fruits.
Lifeteen has caused more vocations to the priesthood than any ministry out there. It has done this without watering down the Catholic faith. It has done this by re-establishing the *joy* of being a true follower of Jesus Christ.
A very brief note on LifeTeen: we have had it at our parish for five or six years now and although I am by nature a High Liturgy type of guy I prefer the LT Mass to any other at our parish or in most parishes in the vicinity, mainly because it conveys a sense of passion and devotion. Yes, it definitely leans toward the circusy, and in theory I shouldn't like it any better than the horrid limp folk mass stuff. But it seems genuine, which is the last word I would use about any HLFM, and that counts for a lot in these grim liturgical times. Don't know if it's a healthy trend in the long run. My appraisal of the people involved with it locally is that they are on the charismatic/evangelical wing of the Church, theologically quite orthodox but maybe more at home in the contemporary world than is quite healthy.