Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dominus vobiscum, 2.0

...this time with teenagers!

Last weekend we brought our Confirmation class to the Oratory for Latin Mass, and then on a tour of our diocesan cathedral. Both where beautiful experiences and I really hope we can repeat the trip next year. But here are some of the highlights, from my perspective.

A few days before our trip, I called the rector of the Oratory, a priest of the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, to warn him that 22 teenagers who had never seen the Extraordinary Form before would be descending upon his parish. He kindly offered to speak with them before Mass, which was fantastic. My favorite question of the ones the kids asked was, "Why are you wearing that?" They'd never seen a priest in a cassock before. With great grace the canon explained the basics of formal clerical dress.

During the Mass, as I expected, some of the kids were clearly just sitting there like lumps on logs, bored out of their skulls. But they behave the exact same way at our Novus Ordo Mass, so that behavior had nothing to do with their location or the language of the liturgy. My 11th grade English teacher always told us, "only the boring are bored." However, there were a handful of kids - the stereotypical "good Church kid" types - who were rapt with attention almost the whole time. I'd given the class a primer on what to expect- how to follow along in the missal if they wanted, how to receive in the on the tongue, etc., and even if they didn't know exactly what was going on, they were keyed in.

Several of the kids commented, "they sure have a lot of altar boys." There were five that day, fewer than I've seen at other high Masses, but still more than we ever have at our parish.

And, finally, a brief glimpse into the teen male psyche! Ah!

As I'd explained to the kids, most people who attend the Extraordinary Form take the importance of the occasion and the value of modesty very seriously. All the kids had to sign - and have a parent sign - a very detailed dress code specifying no jeans, sweatshirts, bare shoulders, skirts about the knee, etc. I made all the girls little lace chapel veils so they would blend in with everyone else. I was proud that almost all our students were dressed incredibly well; modest, but sharp; fashionable, but not attention-seeking. They fit right in with the crowd at Latin Mass.


I was seated behind a row of my male teens, all of them good guys who were trying - so far as I could tell - to really try and figure out what was going on and follow along. About halfway through Mass, a young lady from the pew a few rows up had to leave for a few minutes. She was exceptionally beautiful, and young, and in a very nice, fancy dress, but one that came far above her knees, and she sashayed along in three-plus-inch stilettos that echoed in the quiet church.

Now, I feel uncharitable just writing that. But here's what happened.

The boys, who up until that point had been alternately looking at their missals or following the priest's actions at the front of the church, all turned their heads sharply and followed her exit from the building. If their spines had allowed I'm sure their heads would have gone all the way around. After she was gone, the turned back toward the front, but it took a good few minutes before I noticed them turning missal pages again, or looking forward at the actions of the priest.


Now, obviously, this young woman may not have any idea how her behavior and dress affected these teenage boys. But if nothing else, she was a blatant example of the importance of modesty in our dress, especially in a church setting. Not only do we owe Jesus respect, and ourselves respect, but we need to help guard our brothers. Part of me wanted to find that young woman after Mass, compliment her on her lovely dress, and nicely suggest that she add some tights or leggings under it, or explain what I saw.

If nothing else, it was a stark reminder that we profoundly impact others in the Body of Christ, in our actions, dress, words, and choices. We need to make sure that our decisions are not just "do I feel good doing this?" but "does it point to Goodness/Beauty/Truth in some way?"

And coming up next: reflections on teens + cathedral and an understanding of beauty...