Today was the Lent
en liturgy. Attending a Catholic
school, certain customs of mass celebration must be observed. During the season the hope is that weekly times of reflection will better serve to focus our minds and souls on the coming ascension of Christ
. The reality is that the students couldn't care less.
The high school was built with its priorities somewhat off-kilter. Science, academic, and religious concerns got the jib in favor of lavish sports facilities. We have no resident priest to hold our masses. We have no pews but the bleechers. All preparation is taken care of by a class of motivated students called the Peer Ministry. They try to give every mass a contemporary flavor with tastefully arranged holiday lights, student drawn worship pamphlets, and a theme that should be relevant to the student body as a whole. Their efforts are rather token. The music over the speakers was Contemporary Christian, trying almost too hard to mirror its mainstream pop counterparts, but with the Lord Jesus instead of heartbreak. Two jocks made ironic jokes after the song repeated for the fourth time. I joined in.
Finally, everyone was ready and the students quieted down. Our priest de jour was a young man, just out of Seminary. You'd think he might go into convulsions from enthusiasm at any moment. He changed around the recitations, trying to transform them from incantations into living, breathing prayers. With his sermon he sought desperately for our eyes and ears. Anecdotes, abstractions, wink-wink-nudge-nudge acknowledgements of reality, and offers of salvation. Few realized he was even speaking.
I think the difficulty is that this is not a mystical experience for us. Religion is not only a framework for approaching and understanding life, it also satisfies a basic human need for the mysterious. To recognize patterns, that only you can see, to have rituals and traditions with their sacred workings unknown, this appeals to anyone. We seek it in music, in stories, in television and in games because it is no longer being provided by the traditional sources. Without the somewhat superficial occult elements, it is easy to lose patience.
During communion, things became almost absurd. Instead of reverant silence, there was the low buzz of chatter. The speakers distractingly began to pick up radio waves, and little the sound crew could do would stop the awkward tittering of hearing an advertisement for used cars at 20% mark down while the priest was trying to make a benediction. I spend most of my time during these ceremonies off in my own world, but even I noticed the uncomfortable disrespect that filled the air.
The peer ministry kids always make a final few comments before the mass ends, usually motivational and rather vapid stuff. It feels insincere to hear such noble words from people you know are nothing like the image they present at the podium in the school's halls. One senior stepped up to give the final comment. He paused, then apologized that he was about to deviate from his planned speech. The theme of this mass was change, change for the better. And he felt a change was necessary, right here, right now. In a ten minute speech, he made it clear that muttering and murmuring during the most sacred portion of the mass was disgraceful. It showed disrespect to the priest who volunteered his time for our community, disrespect for the peer ministers who worked hard to make the mass a success, and disrespect for one's peers who might, surprisingly enough, want to use the time for prayer as it was meant to be used. "Some of you are even talking right now, completely ignoring me!" He challenged us to show some maturity.
His speech came across as arrogant and self-righteous. It also came across as incredibly brave. The teenage tendancy of rendering absolutely everything superficial is relentless and unforgiving. Building irony upon irony upon mocking irony isn't just irritating as fuck to anyone trying to find some deeper meaning to their experiences, it grows tiresome from the other end too. I'm a seventeen year-old, and though I may wish that I present myself maturely, I have just as much the habit of retreating into a self-protective cocoon of irreverent mocking as anyone else my age. We're fragile. It's better to break than to be broken. This fellow teen was actually willing to shatter the taboo. No one will heed him, but the commitment to actually saying something, anything of importance is extraordinary. I hadn't said a word through the course of the mass, but I still felt humbled. That was something I would never have the courage to do.