Our school Masses are not only acts of worship but experiences of community.
By Rachel Gleeson
The Eucharist is the source and summit of our life as Catholics. However, getting students to participate in Mass, let alone appreciate it, can be an arduous task. Helping young people and children grow in the faith requires instilling a love of the sacraments.
Unfortunately, I think many of us see the Masses we have with our students as interruptions rather than the most important forty minutes of our day. How many of us attend a school Mass sitting in our pew (or auditorium seat) calculating how many minutes of instructional time we are losing or wondering if we will be able to get coffee before class starts again? If it is easy for us to get distracted, how much easier must it be for our students?
Often, I think our lack of appreciation is because we do not base our school day around prayer and the sacraments but shove them into the schedule where we can. This perspective needs to change so we can to help our students appreciate the beauty and importance of Mass. We must have the correct perspective first. Appreciating Mass requires primarily viewing it as important. It is the beautiful and indispensable center of our Catholic faith.
The Mass, in a special way, is also the center of our communal life as Catholics. Our school Masses are not only acts of worship but experiences of community. Humans are relational. We attend Mass together not just because we need a priest to consecrate the Eucharist. At Mass, we come together as brothers and sisters in Christ to worship God. This communal aspect is especially brought home as we gather as a school family. In this way, school Masses serve as a reminder that what unites this community is not just a quest for education. Our foundation is, and should be, Christ and our shared faith in Him. Many Catholic schools, of course, have non-Catholic students, families, and teachers. Mass should not alienate these members of our school community but rather be an invitation to the reason why our school exists: the truth of Christ.
The proper perspective on the importance of Mass and the understanding of it as a community event can be developed through practical steps. As catechists, campus ministers, and teachers we have an obligation to foster this understanding. We must engage students and provide opportunities that help them participate and be involved in the Mass.
Music is a key way to engage children and youth. We use songs in class to help students remember information or increase interest in a topic. The music we use at Mass should help students remember key ideas of the faith and draw interest. There may be personal preferences of modern versus more traditional songs or arguments as to which songs engage more or communicate Theology more fully. Upbeat songs with simple lyrics are often favorites. Most importantly though, the music used should draw students to God. One thing I have seen be helpful, practically, is to have certain songs that are played often. This way students learn the songs by heart. The fact is they are more likely to sing songs when they know the words.
Another way to encourage students in appreciating the Mass is getting them involved. This means more than just asking a few students to proclaim the readings or be servers. We need to equip students to participate in these roles. Giving students confidence can only encourage them to participate. Having students at the altar shows their peers that Mass is not something foreign to their demographic. It highlights the importance of active participation by the congregation.
There are a number of things we can do to encourage students to participate in school Masses. However, these practices will be empty if they do not come to appreciate the importance of our Eucharistic celebration. It is a difficult thing to teach appreciation. However, it is impossible to give if we do not ourselves possess it. Celebrating Mass as a school community should not be a chore or an interruption but the center on which the faith life of our school is built.
Rachel Gleeson is a middle-school youth minister in Colorado.
Photo credit: George Martell/Bayard Inc. All rights reserved.
All content copyright © Today’s Catholic Teacher/Bayard.com. All rights reserved. May be reproduced for classroom/parish use with full attribution as long as the content is unaltered from its original form. To request permission to reprint online, email firstname.lastname@example.org.