FEWER and fewer young. Catholics are going to Sunday Mass. When they do, they are often embarrassed to admit as much to their friends and it is very rare for our Eucharists to attract young people who are not Catholics.
Often the Church seems resigned to people lapsing at the age of 16 and 17, pinning its hopes on a return to the fold in the mid and late 20s. This attitude has its problems. The return does not always occur and even when it does, by the mid-20s, the person has often taken, in a secular context, a number of key and possibly irreversible decisions. These include choice of a partner, job and lifestyle.
Lapsation rarely occurs because of loss of faith. Young people do not often stop going to Church because they stop believing in God, or even in the claims of Catholicism. They stop for other reasons. I will try and answer that common 'lament of older Catholics: "Why don't more young people go to Church?"
Actually, there seems to me to be a more useful question than this one, which often really means: what is wrong with young people that they don't go to Mass? I would prefer to ask: What is wrong with the way that our communities celebrate the Eucharist, that it doesnot attract young people?
The Church would be failing if it did not challenge this and the accompanying view that everything must be entertaining. However, it must do so, in a way that does not alienate. For this, young people have first to be made welcome, to feel they belong to the community even if they are not regular Mass-goers.
There is a challenge in the other direction too. If Auestioned as to why they lapse (or why they would if their parents did not force them to attend), young people usually reply that Mass is "boring". To this the traditional answer is that it isn't "really" — that they are not trying hard enough, that it is their lack of understanding that is to blame.
This is to ignore the challenge. "Boring" is an overused word, but if young people *see the parish "celebrations" as lifeless, loveless, joyless and dull, it may, in fact, not be an inaccurate analysis. It may be they who understand after all.
• The problem is really one of authenticity — young people have a great respect for integrity, for those who mean what they say, whose words and actions correspond. If congregations recite prayers (and at Eastertide this is particularly relevant) about how joyful they feel and how grateful they are to the risen Christ, but do so in a way that can only be described as gloomy, this seems inconsistent.
Young people can often see no connection between their own lives and the Sunday liturgy but more seriously perhaps, none between the lives of the people there, and what they say and claim for, and about, themselves at Mass. If Catholics have exactly the same values, modes of acting, behaviour patterns and ways of seeing the world as non-Christians (or as they themselves would have if they didn't go to Mass) then the Eucharist is not merely boring, it is pointless.