Newman Society Panelists Agree, Liturgy Essential to Today’s College Catholics

Catholic colleges must provide opportunities for students to experience the beautiful and well-celebrated liturgy that they are drawn to, according to a panel of academics at this week’s Sacra Liturgia conference in New York City.

Tuesday’s panel on liturgical renewal in Catholic higher education was hosted by The Cardinal Newman Society and headlined by Cardinal Raymond Burke, patron of the Order of Malta and ecclesiastical advisor to the Newman Society. He was joined by four guest panelists who echoed the Cardinal’s urging for Catholic colleges to expose students to the beauty of properly celebrated liturgy.

“Young people today, if they are serious about their faith, actually have a hunger for some kind of greatness that our culture denies them,” said Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, professor of theology and philosophy at Wyoming Catholic College and one of the panelists. “Liturgical beauty is part of that greatness that [Catholic colleges] need to offer them. They need to see the grandeur of God through the music, the ceremony and everything.”

The conference brought together over 300 bishops, priests, religious, seminarians, educators, college professors and other lay leaders, and the overarching sentiment was the same: young people desire beauty and truth, and the Church—including Catholic colleges—must not fail provide them with that encounter this time around. The conference was notably populated with many young faces, youth who were brought up through the ranks of faithful Catholic education.

“Our work begins with a sense that there is a crisis of Catholic identity within Catholic education, and one of those concerns is with liturgy,” noted Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick Reilly. “There have been a few decades of so called innovation with the liturgy on many campuses, largely because many have been convinced that the beauty of the liturgy is not attractive to young people.”

Following the liturgical changes which stemmed from Vatican II and the 1960s, the traditional, Latin Mass, or Extraordinary Form, has achieved growing admiration among young Catholics, many of whom had never been exposed to traditional liturgy when they were younger.

However, young people do find properly celebrated liturgy beautiful, said Cardinal Burke. He encouraged Catholic colleges then to expose students to reverent and beautiful liturgy, including the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. “If this is a form ofthe Roman Rite, it should be accessible to the faithful,” he said. “And I believe too, at universities, that there will be a response.”

According to Father Cippola, another panelists and a co-organizer of this year’s conference, the youth are shocked by the beauty of the Mass, especially in a culture saturated with pop hits, snappy advertisements and shallow experiences.

“The problem in Catholic colleges is that they don’t have the ability or opportunity to see this splendor of the liturgy,” said Fr. Cippola. “What they get is so banal and so empty of the sacred. Many of our Catholic youth are leaving the Church because what they experience at the Mass is so empty, so devoid of the sacred.” Therefore, chaplains that understand this importance need to be appointed to the Catholic colleges, he continued. “How can they experience the Mass if they don’t have the opportunity?”

“Unfortunately, I have met clergy that refuse to accept the evidence that young people are coming to these things,” said Kwasniewski. They say, “‘it can’t be, it’s not possible that young people would want to worship in Latin with Gregorian chant and incense because we got rid of that in the 1960s.’” That’s not an argument, said Kwasniewski. It’s a shame, but it’s not an argument.

When it comes to liturgical reform, “it is important for young people to be ambassadors of the cause.” Young people need to speak up and let their Catholic colleges know that they want these traditions, he said. This can often be slow work and students must not get discouraged, whether with administration, other students or college chaplains. It will be hard, sacrificial work, the panelists agreed.

Dr. Michael Foley, a panelist and associate professor of Patristics at Baylor University echoed the cultural difficulties that young people are currently experiencing. Students “are used to being pandered to, [experiencing] worship that caters to their taste,” he said. But what Catholics can offer students is the “‘other-ness’ of the experience.” This other-ness shows a reverence for the sacred, for God.

Not every student will respond, but Catholic colleges nonetheless should place the liturgy and sacraments at the heart of the campus life. This is essential to Catholic identity, he noted. “Where students really become Catholic is in the liturgy, when they see the truths they have read about dramatized.”

But what are the beautiful aspects that young people are drawn to?

Sung liturgies, incense, Gregorian chant, traditional architecture and reverence for the sacred to name a few examples. “When they see it, they fall in love with it, they want to be in the choir, want to serve the Mass,” said Dr. Kwasniewski. “Music charms the soul,” he said. There is something about beautifully celebrated liturgy “that just draws the soul, it draws you into the Mass more deeply than just reciting things.”

These traditions are particularly significant because they place an importance on the sacred, helping to focus one’s attention on the veiled tabernacle for instance. “This is a treasure of the Church. Not everyone will respond, but some will respond with great gusto. They have a hunger for the sacred,” Kwasniewski explained. “So I think the extraordinary form is crucial for colleges and universities.”

However, “the extraordinary form is not self-evident,” Kwasniewski explained. “It might be self-evidently mysterious or beautiful,” but students need to be taught to understand the meaning and theology behind it. “The Mass cannot explain itself. That needs to be done outside the Mass.”

Spirituality practicums, theology classes, core curriculum and student initiatives can help to foster a better understanding, he suggested.

Kwasniewski explained further:

It’s wrapped up with a larger question of the core curriculum. If a Catholic university or college does not have a required curriculum, a core of theology, philosophy and Humanities that everybody takes. If that’s not there, then the whole thing is broken. If you assume that there is going to be theology for all students, and the catechism gives one of its four parts to worship and liturgy and sacraments, then obviously that has to be part of the education.

Fr. Christopher Smith, pastor of Prince of Peace Parish in Taylors, S.C., echoed the importance of liturgical formation. “The most important thing that happens at any given moment in time is the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. So the Mass is the foundation of everything.” Therefore this must be integral to Catholic education, and it must be an education directed toward the formation of the whole human person. If not, “we are missing the whole point of Catholic education.”

The purpose of Catholic education, Fr. Smith explained, goes well beyond the intellectual and professional, “it is to get you into heaven.” The Church does that by “getting you immersed into the sacred.” And as young Catholics will soon be the leaders in the Church, there must be a forward thinking strategy in place to put the best priests in positions of influence on college campuses.

You cannot underestimate those years of formation for young people when they are so open to new experiences and growth, said Fr. Smith. “I’m a product of that myself. In going to Christendom College, it was the first time that I really encountered the liturgy,” he stated. “I found a place where the chapel was physically at the heart of campus. So many things were centered around the liturgy and the sacred.”

Fr. Smith recalled his experience:

It really is an incredible thing when you get a bunch of 20-year-olds singing their hearts out in Gregorian chant. It gives a sense of Catholic identity in a very powerful way. Not only in the theology and core curricula of Catholic institutions of higher education but just in the lived experience of the liturgy is something which can form young Christians to be leaders in the world. I count my liturgical formation as an undergraduate as one of the greatest graces of my life.

Dr. Kwasniewski agreed that there are a handful of faithful Catholic colleges leading the way.

“We have seen some great examples of Catholic higher education at colleges recommended in The Newman Guide,” he said. “These institutions are heavily focused on presenting beautiful liturgy, immersing students in the liturgy and involving them with chant and sacred music. Those students participate frequently and [the liturgy] becomes part of the campus life.”

“My hope is that over the years, alumni from The Newman Guide colleges will keep going out there into the world to be that leaven,” said Kwasniewski. “Because they have the skills, they have the experience, they have the desire, they have the love and they have a lot to share. I think it’s going to happen. I don’t think we have to make it happen, it’s going to happen.”

“Going into depth with the intellectual and liturgical tradition of the Church can give [students] stability during that time [in college] but also help them to live that life of grace,” said Fr. Smith.

“We call it the source and summit of the Christian life for a reason.”

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