Taylor Marshall, over at the Canterbury Tales, recently wrote about the "Great Catholic Migration" that is taking place in our time. The title may sound a bit exaggerated, as he goes on to point out that the number of people that he is talking about are really in the minority, but nevertheless, it does seem in many ways that this Catholic Migration is taking place, great or not.
Maybe my experience is limited by region, but the migration that I have seen much of the time is somewhat in the opposite direction. I have seen many young newly ordained priests, who love the Church in all Her teachings, traditions, and service, placed in new parishes amidst the turmoil of division. Often times, these young priests are what holds these parishes together and prevents migration.
In larger cities, it may be easier to favor a parish with a more reverent liturgy, sound teaching, and active parish life, but in rural areas it is much more difficult. For example, where I live there are about seven parishes, all about 20-30 minutes away. Very few of the parishes have activities for young people/families, and the parish community is dominated by older folks 50+ years of age.
The parishes with the greatest ratio of younger people to older people are the parishes with the soundest most challenging homilies every week and more traditional liturgies. There could be several reasons for this. Maybe young people are being drawn to the reverence and challenging homilies. Or maybe the way that the liturgy is done and the challenge of the homily prevents them from ever leaving. I do not know how so many parishes have managed to stay young.
All I can do is share my own experience. I was raised in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. I attended a Catholic School, which was also my home parish. I can look back on my experience with liturgy and restrict it to two very different perspectives. As an altar server, Mass was very structured, ordered, reverent, traditional, etc... As a student/parishioner Mass was about me.
I learned how to serve Mass from a man named Tom. That is about all I remember of him. I remember he was not a bold man, or intimidating in any way. We would show up to Mass 15 minutes early and put on our albs in the sacristy. Once vested, we would prepare the credence table. We would make sure that everything that we needed for Mass was ready to go.
We knew our prayers, our gestures, our postures, and all our cues. The Mass was given to us to do as it was done before. Older servers would instruct the younger ones, and any deviation from the rule was frowned upon by all. Tom always sat nearby to prompt us if we were forgetting something, and if something was wrong, he might sneak away to take care of it from the sacristy.
As a student, however, it was all about us. It was about what we wanted. We had a youth choir and we incorporated as much of the music that we enjoyed as possible. As students, we'd put together banners to wave during the entrance procession. We would contrive hand movements to cheesy songs. We would clap if we felt like it. Everything was done for us, by us, and we were praised at the end of every Mass with applause.
Nothing we did was handed down to us. Everything we did we created. It was all about what we wanted to do within some nebulous structure called "Mass."
Serving the Mass was boring. So, naturally I wanted to sing and clap. I moved away from L.A. and back to the parish I was baptized at in Colorado. I was there throughout high school, and during those years, I served the Mass and I played guitar and sang in the Choir, which was made up of family. I personally grew tired of singing the same songs over and over, and eventually left the choir. I was hired by the parish as Sacristan and part of my duties was to co-ordinate the liturgy.
Every Friday, I would sit down with the Pastor and Music Director and we would look at the readings, find a theme, and base music and homily on it. I would inform them if there was a baptism or some other event that might present a them that we could use in the homily or music. And we would look at the Missal and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and try to think of ways to incorporate many of the things that we were not doing.
It was during this period of time, that I began to realize the depth of the Mass in its significance and majesty. I began to read more and more about the Mass and its beauty and meaning. There further I would educate myself the more cheated I felt. I wanted the Mass I read about. I am convinced that the Mass that most of us know is not the Mass of Vatican II. Vatican II wanted full and active participation in the Mass, which does not mean more singing and clapping. In the terminology of Pope St. Pius X, we are called to 'pray the Mass' ourselves. Vatican II wanted full and active participation in our prayer, but the problem is that just about no one in our parishes knows what we are supposed to do, what it means, and why it is there. How are we supposed to pray what we do not understand?
For one, I love going to a Mass done that is done according to rubrics and tradition. The Mass is like a great novel. It can be read time and time again, and each time it is read, you pick up something new. I am drawn to particular Masses at particular parishes, not because of the 'reverence,' but because of the meaning. The rubrics contain more meaning than any innovation that we could come up with.
I am not a part of any migration, but maybe that is only because I am blessed enough to have parishes and pastors in this area that tend to do things by the book. More than anything, the migration has taken place within me. In the right circumstances and given the option, I would probably migrate too.