Talking to Teens About the Mass: A User’s Guide by John C. Yake (2012, Legas, Gauvin Press, softcover, $25.95).

The Mass shows a young person’s dignity is from God

By  Thien-An Nguyen, Youth Speak News
  • July 12, 2012

“Why do I need to go to Mass?” Every Catholic has heard that line before, especially when uttered by teenagers and young adults. We’ve also heard virtually every excuse on why not to go to Mass. But how do we convince sceptics of the Mass’ importance and contemporary relevance?

In Talking to Teens About the Mass: A User’s Guide, Fr. John C. Yake seeks to tackle this loaded question, offering rebuttals against the common alibis for not attending Mass regularly. In the process, he demonstrates that contrary to the misperception of the Mass as an outdated, old-fashioned and boring ritual, the Eucharist and the Catholic Church are still very relevant to the contemporary struggles of teenagers.

For instance, Yake notes that in today’s society young people are constantly struggling with issues of self-dignity and self-worth. As a Grade 11 teacher, he recalls that during one of his religion classes Yake asked his students to write five negative and five positive qualities about themselves. The students were able to write negative characteristics swiftly and effortlessly. With the positive qualities, on the other hand, some students could not even write down one good characteristic about themselves.

From the media, young people are told that their value and dignity are measured by a never-ending list of what they can achieve, how attractive they look, how smart they are, how many friends they have, how many relationships they’ve been in, etc. Whenever young people fail to succeed in one or more of these areas, they come to believe that they are worthless.

The Mass, in contrast, sends a very different message. Yake asserts that a person’s dignity stems from God and we find affirmation of this truth when we are loved “unconditionally, completely and totally, not feeling that you have to earn it.” This perfect love is found only in God.

Yake emphasizes the image of the table or altar at Mass to illustrate this love. He explains that the table is the natural symbol of family, hospitality and friendship and a symbol of welcome. It is “the place where normally fragile persons… gather just as they are.” When Jesus taught us to pray for “our daily bread,” Yake writes that Jesus did not mean food, but “table fellowship, being at peace with one another.” At the Mass, Jesus invites everyone to communion with Him, “where any labels of status do not advance one over the other.”

Yake notes that young people are not intuitively attracted to Mass because they do not fully understand the meanings behind the various symbols and images, such as the table and altar or the bread and wine. He does not, however, put the blame on the young people themselves. Instead, he draws attention to the causes behind the collective religious boredom among teenagers, such as the lack of qualified and passionate religion teachers in faith-based schools. As Yake writes, “Jesus Christ is anything but boring so if Christianity bores you, you were not evangelized.”

Yake’s title Talking to Teens is a bit misleading as his abstract, intellectual arguments and lack of simple, user-friendly organization might deter younger teen readers from reading this book. However, for those in youth ministry or anyone interested in developing a deeper understanding of the Mass, the book is an enlightening resource.

(Thien-An Nguyen, 19, is a history and political science student at the University of Ottawa.)

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