A few words on World Youth Day, which just wrapped up in Lisbon, on which much ink has already been spilled: There is, as in most things, the good, the bad and the ugly – is there a beautiful? Not in the liturgical celebrations, which came across – as so often in our ecclesia moderna, – as uninspiring, if not banal, or even entirely unfitting. Witness the plastic food container ‘tabernacles’, replete with vigil lamps, before which young people were seen adoring. I’m not sure if this was sacrilege, but it was at least unnecessarily irreverent. It’s one thing to endure such in a prisoner-of-war camp, but at a youth gather? Could they not find some fitting temporary tabernacles somewhere, or have them constructed? One can only hope the Hosts inside were in ciboria.
Part of the problem even in the earlier iterations of World Youth Days were the sheer logistics of it all, which gives rise to other problems, even if these be unintended (and one wonders how unintended they now are). Hundreds of thousands of nubile youth only lightly formed in faith and virtue sleeping in fields with nary any enforced separation and ‘room for the Holy Spirit’ is not propaedeutic to chastity. We may thank God that it is not WYD is not Woodstock, where unhinged libido reigned supreme. And at least there were plenty of opportunities for confession.
More to the point are the liturgical problems of WYD, and in particular the dignity of Holy Mass. I recall being in Toronto in 2002, about a half a mile (give or take) from the altar at Downsfield, of which I could see nothing. I could only ‘participate’ via jumbotron – a prelude, now that I think of it, of Covidian Masses by computer. The video feed stopped working part-way through, and most people around me started to leave, packing up their gear even as Mass was underway, and a mass exodus – pun intended – started, of near-biblical proportions. It was the Lord’s Day, and I could not help but think that all these people had missed their Sunday obligation.
And need we recount the manner in which Holy Communion is distributed? Eucharistic ministers appearing apparently out of nowhere, people lined up haphazardly, Hosts handed out – into grabby and grubby hands – from Ikea dishes, chaos abounding.
There must be a way to hold large outdoor Masses with due reverence, as they did with Eucharistic Congresses and such in the past. The Traditional Latin Mass, for a start, would induce more piety in the participants, with its stricter liturgical rules.
Then we have the ideological bias. At least in previous WYD’s, the teaching was generally sound, with a few exceptions. Now, the young people are treated to ambiguities and pronouncements that make them scratch their heads – what’s all that about priests playing soccer rather than teaching doctrine; or that everyone belongs to the Church; or that God loves everyone just as they are; or to go forth and make a mess, and whatever it is the very Jesuitical Father James Martin has in his agenda, all of which is left largely unclarified, but does leave these impressionable minds at least slightly unsettled? Yes, there are still pious words, but, what really will they remember, especially via the amplification and repetition of juicy soundbites via modern media?
Is it better for the youth to have gone, than not? Numbers were certainly precipitously down from the salad days of these events, and I suppose much depends on the pilgrims themselves. There is good to be found everywhere and in everything. Friendships were formed, souls shriven, and, even in the midst of what sins there were, grace abounded.
All in all, however, WYD is in need of a serious reboot, in light of what was done in past eras, which is to say, Tradition. In fact, so does the Church. But that has always been the case – Ecclesia semper reformanda est – the Church, always in need of reform. And as that term implies, we must return again to what was, and what shall be again.