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On the Other Hand
Young people and liturgy. The opinion of a woman who is under-30

Out-of-place voices needed

 Servono voci fuoriposto  DCM-007
01 July 2023

Being under 30 years old does not give me the right to speak for an entire generation of young people. Among my peers, there are different ways of experiencing everything, including liturgy. However, there is an experience of the world and its historical events, cultural references and relational mechanisms that is common to people who are about the same age. The current generation of twenty -to thirty-year-olds in Italy can be recognized, for example, in them being digital natives, children of Europe and of the world, victims of Covid loneliness in their formative years, and designated victims of the climate crisis. It may seem that these coordinates have little to do with the relationship between young people and liturgy. Instead, liturgy is the place where the world is brought before God, and this depends very much on the connection of its subjects with their surroundings.

The desire to be well

It is naive to speak of young people’s disaffection to rituals (which by definition are repetitive/unchanging) without taking into account that ours is a generation accustomed to instability and who are disillusioned about the future. This is not to say that we need a non-ritual ritual, without formulas or references to hope, instead we need rather a regenerative ritual, a familiar (stable) space where we can recover some trust in life. So many/so many young people today do psychotherapy, or meditation, or in the Christian context rediscover worship vigils, expressing everywhere a desire for well-being and peace. Perhaps we are just looking for a liturgy that is for us, where we are not instrumentalized or targeted audiences for advertising. Stella Morra and Marco Ronconi, authors of Incantare le sirene. Chiesa, teologia e cultura in scena, EDB) [Church, Theology and Culture on Stage] “the therapeutic-compensatory dimension of religious experience”, that is, the assurance that liturgy is not “an extra commitment on the agenda” but a restful and therefore desirable sigh of relief from daily clutter.  For those who are permanent members of a Christian community, this aspect of liturgy is rarely experienced.  There is always something to do or to be done. Spontaneity is lacking; everything is assigned first to a select few, as in a show conducted from behind the scenes. It serves instead not to be afraid of the silence that precedes a reading or a prayer while waiting for someone to propose; instead, what is necessary is to generate, among the ritual words, out-of-place voices: to finally open preaching to competent laymen and laywomen in a plurality that makes commentary on the Word a breathing space and a recognition of reality. A place is restful when people do not have to ask for permission, and young people can feel like adults by baptismal dignity too. This is their home.

Saving the community

In every community, the liturgy changes just a little. From north to south, from cities to towns, the rite is made to make itself familiar to those who deliver it and attend it. For us young people who often wander, then, it is easy to feel like outsiders. We soon realize that to show affection to our communities we would have to give up moving around. There is a short-circuit between mobility –be that for study or work- and community care. Either we grow professionally or we grow in a church. Thus the liturgy, instead of being the time when the community gathers, it becomes the time when it disperses: the out-of-study student in Milan, the weekend worker, the young person who took refuge in Taizé, the tourist in Rome, are all members of the same community of origin who find themselves anonymous guests in as many communities. Credit should be given to this instability, that is, noticing the charisma there is in being a Christian guest, which is the most common state not only for/of young people, but also for some nomadic professional figures (not least, that of theologians). A guest knows more realities, so they are able to weave relationships and enrich the ritual. Then he returns to his community, the one that raised him/her in the faith, and finds himself/herself at home. Nevertheless, it is not certain that this return will always be possible. We can predict that before too long in many churches there will no longer be a stable congregation to vouch for us unstable ones. At the moment, we need communities based on relationships and not places. We young people already function this way, relying on flexible networks and creative solutions. We pray on the phone, or get together for coffee before or after celebrations, to cherish some familiarity. Two or three people, who are friends, gather in their respective home communities. If we are guests, at least we are not guests alone, and to the welcoming community we bring all of our own.

Today’s 20-30-year-olds, amidst their strategies and labors, urge the whole Church today to the blessed attempt to save community. In the liturgy, we bring before God an all too individualistic and efficient world, which the liturgy itself risks fomenting. Instead, it must be the space of fraternity and sorority that is lacking elsewhere. A restful, spontaneous space where the complexity and plurality of experiences emerge, be that women, men, children, students, the poor, workers, nomads, adults, or young people.

Doctoral candidate in Fundamental Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.