When my son was in high school, music was his life. He played the
trumpet in the school band and attended local orchestra camps.
When asked by the parish music director, he joined the
music ministry of the parish. He and two other teenagers, a keyboardist
and clarinetist, met with the music director monthly.
They looked at Sunday's readings, talked about the scriptures and
possible songs, and chose music they knew or wanted to learn.
The music director transposed the music to keys that worked for
their instruments, and they had a practice session to prepare for
That Mass was my son's favorite all month. He knew the
scriptures, he was prepared, he was providing ministry, and he
was proud to be a contributing member of the parish.
When that music director left the parish, her replacement
was not as welcoming to young people. She expected youth to
contact her. When they did, she selected the music and expected
them to be prepared, even though they often did not have music
in the key of their instruments. Not surprisingly, these three teenagers
lost interest in music ministry.
What a difference it makes when you are welcoming and
you empower young people to develop their skills!
I know a parish that invites young people to join liturgical
ministries every few months. They are asked to shadow an adult
on a Sunday. That adult would proclaim the word, or serve as an
extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, or as a hospitality
minister. While shadowing, the youth sits up front, pays attention
to what the adult does, noting how voice, body language, and
facial expression show reverence and humble service. Later, with
the adult, the youth gather to walk through everything in an
empty church, getting used to the feel of the steps, and the flow of
All the young people serve in their new liturgical role on
the same day. Already a bit nervous because it's their first time,
they won't need to be thinking, "I'm the only teenager up here
Several teenagers provide liturgical ministry at all of the
Masses, working side by side with seasoned adults. It's a gentle
way to introduce young people to the ministry and to their new
parish role, with maximum support and minimum awkwardness.
It's also a wonderful way to affirm adults who are good role models
and to remind all adults in liturgical ministries that potential
apprentices are carefully watching them.
How wonderful to have supportive parish staff and successful
programs for young people! But suppose your parish is not as
youth-friendly as you would
like . . . . How might you
encourage young people to
take the risk and get involved
in liturgical ministry?
I know a young person
whose father proclaims the
word on Sunday. He would
like her to become a lector.
She is an acolyte but says she
is too shy to read in front of
so many people. This parish
has no program to train young
liturgical ministers other than
acolytes. So what can this dad
do to encourage her?
He can still invite her to shadow lectors. She can sit up front
a few Sundays, and watch what the adults do before, during, and
after they proclaim the word. When the church is empty, a seasoned
lector can coach her in reading from the Lectionary. She
can proclaim a reading into the microphone, and see what it feels
like . . . in a completely empty church.
Even if one other teenager—perhaps a friend—is willing
to do the same thing with her, that would help. They could both
rehearse at the microphone, learning how to slow down the pace
of their voices, practicing how to pause for emphasis, and gaining
They might try proclaiming the scriptures at a daily Mass
first—in the summer, on a day off, or during Christmas break—when the church isn't as crowded. That might seem a little less
Even without a formal parish program for young people to
enter the liturgical ministries, it's still possible to make the way
gradual and painless, so young people begin to feel at home in a
new liturgical role.
We need to affirm the gifts of young people; we need them
to inspire us with their faith and their willingness to serve. They
are not too young. We need them to enter into leadership roles
today, so the church of tomorrow will continue to have experienced
and faithful leaders.