3 Reasons Why the Latin Mass Is So Attractive to Young People (According to a 22-Year-Old)
Dostoevsky wrote that “beauty will save the world.” In the short term, it may also save the Mass.
The Traditional Latin Mass isn’t just extraordinary in its form — its attendance among 18- to 29-year-olds bucks the downward trends in religiosity among that demographic.
Pew Research data shows that only around a quarter of Catholics between the ages of 18 and 29 attend church once a week or more, compared to 98% of Latin Mass goers in the same demographic, according to research published by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.
The research also shows that young people’s move toward tradition is largely self-motivated rather than the outcome of outside influence: “We can see that personal preferences (reverence, curiosity, solemnity, and music) account for 58% of the total, while peer influences (friends, spouses) account for 18% of the total. Thus, to the tune of 76%, the impetus to attend the Latin Mass among 18- to 39-year-olds seems to be largely coming internally from within their own generation, rather than being inherited from previous generations.”
With Pope Francis’s recent motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, many people have pointed out that the restrictions he introduced for the TLM would hamper the spirituality of a growing number of young adults who have been drawn to it. I’m one of those young people who has been slowly drawn in by the beauty and reverence of the TLM, and I offer my perspective on why so many of my Catholic peers feel the same way.
For context, I wouldn’t consider myself totally “trad.” While I have a growing love for the Latin Mass, the Novus Ordo is and always will be my first liturgical language. I like to bounce between reverent celebrations of the ordinary form, the extraordinary form, and even the Byzantine rite when I can get it. But the common thread is that I think the liturgy should be conducted in manner fitting to the sacrifice that takes place on the altar. It should feel like something set apart from ordinary life.
I, and just about every person my age I’ve talked with who attend TLM, hold no animosity toward the Second Vatican Council. However, many of the liturgical reforms not intended by the Council that were introduced in the 1970s to engage the youth have backfired. When the Council gave an inch, the spirit of the age took a mile. Felt banners, open-concept churches, guitar masses, and basically every hymn written after 1968 that were once “pastoral” and “inclusive” are now “boomer” and “cringe.”
That these reforms did not age well is reflected in the continued decline of Mass attendance over the past 60 years. Though the numbers were dropping before 1962, emphasizing modernization beyond what Vatican II required didn’t stop the bleed. If the Church is ageless and eternal, then the trends of the 1970s were doomed to become outdated. The Latin Mass can never be dated because it has remained the same through so many centuries. It can’t belong to just one time.
So the first reason the Latin Mass draws so many Gen-Zers and young Millennials is that it is beautiful in a way I’d say 80% of Novus Ordo Masses are not. Humans are naturally drawn toward beauty because it is a physical reflection of God’s perfection. In the midst of a Latin Mass, it’s easy to conceive that it is something that has been going on for thousands of years.
The second reason has more to do with the perennial pendulum swing of the generations: participating in something so old and traditional is a repudiation of societal norms. Every generation has its rebellion against the status quo, and for the youthful Latin Mass goers the reaction is both inter- and intra-generational. When the loud, radical members of the Left are shouting that patriarchy, Christianity and Western tradition needs to be abolished, it feels edgy to go to the service that underpinned all those things for 1500 years. After somehow retaining your faith despite years of vapid liturgies insisted upon by older generations, it’s gratifying to go where your faith is validated.
The final reason the TLM is so popular among young adults is that it’s a shortcut to a faith community. You can either spend weeks hunting for a suitably reverent Novus Ordo, or you can head over to the closest Latin Mass where you’re guaranteed a pious service and a like-minded community. It should be noted that “like-minded” doesn’t mean homogenous. The age ranges, ethnic backgrounds and economic statuses of the attendees tend to cover a wide range.
So the reasons for the TLM’s popularity among my generation are that it’s (1) beautiful, (2) rebellious against the modern age and (3) a shortcut to an enthusiastic faith community.
In this time, it would benefit the vast majority of parishes that do not celebrate the Extraordinary Form to emulate the reverence that makes it so attractive to young people who are serious about their faith. The Novus Ordo can be just as lovely as the TLM when treated as the thing that it is: a meeting of Heaven and Earth, same as the TLM.
Communities that make the reverent celebration of the Mass their highest priority seem to be rewarded with success in all other aspects: high attendance, enthusiastic participation, thriving social groups, and successful ministries.
Dostoevsky wrote that “beauty will save the world.” In the short term, it may save the Mass.