HIS morning I collected our mail and flipped through Memento, the monthly newsletter of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). This month’s issue shared the results of an online survey recently run by Fr. Donald Kloster of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut. (You can read more about the survey on the official FSSP blog.)
Fr. Kloster’s survey assessed the mindset of 18- to 39-year-olds who prefer the traditional Latin Mass. He gathered an impressive 1,779 responses, so I’m inclined to take the results fairly seriously.
What led these young adults to the Latin Mass? The top response was reverence, selected by 35 percent of respondents (who could choose only one answer). At the bottom of the list? Music, selected by just 3 percent.
My initial reaction was one of disbelief.
It’s not that I felt wounded. We church musicians don’t do what we do for the compliments or attention. We’re there to glorify God and edify our fellow lay people.
But….3 percent? That number seemed awfully low—and it doesn’t mesh with my experience. My pastor has told me several times that new parishioners routinely tell him the music at our parish is one of the things that drew them in. And I often hear generous words of appreciation for our hard-working choir members and organists.
I mulled this over for a while. Then I realized that hidden in these seemingly shocking results is a wonderful affirmation of what so many TLM musicians are doing.
What is it that makes a Latin Mass so reverent? Yes, the uniformity of the priest’s words and rubrics. The beautiful vestments. The well-trained altar boys. The incense. The use of a high altar.
But music is a key part of that reverence. And I’m not just referring to the absence of mawkish secular tunes. I’m talking about the use of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony. No matter the proficiency of any given choir, if they’re singing chant and sacred polyphony, they’re offering the most reverent music they can muster. That can change the disposition of faithful Catholics in the pew.
The fact that so few respondents selected music as an attraction is actually very encouraging. The music at Mass isn’t meant to stand out. It’s meant to serve the liturgy. It’s not a performance in and of itself; it’s an integral, foundational part of something greater.
Furthermore, if the survey had listed all the “ingredients” of reverence—the vestments, the incense, the servers—as possible responses to the question, I don’t think any single ingredient would have garnered much support on its own. People don’t come for the parts—they come for the whole.
It’s also worth noting that the next three responses after reverence were parents, friends, and curiosity, totaling 41 percent between them. These are the factors that led young adults to the Mass. But what made them stay? After all, most 18- to 39-year-olds can choose for themselves where they worship. I’ll wager that the vast majority of this 41 percent would say it was the reverence. Add in the 8 percent who answered solemnity, and it’s pretty clear what’s on the minds of young adults who are attracted to the Latin Mass despite generally not having grown up with it. Again, music is a vital part of this reverence and solemnity.
I’ll close by sharing the most encouraging piece of feedback I’ve ever received about our parish choir.
A few years ago, one of our parishioners brought a friend with her to a special Mass our choir sang at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento. This friend really enjoyed her first Latin Mass. Asked what she thought of the music, the friend paused thoughtfully and then said, “You know, I didn’t really focus on the music by itself….it just drew me more deeply into the liturgy.”
So when I hear that very few Millennials and Generation Z’s are coming to the Latin Mass just for the music, I’m OK with that. I know what they’re really after, and I share their desires.