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When Hipsters Go to Church

Elisa Paolini

Nicholas G. Hahn III - published on 06/19/14

How do you say "millennial" in Latin?

Millennials are leaving religion in droves, recent surveys find. Churches are roiled and it appears some will do anything to stop the exodus.

Wall Street Journal
reports that the Archdiocese of New York recently hosted millennial Mass-goers for pizzas and drinks at a Midtown dance club. "We’re definitely people who live in our culture," the archdiocese’s director of young-adult outreach told the
Journal, "but I guess as long as it’s not too crazy, we’re OK with it."

Drinks and dancing after Mass might not be crazy, but it’s silly to think it will fill the pews.

One church on the near north side of Chicago isn’t fazed by the holy hubbub. When it comes to millennials, yours truly included, St. John Cantius Catholic Church bucks the trend. The struggling old church was once slated to be closed by the archdiocese, but pastor Frank Phillips had an idea to save it: celebrate the Mass in Latin.

"That’s actually when people started coming to the parish," Fr. Phillips
said in a church video. "Today, there are so many adaptations [to the Mass] that one wonders sometimes — because I hear this from parishioners — ‘Did I attend Mass? Or did I attend the Johnny Carson show?’"

Some young adults probably don’t get that reference, but they know what the good priest meant. At a recent meeting of
Juventutem, a network of Catholic youth who love the smells and bells, it was standing-room-only in Cantius’s basement. "I’m not a child," one 24-year-old in skinny jeans told me with craft beer in hand, "and that’s how a lot of these ‘young adult Masses’ treat me."

If there’s one thing hipsters don’t like, it’s not being taken seriously. When Pope Francis received bishops from the Czech Republic in February, one archbishop reported that the pope
said he "cannot understand the younger generation wishing to return to" the traditional Mass. "I find that it is rather a kind of fad. And if it is a fad," Francis
said, "it is a matter that does not need that much attention."

That might come as a surprise to a growing number of millennials who worship in Latin every Sunday. Before Pope Benedict XVI
allowed for wider use of the traditional Mass in 2007, only a little over 200 Latin Masses were celebrated in the United States. Today, that number has doubled. And it’s not just an American thing. "440 flock to the main Sunday Latin mass,"
The Economist
wrote of a London church. "But it is not a fogeys’ hangout: the congregation is young and international."

Some might think this Mass movement is reactionary. But millennials are unfamiliar with 1960s church politics — they weren’t even born yet. The "spirit of Vatican II" means nothing to them. They’re offended by their church’s attempts to look cool. Church is cool, they say, when it is true. When pastors give them, the
Journal reports, "repackaged hymns with more upbeat tunes," church ceases to be church. It becomes entertainment — something millennials can get elsewhere.

Much has been said of the Catholic Church’s "new evangelization" efforts. But as far as millennials are concerned, the old ways seem to work best.

Nicholas G. Hahn III is the editor of

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