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What On Earth Is Juventutem and Why Is it Spreading So Fast?

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Jeffrey Bruno

Regina Magazine - published on 07/11/14

While one foiled Black Mass at Harvard grabs all the headlines, young Catholics at Harvard (and in Chicago, Miami, DC, Michigan and beyond) have been busy introducing thousands to the Traditional Latin Mass.

They are a young organization of young people and growing super-fast. The first American chapter of Juventutem began in Michigan in 2012, and since then 11 additional chapters have been formed all over the United States.

A big highlight in their short history so far has been a Solemn High Mass in Boston in the Spring of 2013, celebrated by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf. Over 200 people attended this first “TLM” in decades,  illuminated by the artistry of the Choir of St. Paul—boys from the Boston Archdiocesan Choir School—and a professional male schola, which sang beautiful Renaissance polyphony by Victoria and Palestrina.

If Juventutem has their way, such beauty is just the harbinger of things to come. Recently, four members—three Harvard students and one alum—sat down with Regina Magazine to tell us about Juventutem in the United States. Jim is a History major from New Jersey. Evan is studying mathematics; he’s originally from the San Francisco Bay area. Eileen is a freshman from Staten Island, New York. Finally, Paul is a Harvard alum and a lawyer who is the Group Coordinator of the Michigan chapter of Juventutem and the Secretary of the Fœderatio Internationalis Juventutem.

How did you first discover the TLM?

Jim: I had never even heard that the traditional Mass existed before starting college. Two years ago, I attended one for the first time at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross. I wouldn’t say that I immediately fell in love with the Latin Mass, but I kept coming back and learning more about it. It wasn’t long before I was altar serving and doing whatever I could to promote the Latin Mass among my peers.

Eileen: I attended my first Latin Mass when I was ten years old, because my father preferred this style of the Mass and we found a parish nearby that said the TLM. Although I was resistant at first, I soon grew to love and prefer the Mass.

Paul: I grew up in a Lutheran family. In summer 2002 I attended a Traditional Latin Low Mass at Old St. Mary, Chinatown, DC. I hated that first Latin Mass. I hated that the church was so hot. I hated that I arrived late and couldn’t sit near my friend. I hated that I didn’t have a worship aid of any kind. I hated that I couldn’t even hear the Latin that was supposedly being whispered at the front of the sanctuary.

By the time the liturgy was over, I was nearly ill with the strength of my perverse anger at these Catholics that I took to be idol worshipers violating the First Commandment.

But this visceral response ultimately led to good. Having seen a church full of Catholics behaving like It Was True—that there really was the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ on that altar—I would ultimately have much more fruitful conversations with my pro-life friends the next Fall (particularly with one who is now a deacon) and would be received into the Church and become a weekly TLM attendee before nine more months had passed.

What was it about the Mass that drew you?

Jim: I was born and raised Catholic, and as I began college, I knew that I wanted to make my faith a priority after leaving home. I wasn’t sure at first how I would do that, but discovering the traditional Mass provided an answer.

What I like best about the traditional Mass is the way it emphasizes participation through prayer.  It can be a lot like Adoration, in a way, but centered on receiving Communion as the focal point. The general tone of reverence, the natural, built-in periods of silence, and the way every item and action points toward the Eucharist and to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross: all of this, in my experience, makes it very easy to pray with the traditional Mass.

Evan: I was raised Protestant and was led into the Catholic Church by my mother’s discovery of worthy friends there. I was baptized at age 9. At the time, Protestant-Catholic differences were meaningless; now they are core. I pray the Rosary regularly and find daily Mass a soothing antidote to any nightmare-laden night.

I am drawn to the Latin Mass for the same reasons that many less-informed people are drawn to Islam: in a culture that tends to turn everything into entertainment, here is a ritual based on the very different aesthetic of reverently praying, trusting that the action on the altar is based upon sound theology and will lead to a holy outcome.

Eileen: I have been a Catholic from birth, and the Faith strongly influenced my upbringing. The reverence shown to the Body and Blood of Christ was what has consistently drawn me to the Mass. Also, attending the TLM has challenged me to think more deeply about Catholicism in a way that I could not have done without it.

How did you hear of Juventutem?

Paul: In 2011, I was involved in young adult ministry and had become an organizer of Ann Arbor’s monthly TLM. While hosting friends from Hillsdale College on the occasion of a Pontifical Mass, one of them (now a seminarian with the FSSP) remarked on the great experience he had with Juventutem in Cologne.

I eventually decided to travel with Juventutem to Bilbao and Madrid. As I have written elsewhere, it was awesome. Shortly after my return, I and four friends undertook the six commitments of Juventutem for ourselves.

Evan: I have no idea who chose to begin Juventutem here. I do know that Harvard is a great place to find fiery, idealistic young people willing to put their lives into this outlandishly awe-inspiring Mass.

Eileen: I first heard of Juventutem in September 2013, when I found out that St. Paul’s Church was celebrating a Latin Mass. In my opinion, there is no better location, because Boston is consistently recognized for having one of the largest population of young adults in the country, and is the American city with the greatest number of college students. For this reason, there is no place where Juventutem is more needed than in Boston.

Jim: We took the idea for a chapter from Juventutem Michigan, the first chapter in the United States, one of the leaders of which is a friend and Harvard alumnus, Paul Schultz. For us, Juventutem has been a great way to incorporate the energy of young people around the Boston area into a unified effort to promote Catholic tradition. We’ve been able to get more organized, reach more people, and build a stronger community around the traditional Mass than would ever have been possible before.

How do young people react to the TLM?

Eileen: Harvard students have responded well to the TLM. While some are skeptical, many others are intrigued and seek to learn more about the Mass and, ultimately, their faith. Attendance has been continuously strong, and the congregation is definitely growing.

Although this is my first year here, I see many of the same faces at every Mass. However, each time, I see a number of new people, some of whom are attending TLM for their first time and others who have gone before, but had just discovered Juventutem.

Jim: Our congregations have been sizable and growing, Deo gratias, and our core group has gone from a handful of Harvard and Boston College students to a team of people from all over the Boston area. Our congregations include some devotees of the traditional Mass, but most people have never been to one.

In fact, for a number of Protestants and non-believers, their first Mass of any kind was one we organized. Some people are hesitant or skeptical when we first invite them to Mass, which is a reasonable reaction to something apparently so foreign. I don’t know of anyone, though, who hasn’t come away with at least an appreciation for the traditional Mass.

Paul: In Michigan and elsewhere, many young adults are Catholic seekers: those who will try anything at least once if a thing seems like its holy and will direct them to God and if they receive the invitation from a credible source. Once they’ve attended the Mass, young adults display the whole spectrum of reactions that can be observed in the public as a whole—some really like it, some dislike it, some just don’t understand it.

Juventutem Michigan works to introduce the Mass to many—so that those who will like it will know it is out there and so those that don’t understand will have a friendly forum in which they can ask questions.

What does Juv actually DO?

Eileen: Juventutem brings together young adults in the Boston area to celebrate the Latin Mass together, as well as form a community of individuals who seek to practice their faith in similar ways. This is done by hosting and attending regular Latin Masses, and the social events that follow.

Paul: Following the model of Juventutem London, since September 2012 our Michigan chapter always organizes a Sung Mass on the last Friday night of each month.

Young adults who pay attention know that we’ll gather somewhere that night for a beautiful liturgy followed by some sort of social gathering—whether a dinner, a dance, or a Christmas carol singing party. With one exception, we’ve also had 40 or more young adults attend these gatherings.

There are many beautiful churches in Michigan and we try to go to a new one every month—both because going to a new parish helps us meet new young adults and because visiting a new parish can leave a mild positive precedent if parishioners there should wish to work for more regular celebration of the TLM.

In our first two years, we have organized a parish’s “first TLM / first TLM since 1970s” thirteen times—including at Detroit’s Cathedral and Michigan’s only basilica.

In addition to the regular monthly gathering, we organize other festal occasions as the Spirit (and the calendar) moves us: organizing a Mass and social for young adults at the March for Life, alternative spring break trips to Clear Creek Abbey, 30+ mile walking pilgrimages, cemetery vespers for the dead on All Souls Day, trips to other traditional gatherings and retreats around the country.

Jim: Our goal is to revitalize Catholic life for young men and woman in the Boston area by promoting the spiritual, cultural, and liturgical traditions of the Church. We do this through a variety of activities: we’ve organized retreats and sponsored guest lectures.  We also sing Compline together according to the 1960 Breviary every week.

Our primary activity is organizing Masses as often as we can, generally about twice a month during the academic year. Our Masses have been celebrated at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Paul’s Church in Cambridge, Mass., where the Harvard Catholic Center has been frequent sponsor of TLMs. These Masses have given rise to a corps of young-adult altar servers, sacristans and schola members.

One Sunday in February found us opening up a new and unexpected venue for the TLM: the nondenominational chapel on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Designed in the 1950s by modernist Eero Saarinen, this chapel does not exactly fit the profile of a traditional Catholic place of worship, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, with some advance scouting we judged that the chapel could accommodate a Solemn High Mass, and photographic evidence now shows that this space can indeed be transformed into a beautiful and fitting place for the Mass of the ages. In the end, 150 came to that Mass, mostly students who had never seen a TLM before.

Another example of what we do was our evening on the Requiem this past November. The night began with an explanation of the Requiem Mass (how it differs from a typical Mass and why) from a young priest, who was then joined by four more clergymen who all shared spiritual and theological reflections on the Requiem.  A Solemn High Requiem Mass in the lower chapel of the cathedral followed the panel, after which all the attendees went to a local restaurant together. All in all, it was a fantastic evening: everyone learned something, met new people, and participated in an incredibly beautiful Mass.

Our main goal with these Masses is welcoming new people, who have never experienced a traditional Mass. Our Masses are always followed by a young adult social, and often a guest speaker as well. Past speakers include Frs. John Zuhlsdorf, Richard Cipolla, and John Berg (Superior-General of the FSSP), author John Zmirak, and Gregory DiPippo of New Liturgical Movement.

Interview with Juventutem is reprinted with the kind permission of Regina Magazine, © 2014. All rights reserved.

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