Bishop Joseph Perry: Youth hunger for mystery and liturgy; need tradition and history

The auxiliary bishop of Chicago reflects on worship and pedagogy after giving an address at the recent Youth Adult Liturgy Conference at The University of Saint Mary of the Lake Mundelein Seminary.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph N. Perry of Chicago signs the Book of the Elect for members of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults team from St. Mary Parish in Buffalo Grove, Ill., following the Rite of Election at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic)

The late Cardinal Francis George once said, “Liturgy is the Church worshipping God, and the heart of the liturgy is worshipping God as He wants to be worshipped.” Young people from all over the country saw and experienced this truth at the second annual Young Adult Liturgy Conference, held in June at The University of Saint Mary of the Lake Mundelein Seminary through The Liturgical Institute. The plenary session ending the conference was delivered by the auxiliary bishop of Chicago, Most Reverend Joseph Perry, whose address was titled “Liturgical Tradition and Sacred Liturgy”.

Following his address, Bishop Perry was able to take a moment to talk a bit more in depth regarding the sacred liturgy and its connection to history, while also addressing why so many young people have taken an interest in the rich liturgical tradition of the Church.

CWR: Your Excellency, you gave a thought-provoking talk on liturgical tradition and history. It seems now, more so than ever, that young people are thirsting for the riches of the Latin Rite, which often have been fallow for the last half century. What do you think has led to this resurgence in interest regarding the liturgical traditions of the Latin Rite?

Bishop Joseph Perry: I think young people, being healthy people that they are, are interested in mystery. They are troubled by some of the conundrums and the stuff that’s not connecting in our culture. They’re concerned about some of the false messaging that’s out there by way of the culture: the individualism, the secularism, the kind of selfishness, the pleasure-seeking culture that we live in. And they’re wondering what that’s all about. Where’s it all going? Some are not fulfilled in it. We see young people who have resorted to drugs. Some of them have resorted to suicide because they have not come up with any answers or guidance. Some of them live lives that are hard for the Church to grasp and embrace. We try to reach out to them to give them an alternative. I think we have an immense treasure trove of liturgy and worship where all of that begins for young people—ideally, in their earliest formative years.

Not every young person has been brought up well by their parents. They may not have been receiving the benefits of Catholic education. They may run into these questions that everybody else runs into when they’re in college or high school or wherever, but who’s going to answer that for them? Liturgy is a good place to start for us. And as I mentioned in the talk, most of the young people I find who are coming over to the Catholic Church say they did so because of our worship and our profound liturgies, which draws them in to the mystery of God. Everybody has to wrestle with the mystery of God. Everyone. We can put it off, refuse to pay it any attention at all, but everyone comes up with the question, “Who is God for me? How do I find God? What avenues or sources do I use?”

Young people are by nature idealistic. They know that there’s something out there beyond the ordinary day-to-day that was hinted at by their earlier instruction at home and in religious education. Young people are naturally drawn to authenticity. God is at the end of that search for them, although they might not know this accurately. Young people sense the answers to their searching are somehow found in the messages coming through to them from the Mass and the sacraments.

CWR: What you’ve mentioned connects to a question you posed to us earlier during your address. That is, what constitutes the Latin Rite? In recent decades, we’ve seen some of our Byzantine Catholic brothers and sisters making the move to return to their own liturgical traditions, after years of “latinizations”, as they call it, which had taken hold. And like authentic Byzantine traditions, authentic Latin traditions are beautiful and rich. In your opinion, do you think that Catholics of the Latin Rite need to undergo a similar change? Does something like this need to happen in order for us to regain that full patrimony of the Latin Rite, and if so, how would that look?

Bishop Perry: I don’t know of any pedagogical method that allows us to do that adequately enough unless you’re studying theology or studying liturgy, or you happen to have a catechist or religion instructor who can touch upon some of these points. But you don’t find them naturally printed within the average catechism or missal these days … I think we have to find ways to, as I mentioned, to reeducate the faithful about the riches of their past. We live in a society, in a culture, where we’re not so much interested in going up to the attic and opening up the hope chest, and finding the old pictures of our grandparents and great-grandparents, those who came across the ocean to find life here. I don’t know why that is. But the more we know about our past and from whence we come, the better our futures can be.

Nowadays you have and, [websites] that try to link people up with their past. It helps to be interested in that. I think it helps to know who your great-great-great grandparents were. How they worshiped. What were their fevers, their passions, the disappointments and despairs that brought them here were. It just can’t be cut off, with nothing past 1990 worthy of any notice on our part. I think we’re impoverished with that kind of approach.

CWR: Regarding the liturgy, it’s been clear that it has suffered in some places due to a certain impoverishment. At times Pope Benedict XVI would mention a “hermeneutic of discontinuity” or rupture with our Latin patrimony. One gets the sense that there are those within the Church who feel that there is a clear line between the Church before the Second Vatican Council, and after the Council; as if we’re making a distinction between two different churches. How has such a divide occurred between Catholics and how do you suggest going about resolving that division?

Bishop Perry: Education, again I think, is key to it. The pedagogy of the past, the way we talked religion and history and so forth, did not allow for an appreciation of that kind of past. The 1960s was a beautiful but, at the same time, troublesome period in history. A lot of revolution was taking place. Things we’d been using for a long time were laid aside. A lot of people were searching and using alcohol and drugs. It was all over the place. It was misdirected. And no one was guiding it.

It has settled down some. As we got into the 1980s, we have been able to assess better the wisdom of the past in order to understand our present and chart a course for future efforts. But we have a ways to go yet, and it’s this younger generation’s that’s going to have to somehow steer the ship.

CWR: Anytime we talk about the patrimony of the Latin Rite, we find ourselves mentioning the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. As you know, many young people have found an attachment to this form of the sacred liturgy. Regarding that, Benedict XVI often talked about that mutual enrichment that needed to take place between both forms of the Mass. Why is it good for the life of the Church that this enrichment happens?

Bishop Perry: I think one of the biggest needs of the Church is a sense of unity as opposed to fragmentation. Or as we mentioned, partisan camps of opinion. The Church does not work well with partisan camps of opinion. Pope Francis speaks of dialogue as a way to bring people together. Not everyone appreciates the consequences of dialogue though. Everybody wants their way.

CWR: And then the end result is something that is not dialogue.

Bishop Perry: Exactly. We need that dialogue to take place if we’re going to come up with anything more expressive of our unity in Christ. Otherwise, it’s going to be Democrat, it’s going to be Republican, it’s going to be Independent, but it’s not going to be Catholic. And that’s what has to be worked towards as far as possible.

CWR: For those who understand the necessity of being connected to the liturgical patrimony of the Church, how should they respond to those “camps” that shudder at the thought of young people discovering the many riches of the Latin Rite?

Bishop Perry: Well, the Catholic Church is well over 2000 years old. We didn’t start in 1990. That’s true of the Orthodox Church. That’s true of Judaism. That’s true of all of the great religions. We have a treasure trove of history and literature and behavior and charity that is built up to produce who we are today. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t know how to do what we’re doing.

How do you get people interested in patrimony or history? Well, it’s not easy. Some people have natural bents towards history. They say it’s the most difficult subject to teach in schools today, especially high school, because kids are not interested. They want to know what the new cell phone is coming out tomorrow, the new iPhone, you see. What’s the latest?

I’m a history buff. I love history. We don’t know who we are unless we look at the past. We learned from the past. We try to make amends for the mistakes of the past in order to pick up the virtues that will move us forward. But if we throw out all of the history books, we’re guaranteed to repeat some of the mistakes that have been made.

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About Nicholas LaBanca 5 Articles
Nicholas LaBanca is a millennial cradle Catholic and serves as a catechist at his local parish. He currently writes for multiple Catholic outlets, including the Diocese of Joliet’s monthly magazine Christ Is Our Hope.


  1. I think one problem that is prevalent today is that peoples interest is focused on the shiny objects of our culture, cellphones, sports hero worship, media alternatives etc. Then there are the old favorites of drugs, sex and rock and roll. The net result our culture has become an exceeding banal. To be more blunt with today’s technology everyone thinks they are smart since they can use the newest technology, but in reality they are morons, knowing little about history, sacraments, prayer liturgy – worship of God. Any change, requires a true culture shock. Just don’t see this happening, unless God in effect says “enough of this nonsense” and sends us leaders or does something to bring the culture back to Him.

  2. While at Villanova from 1960-1964 Vatican II was in progress. Anyway all of our Theology professors were Augustinian priests and were told and told us that the only change in the liturgy would allow the vernacular language of the location. All of the rubrics and prayers of the real Mass would not change. However a priest could still say it in Latin.
    I won’t belabor my opinion of Vatican II since I have lived to see the results. In my travels as a Electrical Contractor I had the opportunity to go to Mass at Mater Dei, Irving Texas, Assumption Grotto, Detroit, MI, and St. Anne’s in Charlotte, NC. The latter two said the Novus Ordo and Latin Mass. Mater Dei only said the Latin. The Novus Ordo was said with respect and no distraction. The priest faced the altar and only a altar boy was present. Communion was distributed by consecrated hands while kneeling at the rail. Several other priest would come to help out with distribution of communion. They had a ciborium with a small chalice in the middle and they dunked the host in the blood of our Lord and distributed communion at the rail.
    I was sure that it would be a few gray hairs at Mass but to my surprise each of these churches had SRO and were packed with children and young parents. Confession lines seemed to be unending before, during and after Mass. All of these churches were in union with Rome. A priest at Mater Dei said people are looking for reverence, awe and beauty in the Mass. Only Satan would want to shut them down.

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