TEEN MASS: 15 YEARS OF CELEBRATION
ERIE -- Many students who gather at Blessed Sacrament Church on Sunday evenings were infants and toddlers when Father Mike DeMartinis encouraged parents
of teenagers at Blessed Sacrament Church in Erie, to explore support for turning the parish’s Sunday 7:30 pm Mass into a Mass for teens. With a new and active youth group and a recent mission trip to Kentucky building momentum, the TEEN (To Experience Eternity Now) Mass began in Oct. 2004.
Father DeMartinis remembers, “I warned people it would be different. Some people resisted the informality of the music and dress, but we received overwhelming support from the community. Young people found music and homilies that spoke to them. Our success is that we are not afraid to allow it to evolve and let the kids tell us what they need.”
He is grateful for the support of many friends, particularly Chris Peck, Cathedral Prep theology teacher, who has assisted in many important ways, and Rich Petrarca, who led the band for 11 years. Teens are active as ushers, lectors, servers and Eucharistic ministers. Families, college students and young adults who enjoy the youthful vibrancy of the Mass in this setting have become part of the TEEN Mass community.
On Sunday, Oct. 20, the community gathered to celebrate its 15-year anniversary. Amy Boxer, who now leads the 20-member band, joined her older sister in the band in 2007.
“The band is a family,” she said, “once you are a part of it, you are always a member. The TEEN Mass is a place where teens and young adults can come together to celebrate the Mass and build a stronger relationship with God.”
Mary Grace Kelly, a student at Villa Maria, explained that she began attending the TEEN Mass with her family when she was in sixth grade. Her older brothers were active as Eucharistic ministers and altar servers at the Mass and Mary Grace eventually joined the band.
“It’s great to sing songs I know and love with my friends. I look out in the church and see my classmates. We can praise God together. It’s good that young people can be part of the church. We are involved and welcome. I think it has a tremendous impact on the community.”
TEEN Mass has encouraged young people to enter the church. Many have received baptism, confirmation and first Communion — the sacraments of initiation — during the Mass with their friends and families as witnesses. At the 15th anniversary Mass, Dayonna Swanson, a Villa student, was received into the church.
The support of a worship community was evident during the anniversary Mass as the congregation absorbed the shock of the death of a student many in the community knew. Shared sorrow in celebration of the sacred liturgy was profound. After Mass, the group joined hands in a circle around the altar and sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in honor of the student who passed. It is a tradition that developed during mission trips.
Mission trips to Kentucky and as far away as India have encouraged the teens to put their faith into action. Father DeMartinis’ own experience in India in 2010 affected him profoundly in many ways.
“I remember that nobody wore shoes at Mass and how special that felt,” he said. He often celebrates Mass barefoot and the community frequently joins him. He explains it to the youth as being an act of reverence.
Father Mike is aware of concern that students are choosing to attend the TEEN Mass rather than Mass in their home parishes. He reminds the youth that it is important for parishes to have young active parishioners. Many continue to be active within their parishes, but as Father Mike pointed out, “Many teens do not go to Mass. That some are willing to attend a Mass in a community in which they feel at home is important for the future of the church.”
The joy of the celebration of the Eucharist is a gift Catholics experience it in many ways, in different settings and with a variety of musical styles. For those who attend this Mass regularly or occasionally, it is impossible to miss the energy of the Spirit that fills the community. It is a sign of hope.