How can I help my teenager get more out of Sunday Mass?

Every Mass can be a life-changing encounter with Christ, if we’re ready for it

By Father Cal Christiansen

Q: My husband and I have three children. We have always tried to make Sunday Mass the center of our lives for our family. I recently had an uncomfortable discussion with my oldest son, who just turned 17. He told me that he thinks Mass is boring, that he doesn’t get anything out of it and that he doesn’t want to go to church anymore. How can I help him see the value and importance of Sunday Mass?

Fr. Cal Christiansen

A: Thank you for your question! Helping kids love the Mass is a struggle for many parents these days. How do we help children and teens see that every Mass we attend is an actual encounter with Jesus and that this encounter is a life-changing one? I feel that we first have to challenge kids by helping them see that there is much more going on below the surface of the Mass than meets the eye.

The exterior dimensions of the Mass point to a deeper reality, that Jesus Christ is actually present.

Let me begin by drawing an example from my experience reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic "The Lord of the Rings." I have a deep love for this book and have read it multiple times over the years. My first experience with it was having it read to me when I was in elementary school.

Profound universe of meaning
I remember it being an amazing tale of adventure and heroism and saw it purely as an exciting adventure story. Years later when I was in college, "The Lord of the Rings" movies were coming out and my interest in the book intensified. I started to read studies about it and began to discover that it was much more than just an epic adventure. I came to see that it was a thoroughly Catholic work.

Ralph Wood, in his book "The Gospel According to Tolkien," talks about the presence of the three theological virtues woven throughout the story line. Peter Kreeft and Joseph Pearce also have written about Tolkien’s Catholicity. Tolkien himself discusses the presence of his own Catholic faith within his book in many of his letters.

In short, I came to see that there was a deep and profound universe of meaning and substance just below the surface of "The Lord of the Rings" that helped me to significantly deepen my appreciation of it.

The fact that the Mass is much more than simply a collection of rites, symbols, words and actions is a crucial reality that we have to help young people see and appreciate, especially as they enter their teenage years. These exterior dimensions of the Mass point to a deeper reality, that Jesus Christ is actually present and that his presence is communicated to us in different ways through those rites, symbols, words and actions.

Connecting with Jesus Christ
That leads us to the million-dollar question: How do we help our kids see and experience this deeper reality and open their hearts to it?

In order to help your son get more dialed in to Mass — and through it connect in a more meaningful way with Jesus Christ — you might begin with his remote preparation. What is his relationship like with Jesus prior to going to Mass? If his personal relationship and commitment to Jesus is lacking, he most likely will not get much out of Mass when he attends. Helping him experience Jesus present and active in his daily life is an important first step.

There are many ways that you can help him with this. Pray together as a family. During the week, reflect on the readings for the upcoming Sunday Mass. Live the liturgical seasons at home. Go to confession together as a family, especially during Lent and Advent.

Perhaps even ask him after Mass if he heard something in the prayers, readings or homily that he might apply to his daily life.

You also might encourage him to participate in your parish’s youth program (which hopefully includes meaningful prayer experiences, catechesis, fellowship and service opportunities). This can be an important source of remote prepa-ration for Sunday liturgy.

The more you help your son connect with Jesus Christ in his daily life, the more he will be able, and hopefully excited, to connect with him at Sunday Mass.

May God’s blessings be with you today and always!

Father Cal Christiansen is the pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Mountlake Terrace. Send your questions for Father Cal to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..