The ‘Catholics and youth culture’ problem: how to use the culture without dumbing down the faith

Filed in Arts by on November 1, 2013 2 Comments

There is an ongoing debate about how much the Catholic Church should embrace youth culture in its quest to reach out to young people. What happens when the Catholic faith meets contemporary culture? What are the gains and the risks?

Let me look at this through another lens. For many Irish teens, summers involve an unusual rite of passage: spending three weeks in an Irish-speaking part of Ireland (‘Gaeltacht’), going to Irish language classes, and living with local families, speaking ‘as Gaeilge’ all the time. For most, this time in the Gaeltacht is a very positive experience, and these colleges do a huge amount to help promote the language. Still, you wouldn’t necessarily think of them as particularly ‘hip’ places, and most Irish people probably don’t think of the Irish language as particularly cool…

Recently though, one Irish college has been doing a huge amount to change this perception. Coláiste Lurgan, just west of Galway city, has set up a YouTube channel and produced a series of really excellent videos of current hits sung in Irish, with students singing and acting as extras. Have a look at this one.

What really works about these videos is their effortless melding of new and old. The language with the oldest vernacular literature in Europe is used to express the (sometimes shallow) sentiments of dance anthems; summery tunes are accompanied by traditional instruments; Irish dance is performed in industrial white jumpsuits… All this shines a fairly glamorous spotlight on a language which badly needs a bit of glamour, and their success in catching the attention of Irish youth culture is undisputable.

Why am I writing about this on Jericho Tree? Well, firstly, I think we in the Church could learn a lot from Coláiste Lurgan’s example. If we want to catch the fleeting attention of ‘the youth’, we need to be able to speak their language, to sing (or at least mime) their songs, to be comfortable in their world. In the online world, there are some great examples of this approach: Catholic Memes, Bad Catholic, and the excellent videos produced by Frassateam (you don’t really need French to understand what’s going on!). All of these are excellent enterprises: light-hearted attempts at making serious propositions to youth culture, and we need lots more like them.

At the same time, simply striking a ‘youth culture’ pose is insufficient either to save the Irish language or to renew the Church. At school, I was very lucky to have an Irish language teacher who understood the grammar of the language and who was passionate about teaching it. He taught the grammar so well that eventually it became second nature, and we could converse fairly fluently. Most students aren’t so lucky, and because they never master the grammar, their ability to express themselves is always limited. If you never master the ‘aimsir chaite’ and the ‘modh coinníolach’, you’ll never be able to translate songs by Daft Punk and Avicii.

In the same way, adding glamour to the Faith is never a substitute for learning the grammar of the Faith. As young believers we should always seek to express Christianity in contemporary language, but we should seek first to really know and understand the contents of the Faith. The best way to do this is by reading. Have you got a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church? If not, get one. Do you buy CTS pamphlets which explain aspects of Catholicism? If not, start. Is Catholic Answers among your bookmarked websites? If not, add it. The hard work of learning Catholic grammar is an essential prerequisite for those who want to speak fluently to contemporary culture.

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Br Conor McDonough

About the Author ()

Br Conor McDonough OP is a student in the Irish Province of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). Some of his posts were first published at They are re-posted here with permission.

Comments (2)

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  1. Dorothea Rose says:

    I really love this, both on the Irish music side and the reflection and have been playing it over and over again.
    I have been learning Gaelic for a few years. It’s incredibly difficult to learn as an adult, but lovely to hear spoken. I take your point about learning grammar as I have acquired a lot of vocabulary but am not really au fait with grammar so struggle to put sentences together.
    Well done for using this in your reflection.

  2. Anne O'Connor says:

    Thanks for this post. As a Confirmation leader I often used music to inspire the group and grab their attention – anything current and also Christian Rock Bands such as Delirious. The kids were also encouraged to bring music to the sessions that might fit with the theme for the week. Meeting them where they are at is essential to build a meaning relationship. Music is a great way to do this.
    Some interesting background to this film clip.

    Tim Bergling (born 8 September 1989), better known as Avicii, is a Swedish DJ, remixer, and record producer. Avicii’s latest single, “Wake Me Up!” was later released on iTunes and radio on 25 June 2013. “Wake Me Up!” was #1 on the Spotify Global Chart and Avicii was at 2 in most streamed artist worldwide.The Official Charts Company announced on 21 July that “Wake Me Up!” has become the UK’s fastest selling single of 2013 with 267,000 copies in its first week on sale in the UK. ]”Wake Me Up!” has subsequently become a major hit, topping the charts in over 20 countries including Australia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

    A cover of the song in Irish was uploaded onto YouTube on 9 August 2013, by an Irish Language College called ‘Coláiste Lurgan’. The video received heavy publicity and popularity within Ireland from many news websites and the public. The video was a viral hit within the country and with Irish abroad, hitting a million views in one week

    Charitable work Since achieving widespread commercial success, Avicii began working with his manager and executive producer Ash Pournouri to start House for Hunger in 2011, a charity dedicated to alleviating global hunger The pair wanted to showcase the giving spirit fostered by the house music community.

    Avicii explained, “You have to give something back. I am so fortunate to be in the position where I can actually do that. I feel lucky every day when I wake up and am able to do what I love and make a living.”

    In addition to donating $1 million to Feeding America, a charity founded by Lauren Bush, House for Hunger has helped fund the efforts of The Feed Foundation allowing it to distribute over two million school meals throughout Africa

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