COLUMBIA — When Father David Whitman carried a gold monstrance containing the Eucharist into a meeting room packed with teenagers, the room grew so silent that the chirping of crickets outside could be heard. He placed the monstrance on an altar that had been set up in the room, and bowed his head in prayer.
More than 80 teenagers did the same. The silent prayer, which lasted for 15 minutes, stood in stark contrast to the lively praise and worship music that had filled the room barely 45 minutes before.
These two extremes — exuberant worship and silent contemplation of Christ’s presence —- make up the format of “XLT” (pronounced “Exalt”), a new type of service for young people introduced in the Diocese of Charleston on Oct. 11.
Services were held simultaneously at Cardinal Newman School in Columbia, Bishop England High School in Charleston, St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville, and at St. Gregory the Great in Bluffton. Organizers said one of the reasons for the simultaneous services was so that young people would know their peers around the diocese were praying and worshipping with them.
A new service will be added in Garden City beginning in November, and other locations will be added in subsequent months, according to Jerry White, director of youth and young adult ministry for the diocese. XLT will be held at 7 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month.
White said the idea for XLT came from the Archdiocese of Atlanta, where similar services have been held for several years. He said XLT provides a much-needed chance for young people who are often stressed and over-extended in their daily lives to spend quiet time with God.
“I think the kids really crave it,” White said. “They crave a chance to block out all this other stuff that’s going on in their lives and get some time just to be before the Lord.”
The service at Cardinal Newman began with a series of up-tempo songs of praise performed by members of Age2Age, a Life Teen band based at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken. The music included the anthem “Blessed Be Your Name” and “Trading My Sorrows.” Band members led the crowd in a series of gestures that go along with the chorus of “Yes, Lord!” Many teens in the crowd danced in place and sang along.
The mood in the room became more solemn when Father Whitman spoke to the gathering about the meaning of adoration and of the XLT service itself.
“The whole idea of this is to bring young people like you together and ultimately to expose Christ to you,” he said. “That is whose presence you are going to be in tonight.”
Father Whitman said the silent prayer that takes place during adoration can be especially important to older teens who will soon graduate from high school and face the challenges of college and adult life.
“You guys are soon going to have to make the decision about whether you are committed to your Christian faith, to your Catholic faith,” Father Whitman said.
He mentioned a statement by Pope Benedict XVI that said no one can be a true Christian unless they have had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, and described how adoration can bring about that encounter.
“Just be there with him,” he said. “Quiet your minds, relax your bodies and ask him to come into your hearts … Jesus wants us to experience him personally so we can commit our lives to him. … The face of God will be right here on the altar.”
After adoration, the band performed again and there was a closing prayer. As the participants left, they said they liked the XLT format, and many planned to attend again.
“I thought it was a wonderful opportunity,” said Elizabeth Hudacko, youth director at Our Lady of the Hills in Columbia. She attended the service with 12 members of her youth group.
“Some of these kids had never experienced adoration, and kids need an opportunity to participate in it,” Hudacko said.
“This service really encourages a vibrant faith in Christ,” said Beth Kern, 19, a youth leader at St. Joseph in Columbia.
“I thought it was a really fun way to do adoration,” said Mary Elizabeth Hayes, 15, who attended with the youth group from St. Joseph.
Christie Freeman, 14, attended XLT with her brother, Eric Freeman, 16, and other members of the youth group from Our Lady of Peace in North Augusta.
“The service was really good,” she said. “When you see other people get into it — the singing and the prayer — then you want to. It’s contagious.”
The next XLT service will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 8.