An exploration of this year’s dorm Mass attendance, traditions
Notre Dame students celebrate Sunday night dorm Masses in the 29 residence hall chapels across campus. Mass attendance statistics compiled throughout the year indicate a downturn in Sunday attendance from previous years and particularly poorly attended weeknight Masses.
Yet certain Masses such as Dillon Hall’s Thursday night Milkshake Mass continue to draw throngs of students from every dorm on campus.
Mass attendance records display that residence hall Masses centered upon particular themes draw more students. Campus Ministry’s website expresses the wish that “[M]ass will serve as the source and center of a Catholic student’s spiritual life at Notre Dame.” Evidence shows, however, that the Masses students attend most frequently, and eagerly anticipate, are those in which Mass is not only the center of their spiritual life, but also a nexus for their social life.
Father Joe Corpora, CSC, stated in an interview with the Rover that 2014 marks Dillon Hall’s 18th year of Thursday night Milkshake Masses. Throughout his five years as presider, he has observed a sharp increase in attendance, a trend not observed at many other campus Masses. Father Corpora expressed his belief that Dillon’s Thursday night Mass attendance boomed shortly after the liturgy began to include music. A student approached him after Mass one week and asked to play the piano, and the Milkshake Mass choir blossomed to include students with a variety of musical talents hailing from different dorms across campus.
“I knew it had to be the music,” Fr. Corpora stated. “Few people walk away from Mass repeating the words of the homily, but many leave humming the tune of their favorite hymn.”
The addition of music to weeknight Mass is one variable which might explain Dillon’s crowded chapel on Thursdays, but the milkshakes—and social environment they facilitate—are also a huge draw.
Freshman Aly Cox commented in an interview with the Rover: “I keep coming back to Milkshake Mass because of the community. [Father] Joe Corpora’s homilies always give a unique insight into Christ’s call for our everyday vocation of love and awareness—such love and awareness witnessed by the sign of peace among all the students and the fellowship after Mass.”
After Mass, students congregate in the narrow hallway outside of the chapel to socialize. Father Corpora acknowledged his appreciation of this extra-chapel congregation on what he mentions is “the least likely night of the week to go to Mass, given the increased trend of students beginning the weekend on Thursday night instead of Friday.”
Milkshake Mass, according to attendees, draws a crowd of regulars every Thursday. Father Corpora commented on the wide variety of students’ levels of spirituality. He mentioned that “about ten percent of attendees are very traditional, and will kneel to receive the host on their tongue, yet you will also see Dillon boys who look like they are doing laps training for the marathon when they move around the chapel for the hug of peace.”
Other residence halls have themed Masses: Breen-Phillips has “Sundaes on Sunday” once a month, Ryan has “Waffle Wednesday,” Badin has “Pancake Tuesday,” and Pasquerilla West has “Stud Muffin Mass,” to name just a few.
“Badin has initiated a Pancake Mass,” Sister Denise Lyon, Rector of Badin Hall, told the Rover. “My hope is that even though someone may initially attend the ‘food Mass’ for food that will not completely satisfy, after multiple attendances they keep going back to celebrate the presence of Jesus in the assembly, and in the food offered during the Mass that does satisfy, that is the body of Christ and the body of the community.”
Father Jim King, CSC, the director of Campus Ministry commented: “The point of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is to draw people closer to union with Christ—and with one another—and I think people get that here. Students should leave here more committed to being, as Blessed Basil Moreau wrote, to be ‘citizens for the world and citizens for eternal life.’ Most dioceses, parishes, and other institutions are glad to have Notre Dame alumni walk through their doors, so I think we’re doing a reasonable job of it overall. Most Catholic Campus Ministry people I’ve met marvel at our Mass attendance levels.”
Sister Mary McNamara, Rector of Breen-Phillips Hall identifies with Father Joe’s opinion about the importance of music at the Sunday night liturgies.
“We have really excellent music and singing in BP. Presiders frequently comment about it,” she told the Rover. “I am very grateful to all those who contribute their time and talent as we gather weekly to give God thanks and praise.”
Sister McNamara also cited BP’s non-food-centric Masses, which have been well-attended.
“Around Thanksgiving, we had a barefoot Mass and encouraged those in attendance to bring a pair of socks for the poor. At that Mass we had a student who currently lives off campus attend with her family visiting from out of town. They did not know in advance about the theme. However, they removed their shoes and socks and gave a monetary donation to purchase socks. We have had a ukulele Mass. We have also had a multi-lingual Mass.”
As Notre Dame progresses into the future, and remains a Catholic oasis in an increasingly secular culture, Campus Ministry and individual dorms would benefit from examining what draws college students to Mass.
Suffice it to say, all should be compelled by the desire to share in communion with Christ, as Sister Lyon emphasized; yet for some, faith is an expression of their relation to their neighbor, and through this, their relationship with Christ. The community engendered by Milkshake Mass and other themed Masses around campus provide a positive social sphere in which students can enjoy the company of their peers as well as realize the company of Christ, the omnipresent guiding influence in our lives.
Kate Hardiman is a freshman majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and minoring in philosophy, politics and economics. She lives in Breen-Phillips Hall, but you can find her at Milkshake Mass on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.