We question quite frequently the extent of our witnessing to the Catholic faith as a self-proclaimed Catholic university. We ask if administrative decisions adhere to Church teachings; we critically evaluate the extent to which our curriculum encourages the learning of the Catholic intellectual tradition; we take note of the Catholicity of the faculty. These questions often preoccupy our efforts, as they should, as we strive to deepen the university’s relationship with the Faith.
I would like to suggest, on the other hand, that we may tend to brush aside the importance of another central aspect of our institutional witness. We often fail to mention or spend time meditating on perhaps the most significant witness we make and the most lasting contribution to the world in which we live: offering the Mass as the local Body of Christ—our Notre Dame family. We are all part of the Body of Christ that extends beyond time and space, but here at the university we can view ourselves as the local Church, as the most visible manifestation of the Body.
We demonstrate our participation in this Body centrally in the sacrifice of the Mass in which we take Christ as our Head and follow Him. This is where our greatest witness lies: in the over 150 Masses per week that are celebrated on campus. In the Mass, we pray for each other, for the administrators, for those in the community, for those in the Church, for the poor and marginalized, and for our nation. God hears our prayers, and we believe that He acts upon our pleas for mercy in His Son’s name for the good of His beloved. This is the reality that can often be overlooked when we focus too narrowly on the subject of institutional witness by only criticizing particular administrative actions rather than viewing the entire picture.
That is not to say, however, that the offering of so many Masses can be used as a convenient fact to counterbalance improper decisions or can be paraded in front of others to obscure questionable choices on issues central to Catholic witness in society today, such as marriage and contraception. (I do not mean to imply that this is the intent or the nature of the matter; rather, contradictions between the different aspects of our witness could have this effect in the eyes of the more cynical.) The Mass is a very real and essential component of our witness, one without which we cannot do.
The Mass offers to the world something that non-Catholic universities cannot. We cannot fail to mention this critical aspect of our witness to those outside of this university.
On March 24, as we came together to remember the life of Lisa Yang and to commend her soul to God as a family of faith, I realized that to which we are witnessing as a university. At the elevation of the host—as simple bread became the Body of our Lord—I noticed that He was completely surrounded by people—over a thousand students, faculty, and staff. Behind the altar the extra chairs were filled and the central nave of the Basilica was also crowded. This was truly the Body of Christ present at this university. At how many other universities is this a possibility, or even a thought? Is this not part of our witness as a university to the world? How radical is it today in America for hundreds of university students to come together as one, professing belief in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and life everlasting?
When we view our witness as the Body of Christ to the world as an essential part of our witness as a Catholic university, this should serve to elevate and purify the other ways in which we witness to the faith. Administrative decisions, the curriculum, and faculty hires should strive to meet the standard that the Mass sets as a perfect witness. Other institutional directions cannot tarnish the image of the Body that is truly present at Notre Dame.
We must recognize the greater supernatural effect of grace because of our faithful offering of the Mass as a community, but perhaps this aspect of our institutional witness should inspire an understanding of how the various aspects of our witness must work together and be complementary instead of potentially contradictory.
John VanBerkum is a junior studying philosophy. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.