The weight of a mass
Community is a strong value at Notre Dame, but what is its role in the Mass?
On one of the sagging bookshelves in my house there is a children’s book called “The Weight of a Mass.” In the story, a widow says she will pay for a scrap of bread by offering up her attendance of the king’s Mass later that evening. The baker scoffs at her offer and says that he will weigh a scrap of paper with the words “One Mass” on it to determine how much bread it is worth. To everyone’s surprise, the scrap of paper, when placed on a scale, proves heavier than the scrap of bread, entire trays of rolls, even the King’s enormous wedding cake.
This story serves to teach children the value of a single person attending the Mass, and how all the earthly goods in the world, when weighed against the value of a single Mass, are nothing. But what is it that gives the Mass this value?
Here at Notre Dame, we place a large emphasis on community. In recent weeks, Campus Ministry has been considering reducing the number of daily dorm Masses in favor of the dorms coming together for a weekly “Quad Mass.” Campus Ministry has been collaborating with several North Quad residence halls to have a ‘North End Mass’ for Stanford, Keenan, Zahm, and Farley.
“We are trying something new so as to determine how Quad Masses might better serve the campus community,” said director of Campus Ministry, Fr. Pete McCormick, C.S.C. in a statement to the Rover. “Specific to the North End Mass (Stanford, Keenan, Zahm and Farley), the North End Mass gives students practice in considering ways that community happens, and how that community can be fostered both inside and outside of friend groups and hall identities.”
In other words, Zahm will no longer have daily Mass Monday through Thursday, but will instead have a single community Mass on Tuesday nights and the opportunity to attend a single “North End Mass” once a week. The goal would be that the few people who go to daily Mass would all attend the ‘Quad Mass’ together, thereby augmenting the communal aspect of celebrating the Eucharist.
However, is community truly the most important aspect of the Mass? Every Mass that is celebrated has value, regardless of how many people are in attendance. According to the Catechism, “the Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood. But the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us” (CCC 1382). The focus of the Mass is that it is a celebration of the Eucharist, and not a social gathering. Part of Mass is that everyone is united as a community in worship, and although this is important, it is not the main feature. The most important part of Mass is the Eucharist, Christ himself becoming present on earth.
Although there is nothing inherently wrong with consolidating the daily Masses celebrated on campus—it is true that there are often very few people at a given dorm’s Mass and, according to Campus Ministry, over 60 were in attendance at ‘Quad Mass’ this past Monday, indicating its popularity—this initiative suggests a misunderstanding of the true value of the this sacrament.
Although a valuable aspect of campus culture is our strong sense of community, the value of the Mass is the Eucharist. Reducing the number of Masses offered on campus in order to build community more reflects the endemic issue on campus of deemphasizing the Eucharist in favor of community. Many dorm chapels have been built or modified to emphasize community, and many hall communities conduct their liturgies in a more casual way in order to emphasize community.
In Dillon Hall, the original configuration of the chapel was altered so that the tabernacle was no longer the center of the church in order that the chairs could all be placed in a semicircle, so that, no matter where one sits, they are facing others in attendance and the altar, rather than all being oriented towards the tabernacle. Most dorm communities stand during the consecration, placing the focus on the people gathered rather than on worship of the Eucharist. In the Sorin, Welsh Family, and Lewis Masses, attendees are invited to gather around the altar, which deemphasizes the sacred element of Mass while placing a greater focus, once again, on gathered-ness, rather than sacred-ness. Many of these liturgical decisions obscure the meaning and impact of the Mass.
Here at Notre Dame, we like to emphasize the Mass in terms of how it builds community, but this is not its primary purpose. It is valuable in itself, and is oriented towards uniting us to Christ through communion. The idea of reducing the number of Masses to promote community is not so much wrong as much as it indicates a flawed approach to the Mass, where the supernatural character of the Mass is not as important as the attendance. In the face of low Mass attendance, the response should be to address why students do not attend their dorm’s Mass, rather than to reduce the number of Masses offered. What is important about the Mass is Christ, who is truly present in the Eucharist. The very act of celebrating Mass, even if it is just the priest celebrating by himself, is intrinsically communal, as it unites us to the Church past, present, and future through Christ.
Teresa is a senior double majoring in Biology and Philosophy. She is currently in mourning over the death of Waddicks; consolations can be directed to email@example.com.