Reflections on the Notre Dame dorm Mass experience
Catholic students at Notre Dame are particularly privileged in the number of opportunities they have to attend Mass on a daily basis, perhaps more so than at any other university. Thanks to the ministry of the priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the Holy Sacrifice is offered many times publicly at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, academic building chapels, and the chapels found in each of the dorms on campus.
For many reasons, the experience of a dorm Mass can be unique. But, in this article, I wish to comment only on the ability of the dorm Mass to include both the sacred and the profane. I write this after having just attended Mass on the first day of classes of this fall semester. I visited Duncan Hall for the occasion.
It was a quiet beginning to the Mass. In the silent chapel, the business of the first day of class and the move-in weekend that preceded it drifted away as a distant memory. Now was time for quiet reflection on our Lord’s Passion, Death and… “I CAME IN LIKE A WRECKING BALL!”
As the students in the chapel prepared themselves to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries, other students down the hallway were throwing a Start-of-Semester Soirée. The playlist continued song after song, the bass dropping like mortars around us.
The Mass went on in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. “The Lord be with you,” said Fr. Mark. “And with your spirit,” responded those of us in the pews (well, chairs). The Gospel began. And so too did the real mortars as fireworks were shot off outside the chapel. You could see flashes outside and hear the banging, all mixing with the bass reverberating down the hall. We got a slight sense of what soldiers must experience as they hear Mass in the middle of the warzone.
“The Gospel of the Lord.”
“Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.”
Two thoughts came to my mind. The first was how we—present at the Holy Mass, that most sacred liturgy at which Heaven meets Earth, and the King of Kings, becomes present for us in a small, white Host, and enters into us who, though sinners, and are not worthy to let Him under our roof—were worshiping here while the world around us cared nothing about it.
The sacredness in this chapel was pitted up against the profane world outside. We knelt present at the sacred memorial of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross and at His most glorious Resurrection, praying at the foot of the Cross as did the Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple, while the world outside celebrated with parties and fireworks, celebrated at the moment of His Sacrifice as did the scribes and the pharisees, the hypocrites and the high priests.
On the one hand, this was a sad realization. How sorrowful it was to know this profanity existed while we basked in the radiance of the Most Sacred God. It reminded me—and reminds all daily dorm Mass-goers—of the difficulty of the Christian life. We must leave behind the world. We must forgo the fleeting yet real pleasures of the parties, fireworks, and worldly celebrations for the real and eternal celebrations of the Eternal Liturgy of the Lamb’s Wedding. We must, in a word, renounce the profane for the sacred.
Yet, a second thought entered my head. Need the parties represent only sin and profanity? This they do well, and in fact, the choice to refuse them for something sacred, like the Mass, is a great reminder to us that we are called to reject sin to reach the glory of Heaven. Yet, once in Heaven, we do not leave and enter back into a world of sin and profanity, we remain. If then we attend the Mass, and if the Mass is meant to be a foretaste of Heaven on Earth, might we consider that we are meant not to leave?
“The Mass is ended. Go in peace.”
But it is not! Rather, “Ite missa est.” “Go. This is the Mass.” “Go. Your mission begins.” While yes, the liturgy we just celebrated is the Mass, so too are we meant to make our entire lives a form of the Mass, a constant celebration of the Sacred Mysteries, a liturgy (leitourgia), a public work of worship to God. We leave the Mass, we leave Heaven, but we also cannot. We cannot leave Heaven once there, and we are not meant to leave the Mass either. We are supposed to live the liturgy throughout our life, “glorifying the Lord by our lives.”
In this case, then, perhaps the parties are not out of place. Perhaps these profane actions become something sacred, just as the profane elements of bread and wine become the sacred Bread of Eternal Life and Chalice of Everlasting Salvation, the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Lord.
Indeed, who could not help but want to celebrate the fact that the Lord has won the victory for us over sin and death? First comes the Sacrifice, the sadness and the mourning and the pain we feel at the death of Our Lord to sin, not His own sin but ours, out of love for us. We weep at the Heart, pierced by our sin, but flowing with mercy. But then comes the Resurrection, the moment of triumph for the Lord when the path to salvation becomes open to us that we might enter the now open Gates of Heaven if we but walk down the path to the sacred away from the profane. A place of eternal joy and celebration awaits. And so too can we leave the chapel, nourished by the Lord and continue the celebration of the Mass. We can see something new in these parties, when we attend and enjoy ourselves (within reason and exercising some prudence) because we are continuing the celebration and the joy we feel knowing that Our Lord has won for us the victory.
For a daily dorm Mass-goer, there can be something sacred to be found in the midst of the profanity of everyday life. For that student—emerging through the chapel doors as a warrior setting out for a mission given him by the Holy General—there is cause to celebrate. His General has assured him of victory in this war, indeed, has already attained it.
Thus the daily dorm Mass-goer can see that God has the power to raise the profane to something sacred; the profane party experienced wisely can become an occasion of the sacred. It becomes an opportunity to celebrate with the Church, which is not a house of saints but a hospital for sinners. And after the Mass, as the student walks down the hall to join in these celebrations at the party, he can understand the promise God made to all at His Feast, the promise that He would fill the student’s cup to overflowing. Who knew, though, that even God uses red Solo cups?
Patrick Gouker is a senior and proud Juggerknott of Knott Hall. (HYKH!) He can often be found stressing over the paper he started at 1am the day it was due because he forgot about the deadline. He is also easily bribed with chocolate chip cookies or peanut butter cookies. If you’re a good baker or would like to get into a late night theology discussion over a cold one, feel free to reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured art: George Cattermole (1800-1868), “The Beauchamp Chapel, Warwick”