I’m happy to be back at Notre Dame for a lot of reasons. Now that I’m back on campus, I get to live in a building full of my friends, I get to take challenging classes and learn interesting things from smart people, and I get to spend my time doing all sorts of things that I like to do. I’m lucky to be a student at the nation’s premier Catholic institution of higher education. One of the best things about back-to-school here is back-to-Mass.
Ever since I started going to Notre Dame, I’ve had a difficult time enjoying going to church anywhere but at school. Mass at Notre Dame has a distinctive character. Some of the Masses, like Sunday Mass at the Basilica, are very formal. On football weekends, the 10:00 Mass is jammed with visitors. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is home to the largest collection of French stained glass in the world, one of nine Baroque-style Bernini altars in the world, and a massive underground TV studio. The 10:00 Sunday Mass is recorded and broadcast on CatholicTV from the studio beneath the altar. It’s a nice Mass to go to if you are pressed for time–the network has exactly an hour blocked out for the recorded Mass, so the homily never runs long.
Many students don’t make it to Mass at the Basilica on Sundays, although many are awoken by the bells from Sacred Heart. My dad lived in Sorin Hall, adjacent to the Basilica, and he tells a great story about a classmate of his who woke up one Sunday morning and called over to Corby Hall, the rectory and residence of Holy Cross priests, to request that they turn the bells down. Needless to say, the priests did not find humor in my dad’s hungover hallmate’s request. Each dorm has a chapel, and each chapel has Mass a few times a week. Sunday Masses are typically held at 9 or 10 pm. People show up in their pajamas and pad up to Communion in slippers. It’s a much more relaxed environment than the Basilica. Last semester, a friend and I tried to do the “Dorm Mass Crawl” and visit each chapel for Mass. We were unsuccessful (ran out of time when Finals Week came along) but we’re going to try again this year.
Notre Dame traditionally holds an all-campus Mass on the first day of the academic year. Today, being the first day of classes for undergraduates, was Opening Mass day. At 5:30 pm, much of the student body gathered in the Purcell Pavillion (the newly-renovated basketball stadium side of the JACC). Undergraduates sat under banners proclaiming the names of dorms, and graduate students sat according to their programs of study. I was invited to be a part of the academic procession because of my position as Welsh Family Hall Vice President. Christina (the hall president) and I followed a long line of Deans, Professors, and other “student leaders” and hall government people into the arena. The real procession was behind us–a handful of lectors, a dozen altar servers, and probably 50 priests walked slowly down the center aisle. To the left of the stage, the Chorale, Glee Club, Folk Choir, and Concert Band joined forces to fill the stadium with music.
Fr. John Jenkins, the President of the University, celebrated the Mass and gave a good homily about Blessed Brother Andre Bessette, a Canadian Holy Cross brother who will be canonized by Pope Benedict in October. Br. Andre’s father died when he was 9 years old, and his mother passed away when he was 12. Andre received only rudimentary schooling, and he was almost denied entry into the Holy Cross Seminary at age 25 because of his poor health. When he became a Brother, he was assigned the humble job of being the porter for the Holy Cross House in Montreal. He performed the simple task of minding the door for 40 years, helping people, sitting with people, praying with people. Fr. Jenkins encouraged us to “mind the doors” of our own lives. Even though we, as Notre Dame students, lead lives quite different from Br. Andre’s, we can take time for quiet reflection and prayer and perform our duties willingly and humbly, greeting and serving all those who enter our lives.
After a Notre Dame-style Sign of Peace (lots of hugging), Communion was distributed by a fleet of priests. Provost Tom Burrish spoke before the end of Mass and reflected about the “Notre Dame Family” of which we are all a part. Mass was ended with the first official rendition of the Alma Mater for the year. Love thee, Notre Dame.