Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Catholic Diversity at Notre Dame

I went to Siegfried Mass tonight. I came out of a managers meeting in the stadium at 9:52 and standing in the “shadow” of the Word of Life mural I felt an urge to attend Mass. I would never make it to Morrissey in time, but I know that my friend Emily always plugs Siegfried Mass, and it was close so I went.

I’d never set foot in the building before. I didn’t know what to expect but I figured that it couldn’t be much different than the Morrissey Mass that I am used to—albeit probably without the Latin and Greek that Fr. V appreciates. Yet when I entered the chapel I was surprised to see five people and a priest sitting in a semicircle around the altar. At first I thought it was some kind of study group and reached back for the door, but I figured that even if it was they probably wouldn’t chase me away and I might learn something. As if he knew I was coming and was waiting just for me the priest began the Mass as soon as I sat down. We stayed seated, in a semicircle, through the Liturgy of the Word and the Prayers of the Faithful, only rising once the priest had set the table. We held hands in a circle for the Our Father. Everyone hugged during the Kiss of Peace. The whole affair lasted slightly more than a half hour.

I was quite surprised by the experience. For one, the chapel was practically empty compared to the nightly affair in Morrissey’s Little Flower Chapel. Also, I had only heard rumors of dorm chapels that employed the semicircle seating pattern but never witnessed it. It didn’t feel as “wrong” as I would have thought. We should have stood and knelt at the regular times. But overall I was satisfied. If that is the right word.

Should I be satisfied? If I know one thing from listening to Fr. V’s sermons it is that the Mass is about Christ, not about me and what makes me comfortable. If anything I should look for opportunities that push me outside of my comfort zone in worship. Stations of the Cross in the rain might be a start.

What I take away from this is one more buttress to my belief that nowhere is there a more diverse Catholicity than at Notre Dame. Is there any where else that has more than 170 Masses per week and a dorm in every chapel[sic]? Is there any other place that has so many Catholic student groups with nuanced differences in belief that the average outsider wouldn’t even recognize?

Sometimes when I am home in San Diego, people—Catholic people…very Catholic people—will warn me about Notre Dame. About how “liberal” it is—as if the tag “liberal” has any consistent or relevant meaning in the context of the Church. About how it is abandoning its mission as Catholic. But I disagree. With the exception of a few hiccups that I think will eventually be straightened out, the University really is a paradigm of Catholic education. It must be admitted by even the most pious and most irreverent that Notre Dame treads an uncharted thin line as a premier Catholic research university. Some people say that a “Catholic university” is a paradox. I disagree. I think that a Catholic university simply has more obligations. Obligations to God and Country that take more precision to execute, but result in no less academic quality or religious atmosphere.

Even thought there have been strong objections to Fr. Jenkins’ recent decision about academic freedom, Notre Dame still holds a special place in the hearts and minds of American Catholics; otherwise they wouldn’t even be worrying and conversing about the decision.

If nothing else, Notre Dame is where the Church does its thinking. Hesburgh was right. This is a microcosm of the world out there. We have our Catholic students debating semantics about the faith. Every strain of Catholicism is represented: the liberation theologists, the Catholic social teaching experts, the proponents of the extraordinary form, the religious fascists, the Kennedy Democrats, etc. If one is looking for diversity, Notre Dame has it. If not in skin color than in ideas, especially Catholic ideas. Give Our Lady’s University credit for that. On most Catholic campuses, if the faith is still alive it isn’t vibrant, it isn’t debated, it isn’t living like it does at Notre Dame.


Anonymous said...

Things are decidely liberal when there is a dorm in every chaple.

Brandon said...

My mistake. But not a bad way to look at it: we have 27 (soon to be 28) chapels that just happen to have dorms attached.

Aldrich said...

Religious fascists exist with Martians, Brandon-- in your brain.

Anonymous said...

good post, Brandon. I've been to Siegfried Mass on Sundays and of all the men's dorms, it ranks close to the top.

Brandon said...

Aldrich, you do not spend enough time on South Quad to be qualified to dispute my claim. As for Martians only George HW Bush knows, since he is former director of the CIA.