Know the Mass

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Walking down the steps of Gries amid a throng of 10 p.m. Mass-goers, I looked out in the Quad to see several more groups of students strolling toward the College Church for their weekly dose of good music and humorous homily. When I got to the church, I watched in amazement as hundreds more students filled the pews and prepared for the start of what was expected to be another magnificent hour of drums, incense and fellowship. I was a visiting prospective student, and it was my first 10 p.m. Mass. I was mesmerized.The effects of that magical first 10 p.m. Mass were long lasting. The combination of the bowing with the incensing, the friendly greetings among friends and the rich music throughout the church brought me to a firm decision about where I wanted to be the following school year.Remarkably, the thrill that I felt that first night extended itself into a job that I landed on campus the following fall as a freshman at Saint Louis University. As the work-study student for the liturgist in Campus Ministry, my main duties were to put together the bulletin and an assortment of programs for the liturgies sponsored by Campus Ministry. My boss threw in various other tasks, which included showing up early to aid in the preparations for the Mass and staying late to clean up afterward. I was suddenly forced to connect with the liturgy in a way that I had never appreciated before. I learned that liturgy is a production-an ancient, highly involved, holy and very predictable production-and probably fewer than 5 percent of the congregation will ever know the extent of the work put into each Mass.I thought at first that working with the Mass in the directive sort of way would be harmful to the spiritual experience Mass is supposed to be. I grew to understand that I was wrong. The diverse approaches to manipulating music, sacramental worship and prayer to better speak to the hearts of the congregation is an art-a spiritual art that requires conscientious dialogue with God. To say the least, I learned a lot about the Mass and its symbolism, and there is nothing quite like being able to celebrate on a weekly basis and know what it is I am celebrating. I think my behind-the-scenes work for liturgies has deepened my Catholic faith and the bond to service that encourages a more worthy relationship with my fellow congregants.I will continue to grow to know the Mass more fully, so long as I give to it what I would expect to get from it. I feel a strong call to liturgical ministry as a result of my experiences with working “underneath” and “behind” the Mass. It will probably be through the liturgy that I become more open to God’s call. God has a plan for me, and I know it.Sylvia McLain, a junior studying theology and art, is in the Liturgical Internship Program at the Center for Liturgy.