A long tradition at my parish is a late evening weeknight Mass. Last year, it consistently drew sixty to a hundred people, almost all Iowa State students. It goes back at least twenty years, so they tell me. When I was in grad school, my home parish also had such a Mass. The 7PM start time was more conducive to families and working folks, and we consistently drew two to three hundred each Thursday night. That, from humble beginnings of a few dozen young adults sitting on the carpeted floor between an altar and a reredo.
I applaud the tradition and concept. It reinforces the intentional nature of our student community. People come to Mass at ten o’clock on Thursday night because they love God, they embrace their Catholicism, and to express community. And if togetherness with other students is the prime consideration, it’s easy enough to embrace the larger community partying and drinking and getting into occasional mischief on Lincoln Way, just outside our doors. Our new pastor mentioned in announcing TNL last weekend that 43% of all St Thomas undergrads meet their future spouse at TNL. This can’t be accurate, I thought, when I heard that audacious claim at 7PM Mass Sunday night. But it might well be true.
In the image above, our archbishop presided last January when he was in town for an Operation Andrew dinner. Except for the concelebrants, you see the essence of TNL: informality. Worshippers sit on carpet rectangles for the Liturgy of the Word, then move to the open space around the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I like the move, mostly. It reminds me of when I visited St Meinrad’s Archabbey in the 80’s. Word in the antiphonal seating in the old sanctuary, then Eucharist in the open area where the pews used to be, all around the altar. There a good notion of pilgrimage in that movement. It also reinforces, if you will, the aspect of sacrifice, for people to move, and thus physically offer themselves to God.
Last night’s first TNL was huge. For no discernible reason, 171 students showed up–pretty darn close to double the usual turnout last year. My friend Cody said we only had six carpet rectangles left unused in the whole building. He had to raid one of the RE classrooms in the basement. Has the new pastor found a magical touch, a forty-three percent solution to Catholic spirituality? Fr Jon would probably attribute it to God’s grace, which I would hope touches even more hearts next week. I repeated my weekend meme to the campus ministry intern during the cookies and punch social that followed that it seems like “Campus Ministry Christmas.” She laughed at that and my staff colleague Shari affirmed the whole celebratory nature of the entire event, from the gathering in the student lounge before liturgy, to the dozens of young women and men still laughing, snacking, talking, and having a good time in our building at 11:55PM, when I finally went home. It was a blessed end to a long and otherwise frustrating week.