The Forty-Three Percent Solution


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.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to The Forty-Three Percent Solution

  1. Matt says:

    It is great to hear of interest and participation in the Mass. I wonder if it was offered daily in such a fashion how well it would be attended. I also wonder if the degree of informality involved is really an asset. Certainly you don’t want to make such an event too rigid or intimidating, but I think perhaps sitting around on the floor on carpet squares (which I have done in RE and retreat situations) is perhaps taking it a bit too far. In my experience with Newman ministries neither chairs nor pews ever detracted from anyone’s experience of the Mass. Further the “gather round the altar” bit for the Eucharist is a bit of a novelty, though you would certainly be aware of that as a liturgist. From personal experience, this sort of thing will appeal to many, and very strongly to a few. However, it will also be somewhat off-putting to a certain portion of your students. I know in my experience there were often a sub-set of the participating students who because they were committed to the faith and their fellow students kept showing up, but were always a bit unenthused by certain “innovative” ideas, particularly of the liturgical sort.

  2. Todd says:

    A daily 10PM Mass? That might attract more of the really faith-committed. A handful already pray the Liturgy of the Hours mostly daily.

    Our architecture is probably the most off-putting factor to new students. But the quality and beauty of the liturgy, and prayerfulness of the students is possibly one of the more attractive features of this liturgy.

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