Thursday, May 22, 2014

School Mass on Founders Day - Part 1

[The entry below is one that was part of the school's newsletter this year. I have left it "as is" in order to preserve its continuity with the reflections that follow.]

In a few weeks the school will be celebrating Founder’s Day. This is part of the Lasallian Spirit Week, during which we highlight the qualities of the school that make it a special place to be. All of it comes together on May 15th when we take the whole day to appreciate our founding, our roots, our way of doing things, our educational community, our context, and our life.

The reason that May 15th is celebrated by many Lasallian schools is because it was the date in 1950 that De La Salle was declared in Rome as the Special Patron of All Teachers of Youth. As the Patron of Teachers, he belongs to everyone who takes on teaching as their vocation. As such, in a school, it’s appropriate to take that day – which conveniently falls near the end of a term – as the day to celebrate his life and legacy.

This year, there will be several components to the day, in recognition of De La Salle’s life, influence, and ongoing inspiration among the 1,096 institutions and 80,000 educators around the world that are part of the educational “Lasallian” movement he began. In the Sports Hall at the beginning of the day, we will begin with a student body Mass, the common form of prayer expression for Catholics, and central to both De La Salle’s life and the lives of all those who live out the love of the Gospel through their educational endeavors. This Mass will be for all high school students and selected elementary school students. For non-Catholics, it is an educational exposure opportunity whereby they may learn about this unique Catholic service and witness its expression as part of our Catholic school identity on this special day. Just as we encourage and include exposure opportunities to other religious traditions for our students, this is the one opportunity during the year to provide an educational exposure opportunity of our Catholic worship traditions for all of the students who attend the school.

In the next few Lasallian reflections prior to May 15th, I will use the opportunity to provide some background information as to the core meaning and elements of the Mass, so that it is not a total mystery for our non-Catholic (and perhaps Catholic) students and staff. Among the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, there are 420,000 priests who “celebrate” (that’s the verb usually used) Mass daily and several times on Sunday in 220,000 “parishes” (churches). Such churches could be anything from the grand Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome to a very simple, drafty wooden or mud building in parts of very poor areas. So it would not be far from the truth to say that every Sunday a million of these “Masses” are “celebrated” all over the world. And almost all of them have the same structure, prayers, rituals, actions, and words (in different languages), although the level of formality may be vastly different, from the ornate to the simple, from inner-city parish to monastery, from huge crowds in large buildings to a small group gathered in a small chapel.

In all of these various settings and formats, they are all about the same thing: expressing, sharing, celebrating, recalling, adopting, and bringing to the fore the loving and saving presence of God in our lives. It’s the love of God made present, shared, and drawn out in each person, with the invitation and directive to do likewise outside of church, especially among people in need. Annie Dillard, a great (non-Catholic) writer, said it best: “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” - Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk