Campus liturgies a time of grace for Catholic students
For many students trying to navigate the rigors and demands of college life, campus liturgy is more than just another thing to squeeze into a hectic schedule.
“As a college student, my life is extremely busy, and Mass offers me a chance to step away from the chaos, stress and busy lifestyle I have,” explained Felicia Fil, a sophomore in St. Michael’s College in Colchester. “My week doesn’t feel the same if I don’t attend campus liturgy because [when I do] I am able to become more attentive to myself, others and most importantly God.”
Fil, who is from Hadley, Massachusetts, serves as lector and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion for campus Masses.
Matthew LaFountain, a student at the University of Vermont in Burlington, acknowledged, “College is often a tricky, hecti, and confusing time, so I need God’s grace more than ever to get me through each day.” He is a lector, president of the Catholic Student Association and intern for the Catholic Center, and he tries to attend Mass daily to receive “the Eucharist that sustains me and bestows grace.”
For both Msgr. John McDermott, diocesan vicar general and director of the UVM Catholic Center, and Edmundite Father Brian Cummings, director of Edmundite Campus Ministry at St. Michael’s College, there are a number of unique aspects of liturgy on a college campus.
Among them, Father Cummings said, “is to first recognize that you are in an educational setting when planning the celebration. The music and the homilies are prepared knowing that we are at a residential college. There are many challenges facing young people today, and our world seems to jump from national crisis to global crisis,” as well as issues pertaining to the local campus community.
“Trying to address some of these current issues is important to do in the homily,” Father Cummings said, noting that “a strength at St. Michael’s is a rotation of Edmundite priests willing to preside at liturgies, offering a different perspective in homilies and style of celebrating the liturgy. … Our homilists try to engage students where they are when offering thoughts and reflections on the liturgical readings.”
Another unique aspect is the make-up of the congregation, “which tends to be a bit more homogeneous,” said Msgr. McDermott, “meaning that it is made up of a majority of young people between the ages of 18-24 … all facing the same challenges of being a person of faith in an environment that is not overly supportive of faith. I try to ensure that the liturgies have excellent music, good homilies and reverent celebrations,” observing that the homilies are most tailored to the students.
“I try to make sure the students can apply the message of the homilies to their daily life acknowledging the challenges they face as people of faith in a very secular environment,” Msgr. McDermott said.
Before college, recalled LaFountain, “there were not a whole lot of Catholic youth attending Mass at my home parish. … However, there’s something very impactful about being on a college campus to celebrate Mass when there’s more people your age present.”
UVM Junior Katelyn DeMatteis, who serves as lector for Mass, helps with music and leads a Bible study. “Prior to coming to college, I’d never been exposed to a group of people my age who genuinely love God and strive to grow closer to Him and help others along the way. Having liturgy on a college campus has definitely allowed me to deepen my relationship with Christ.”
Celebrating campus liturgies is not without its challenges, Father Cummings said, underscoring a trend of “disconnection” recently noticed among college students throughout the country, with students withdrawing from extra-curricular activities and disengaged in the classroom. Many, he said, are pointing to the Covid-19 pandemic as the cause. “This development impacts our campus ministry programs including Mass attendance.”
In addition, pointed out Msgr. McDermott, “We are competing with the freedom college presents to students. Many of them are on their own for the first time and are looking to establish themselves as individuals and so they will break from some of the traditions they lived out while still at home. Mass, unfortunately, is one of those traditions.”
He emphasized the need to be welcoming to one and all and to pray that the encounters the students have at Catholic Center social events will encourage them to attend Mass regularly, attend retreats, and get involved: ‘We’re not always successful, but when we can engage students this way, they really make their faith their own.”
Fil considers the sense of community the liturgy provides as a way for students, faculty, staff, community members and Edmundites to come together to celebrate their faith and the Lord’s presence in their lives. “Sunday Mass is a great way to reset before the busy week ahead, is a space for personal reflection and dialogue with God and a place where we are attentive to God’s word and how we can apply it in our everyday lives,” she said.
While at college, said DeMatteis, who hails from Colchester, “It’s vital that I’m able to grow closer to God through His Word, Mass and through prayer. College can be stressful and confusing at times, and so by having liturgy on a college campus, I can go about my day as a student with the focus on what truly matters, bringing Christ with me everywhere I go.”
Reflecting on the challenge of bringing more students to the liturgy, LaFountain observed, “I know there are a lot of Catholics on our campus. The trick is to welcome them whenever they come through our doors or attend our events. Personal invitation and relationship are crucial when it comes to helping others to grow in their faith.”
— Originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.