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With the end of the year approaching rapidly, Catholic Secondary Schools will be planning to celebrate the graduation of their final year students.
In many places it is traditional to hold a Mass on graduation night. This is understandable, because the eucharist is the Church’s great act of praise and thanksgiving. Some parents expect a Mass, even though they themselves do not attend Sunday Mass.
There may in fact be good reasons for not including a Mass in graduation celebrations. Eucharist is an expression of our unity in Christ. If a significant number of those attending are not Catholic and therefore cannot share in the one bread and one cup, the Mass will be a sign of division rather than of unity.
Mass attendance figures indicate that only a small percentage of the Catholics present may be regular Mass goers and therefore familiar with the responses and gestures of the liturgy. I have sat through several graduation Masses where only a handful of people have joined in the responses and singing and known when to sit, stand or kneel. This does not make for a truly joyful celebration.
If a Mass is held, the graduands may feel pressured to receive communion even if their circumstances do not make this appropriate. A large group, or a venue that makes it difficult for people to participate actively in the liturgy, may also suggest that eucharist is not the most appropriate form of celebration.
Whenever we use liturgy for a purpose other than giving thanks and praise to God, we empty it of meaning and diminish its value. This happens if the graduation Mass is used as a vehicle for show casing the talents of the students, with each one given a ‘role’ to play. Sometimes the Mass is rushed, giving the impression that it is just an unimportant preliminary to the main event.
Perhaps we need to ask whether people are really coming for the Mass or whether they feel obliged to attend because it is part of the graduation ‘package’ at a Catholic school. Having an optional Mass before the graduation ceremonies might be a suitable alternative.
Liturgy, of course, should be a central aspect of graduation rituals in Catholic schools, but a form other than Mass might be a better, more inclusive, choice. Other possibilities for prayer are a service of evening prayer or a liturgy of the word, which follows the same format as the first part of the Mass. Both can incorporate appropriate prayers and scripture readings, joyful singing, and symbols and gestures such as candles, incense and processions.
Whatever form of liturgy is chosen, every prayer and reading should not be included in the graduation booklet. It does not make a good souvenir of the occasion, whatever some may claim, and people sitting passively reading the script does lend itself to good liturgy.