School Masses

School Masses

I have fond memories from the distant past as a student, and more recent ones from when I was a secondary school teacher, of school athletics days. They were occasions when everyone - faculty and student body - got involved, but in a wide variety of different ways.

Of course, there were the elite athletes who maddeningly (to the rest of us!) seemed to be able to run, jump and throw with complete lack of effort. Then there were the specialists, like the stocky fellow with wide shoulders who could hurl the discus right across the school oval but fell over his feet when he attempted to run. A number of students, who might be described as all-rounders, had a go at every event even though they seldom ran a place.

But there were hundreds of others who did participate in the athletic events at all, but not one of them felt left out. These people cheerfully took on roles, depending on their skills and interests, as scorers, time keepers, tent pitchers, cheer leaders, ribbon pinners, judges, war cry composers, sign writers, equipment managers, bus monitors, water carriers…the list is endless. And every single person felt part of the occasion and shared in the success, or otherwise, of his or her particular school house on the day.

It is these memories which come to mind when I hear some people claim that Catholic schools should not schedule Masses for their student as they are not inclusive. What do they mean by 'not inclusive'?

I assume it means that not all students are able to receive communion because they are not members of the Catholic Church. But does this mean that they are excluded from the whole liturgy? The answer to this must seem obvious to older Catholics who well remember the days when churches would be packed for Mass but only a handful of people at most would receive communion. I doubt that the rest felt excluded.

Even those who are Catholics will not all participate in a school Mass in the same way or at the same level. The ease with which students will be able to join in the prayers, gestures and responses will depend on their familiarity with the ritual of the Mass. Some will find particular inspiration in the music, others might be very conscious of Christ speaking to them when the scriptures are proclaimed, others will hear God's still small voice in the times of silence.

Certainly, the Mass should not by any means be the only form of liturgical celebration that is offered through the Catholic school, but it should not be excluded on the grounds of exclusivity.

Everyone is included in a class or school Mass, but this does not presume that everyone is the same. We need to celebrate and value diversity. Rather than lament the so-called exclusion of 'nominal' Catholics, members of other Christian Churches, those who belong to other faiths, and those who have no faith at al from the Mass, we should rejoice in God's mysterious plan which maps out different paths for each of us.


Elizabeth Harrington