MADISON -- A reverent silence is difficult for anyone to achieve, but with more than 3,000 students from middle school and high school filling the seats and stands in the vast Alliant Energy Center’s Exhibition Hall in Madison, it was something extraordinary.
“You gave me a beautiful witness when you did that, when you kept silence,” the bishop said at the close of the Mass. “I stood here and was absorbed by it.”
And that silence was only a part of the beauty of the liturgy that was modeled at the All-School Mass held September 20. Making the liturgy visibly beautiful was a challenge, said Patrick Gorman, the director of the diocesan Office of Worship: “It was hard to do in that we were in the middle of a warehouse-like room,” he said.
And yet in his homily, Bishop Robert C. Morlino pointed out the many beautiful aspects of the Mass: the decorated altar, with its seven candles and crucifix; the presence of the large-scale icon of St. Raphael, the patron of the Diocese of Madison; the arrangement of autumn flowers and plants at the side of the sanctuary space; the music provided by Aaron Thompson and a choir composed of Edgewood High School and St. Ambrose Academy students; the vestments; the priests; and all of students who gathered in faith.
“Everything about the liturgy is beautiful -- and nothing should ever find its way into the liturgy which is not beautiful,” the bishop said. “And that’s one of the things we’re trying to do, so all of you can see, in all of your Catholic schools and all of your parishes, what a beautiful liturgy looks like.”
Coming together in solidarity
“One of the goals of this was to demonstrate, in a very visible way, the universality of the Church,” said Michael Lancaster, the superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Madison. “It’s not just my church, my school that has a Catholic faith: we are part of a much bigger, global Church.”
He echoed the word “solidarity,” which the bishop also mentioned in his homily: that we as Catholics come together as one in our faith and in particular in the Mass. Service projects or other activities we can do with our school are good and important, Lancaster said, but it’s coming together at Mass that grounds us and roots us in our faith.
“It’s really critical to this Year of Faith to gather all together around the celebration that is the source and summit of our faith,” he said. “That focuses us on what it means to be Catholic, to have faith, to come together to worship Jesus Christ. And the bishop really challenged us in his homily to live that faith, to live the beauty, the truth, and to let the beauty of our faith shine in our life.”
Bringing beauty to the world
Preparing the exhibition hall for the Mass was difficult and included people from schools and parishes around the diocese, a fact which highlighted for Gorman the importance of every person at Mass: “It reminds me that it takes a lot of people to bring forth that beauty,” he said.
“I hope that the Mass modeled for them that it can be participative,” Gorman said. “I was stunned with the silence, and I hope it helps them recognize that part of their prayer is silence, part of it speaking, part of it singing. The Mass involves the whole person.”
And the faith involves the whole person both in and out of the Mass, as well; the bishop in his homily reminded all of the students that they had to take the beauty of the Mass and the faith to the world.
“Just as you come here as a group and are beautiful, participating in the beauty of the Church, so too when you leave and go home, or you go out to play sports or you go to the library or you do your homework or go to Church -- you are called to share in the beauty of the Church,” the bishop said. “You are called to be beautiful all the time. Beautiful means kind; beautiful means true and good.
“All the flowers in an arrangement have to be beautiful individually; if there’s one sick-old-looking flower, it ruins the whole display,” he said. “So remember this as a great moment of solidarity. We were all together shining forth the beauty, the same beauty that shines on the face of Christ. That’s what we did this morning.”