By Catherine Mulroney
When student Therese Hassan offered her reflection at the Faculty of Theology’s Commissioning Mass earlier this spring, she shared a great awakening she had about her time spent studying, an insight that likely resonated with many of her colleagues.
“What I can tell you today is that … I have much deeper and profound questions to ask and venture to understand – and I love that this is the case,” the Master of Theological Studies student explained.
The annual tradition of the Commissioning Mass is one of the most moving moments of the Faculty’s academic year, a time for the community to offer prayers of support and blessing for those students poised to graduate and begin their lives of ministry. After Mass, students, faculty and family gather for a reception.
“One of the important aspects of studying theology is that community becomes like family. It’s important to get to know each other because we learn, in part, through relationships,” explained Fiona Li, who co-chaired of the Student Life Committee (SLC) this past year and was instrumental in planning the post-Mass reception. Fiona will complete her Master of Theology (ThM) degree this year and move on to doctoral work. She earned her Master of Theological Studies degree from St. Mike’s in 2016.
For Fiona, who describes her time at the Faculty as “transformative,” the Mass would prove to be a “bittersweet moment,” one last time to attend liturgy with classmates and professors, “one last time to serve as a reader or an acolyte. … This is the community sending us off, telling us ‘We think you’re ready for the world.’ It’s a beautiful experience.”
Scott Harris, who chaired the SLC’s Liturgy Committee this year, looked forward to the blessing and act of being sent forth that is offered at the Commissioning Mass. He’s grateful for the opportunity to serve as committee chair, noting that it “deepened my experience with Church life.” As chair, he was required to invite presiders for Mass, arrange for readers and acolytes, select hymns and write petitions, as well as plan non-Eucharistic liturgies—all skills he will be able to call on in the future.
Chairing the committee meant “I became more immersed in the community. It meant, for example, having to take others’ views in mind rather than just planning liturgies that met my taste in music, for example. It gave me an entirely new perspective on liturgy.”
The Commissioning Mass is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how the study of theology transforms how we look at the world and our place in it, says Fr. George Smith, CSB, who presided. Fr. Smith was himself offered a blessing at the reception by Fr. Peter Galadza of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, an acknowledgement that Fr. Smith’s time as Superior General is coming to a close, with new duties with the Basilian Fathers beckoning.
Citing the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, Fr. Smith noted before Mass that “too often these days we see ourselves as Church against the modern world” rather than, as the English title of the 1965 document reads, the Church in the Modern World.
Theological study offers the opportunity to examine the great challenge of what it means to be a Church in service to the modern world, he said, noting that it builds upon Church tradition. Self-awareness and self-knowledge lead to an understanding that the centre of ourselves is God, he noted.
“Theology opens up the conversation to magisterial teaching of the Church, bringing rich tradition into conversation.” Pope Francis, for example, gives life to his own pastoral theology without dismissing the teachings of Pope Benedict before him, he noted.
For Therese and her classmates, that conversation is just beginning. As she told the congregation at the Mass, “this thing we do called theology isn’t just about coming to or acquiring knowledge. It’s about living in the questions themselves.”
And so, reflecting on late nights writing papers, struggling with complex readings and trying to keep on top of all the demands of student life, Therese told her colleagues that if they still have a desire to learn more and engage with the Mystery that is God, “congratulations: you are doing this right.”
Catherine Mulroney is the Faculty of Theology’s programs co-ordinator.