College Chaplain Reflection – July 14, 2016

July 13, 2016

As part of the Melbourne Experience this year I was able to meet up with the Yr 9 cohort at St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne* to celebrate Mass. I was very happy with the morning and just want to pick up on two observations.

The first is the obvious sense of awe and wonder the students experienced in visiting the Cathedral. It really is an extraordinary building. Its very size is impressive; the largest Church in Australia, it can fit 3000 people at a stretch. It is just over 100m long, and looking up to the ceiling there is 30m of space between your feet and the apex. But it is not just big, it is also beautiful. Golden light beaming through the massive windows dances across the many pillars and arches, and closer to the sanctuary rich stencilling and marblework all unite to tell one simple story; that God is real, that he is great, and that he is here.

As humans we live in a concrete reality and we need concrete reminders that there is more to life than just the material. In our current society such reminders are few and far between and for this reason something like the Cathedral can at first appear archaic or odd. It is great to see though that it still has an almost universal effect on those who enter. The architecture lifts you out of the ordinary and mundane and raises you to a higher plain.

The ritual of the mass does the same, but in an even truer sense. We believe as Catholics that in the Eucharist we are really made present to the Mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection; the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and with the eyes of faith we can recognise the transforming presence of Christ. To recognise this though takes not only faith, but also an understanding of the sign itself. For this reason, the Eucharist as a ritual is essentially something repetitive, and in this sense the more ordinary it becomes the more profoundly it moves us.-

This relates to my second impression; that the ritual of the Eucharist was experienced by the group as something ordinary or expected. I do not pretend that the students didn’t need a little prompting here and there, but the very fact we were having a Mass didn’t seem to be a big issue. And for this reason, I think it was the better placed to be a positive experience for the group. To celebrate the Eucharist in that place was the obvious thing to do.

In regards to the Eucharist we live as Catholics in a paradox of sorts. It is at once both the greatest thing we can offer while at the same time being the most basic thing we can do. This means it should be celebrated with all the beauty and effort we can muster to mark it out as the most extraordinary thing we can do, while also treating it as the most ordinary thing in the world and offering it as often as we can. That is why we are not only asked to celebrate the Mass every Sunday, but are also encouraged to celebrate it every day if possible; that our lives may be more firmly grounded in the Eucharist as source and more totally directed towards it as summit.

I pray that the experience in Melbourne may help our boys realise more fully the wonderful gift they have in the Eucharist. As a Catholic school the Eucharist will forever remain as the greatest gift that we can offer. Many thanks to Ashleigh Giampaolo and Stuart Harridge for their initiative in proposing the opportunity.

*If you have ever been shopping in the city you probably would have noticed the Cathedral looking east up Bourke St, towering behind Parliament House. The spires themselves were only finished in the 1930’s under Archbishop Daniel Mannix (a key figure in preventing the introduction of conscription during the First World War). He had the designs adjusted for the spires to be taller than Wardell, the original architect, had intended. I’ve heard two explanations; the first that they should be 100 feet higher than those of St Paul’s on Flinders St, the second that they should be tall enough to be seen over Parliament House even if completed with its planned dome. I want both stories to be true, so I’ve never pushed the matter.