Tuesday, February 03, 2009

40 years of Georgetown's 11:15 p.m. Mass.

The latest issue of The Georgetown Voice features a piece by Father Thomas M. King, S.J. on Georgetown's 11:15 p.m. Mass, which King has celebrated six nights a week (excluding only Saturday) every semester since the fall of 1969. Here, Father King explains how it all started:
In June of 1968 I finished studies in France and arrived at Georgetown to begin teaching theology. Bill Clinton had graduated from the University earlier that month. It had been a difficult year for both Georgetown and the nation. Several months before my arrival Martin Luther King had been shot, and several weeks earlier Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated as well. All the while the United States was engaged in an unwinnable war.

In my first year here I lived in the Jesuit Community and offered a private Mass. I found that 11:15 p.m. best fit into my own day. That year the semester began on September 24th and I began teaching “Problem of God,” a course that had been introduced three years earlier.

For my second year at Georgetown I moved into a freshman dorm, Second New North. In August I went to the University Chaplain, John Bennett, SJ, and told him that I wanted to say Mass both Sundays and daily at 11:15 p.m. He said that was fine, but he warned that he would not be able to get a substitute should I not be able to make it: “All the Jesuits are asleep at that time!” “Okay, but I would like to try it for one semester,” I said. Now I am in my 80th semester!

So, as the fall semester of 1969 began, I started saying the late Mass in Dahlgren. The daily format was much the same as today: we begin the Mass by reading a Psalm together. There are many candles on the altar, and the lights are lowered for the solemn part of the Mass. I end the Mass with the opening passage of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God.” For many centuries this Gospel was proclaimed at the end of Mass, but it was dropped with Vatican II. Since I had a long affection for the text, I have continued saying it on weekday evenings.

In December of my first year with the Mass, my server asked about using incense and having a special Mass before Christmas, and I said, “Fine!” Another student was standing there, and he said he was a carpenter and would like to build a stable over the altar. “Fine!” And with that, I began the Solemn Mass for Christmas on the Third Sunday of Advent, using the readings of the day. Because of the crowds, we moved this Mass to Gaston Hall and then, four years ago, moved it again to Holy Trinity. So the Solemn Mass for Christmas is also a 40-year tradition. We no longer set up the stable (you can still see it behind an iron gate underneath the west end of the Gervase Building), but each year we have a Solemn Mass with Christmas trees and some of the great music of the holiday.
To read the rest, click here. Father King and the 11:15 p.m. Mass are Georgetown institutions, and I would not have become a Jesuit were it not for the positive influence that both had upon me while I lived on the Hilltop. The 11:15 and the community that sprang up around it provided a context in which I could begin to perceive and to respond to the call that ultimately led me into the Society of Jesus. Though my story is my own, its link to the 11:15 is far from unique. Father King keeps a the list of '11:15 alumni' who have gone on to become priests or religious; the last time that I checked, there were more than forty names on the list.

Looking beyond the numbers, I can think of countless people I've encountered over the years - women as well as men, individuals with no university affiliation as well as current or former Georgetown students, young people as well as the not-so-young - who have discovered, deepened or renewed their Christian faith as members of the 11:15 community. As I pray in thanksgiving for the many graces that have come through the 11:15 p.m. Mass, I pray also that this liturgy may continue to be a part of the lives of Hoyas and others for many years to come. AMDG.


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