“Here I am, Lord”
Hopkins Court Mass centers on community
March 7, 2013
As dozens of flickering votive candles cast an otherworldly glow in the darkened room—gently illuminating a sorrowful painting of the crucified Christ and smaller icons nearby—Loyola students take turns offering prayers for family and loved ones.
Some remember grandparents who have recently died, while one student prays for her boyfriend as he prepares to deploy to the Middle East.
Still others pray for seniors awaiting acceptance letters from graduate schools and those facing an uncertain job market. One young woman asks for God’s love on those who have no warm place to sleep that frigid February evening. Another remembers a fellow Loyola student with bacterial meningitis.
For nearly five minutes, the heartfelt intercessions keep coming during the 10 p.m. Mass, held inside a converted student lounge at the Hopkins Court residence. For every request, the entire congregation of nearly 100 students repeats a simple plea, offered in a strong, united voice: “Lord, hear our prayer.”
After the liturgy, Julie Winpisinger, a 20-year-old junior from Ellicott City, Md., says the intercessions are an especially moving part of the weekly Mass, reminding her she is part of a community whose members support one another.
“In this small room of people, you are just putting it out there to the universe,” Winpisinger says. “Somehow, that comforts you instead of just praying alone.”
A Mass with a Following
For approximately a decade, Loyola students—dressed in jeans, sweats, and sometimes even pajamas—have been gathering for the late-night Hopkins Court Mass every Sunday evening to share in exactly that sense of community and fellowship, while also satisfying their Sunday obligation to attend Mass.
In its early years, the Mass attracted fewer than a dozen students. Today, it is often standing-room only, with attendance often topping 100.
Students say the worship experience is unlike anything they’ve ever encountered.
“I always come into this Mass feeling really stressed with studying and homework,” says T.J. Scalfaro, a 21-year-old senior from Lansdale, Pa., “but then I come here, and it’s very relaxing and very meditative. It’s a great way to ground yourself and remind you to relax and step back and pause and start your week from there.”
Rev. Joseph Rossi, S.J., associate professor of theology and founder of the Hopkins Court Mass, incorporates topics in his homily that relate to young adults. He often references popular Twitter hash tags and television series such as The Following and movies including Django Unchained. Students keep up with items related to the Mass through a Facebook page and Moodle.
“Fr. Rossi will tell me the theme and the homily that he’s doing for the week and what the readings are, and then I go home and look through iTunes and pick out songs for the Mass,” says Scalfaro, one of the students who helps with music. “It’s really cool.”
During recent liturgies, musical selections have included “Let My Love Open the Door” by Pete Townshend and reimagined renditions of Catholic contemporary classics such as “Be Not Afraid.”
“Students are very much immersed in popular culture,” Fr. Rossi says. “It’s an opportunity to take a thoughtful look at culture through the lens of faith.”
Because the Mass is in an intimate setting illuminated only by candlelight, Fr. Rossi says many students find it to be an “intense, personal experience.” He points out that undergraduates are often living on their own for the first time. There are no parents prodding them to church.
“Here, they are making a conscious, adult decision to go to Mass,” he says. “I encourage that by trying to adapt the Mass so it relates to their lives. It’s very much the traditional Catholic Mass, but it’s also a Mass that is aimed at young adults between the ages of 18 and 22.”
In the Beginning
The Hopkins Court Mass had its beginnings in occasional Masses offered by Fr. Rossi in his on-campus apartment at the request of students. Students were attracted to the way the liturgies were celebrated and, he says, “it just grew from there.”
The Hopkins Court Mass was initially offered at 8 p.m., but was moved to 10 p.m. when another 8 p.m. Mass was begun in Hammerman Hall several years ago.
“The Mass lends itself to the rhythm of undergraduate life,” says Fr. Rossi, noting that the Hopkins Court Mass advertises the Masses offered through Campus Ministry—and Campus Ministry does the same for Hopkins Court.
“Some are finished studying around 10 p.m. and want a quiet way to end the day,” he says. “Some will take a break from their studies to attend Mass and then go back to their studies.”
Patrick O’Connor, a 19-year-old first-year student from Dedham, Mass., says Fr. Rossi brings a sense of joy to the liturgy.
“He reminds you of the big picture,” O’Connor says. “You realize that the test you have the next day is not the most important thing in your life.”
O’Connor remembers how the first time he attended a Hopkins Court liturgy, he vaguely recognized the instrumental music underscoring the general intercessions.
“All of a sudden, it hit me that it was from Jurassic Park,” O’Connor says. “Somehow it fit. It was nice and calming—and I find it quite humorous that Fr. Rossi liked to do that.”
A Weekly Restart
During a recent Mass, Fr. Rossi blessed Lenten “rice bowls” benefiting Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services, an international relief agency. He encouraged students to take one on their way out of Mass, along with a prayer guide to remember those in need around the globe.
It’s not uncommon for students to ask Fr. Rossi to bless rosaries, keys, or school projects.
“Finals are always a big time because Fr. Rossi will bless anything,” Winpisinger says. “People will bring their notebooks, textbooks—whatever trinkets they have. “He’s blessed a ton of the most random things for me, just so I won’t lose them. Having something blessed just makes it that much more special.”
Siobhan McKenna, an 18-year-old freshman from Exton, Pa., describes the Mass as a weekly “restart” in her life.
“I can take what I learn from the Gospel and Fr. Rossi,” she says, “and try to focus on it and go through my week with those words in mind.”
During his homily on a recent evening, Fr. Rossi challenges students to reflect on a passage from Isaiah in which the prophet responds to a call from God by saying, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”
“Guys, isn’t that what the Christian life is all about?” Fr. Rossi asks, looking into a sea of faces that seem eager to serve. “It is God giving to us, but we, in turn, giving to God and to one another.”