Angelic voices echoed throughout the sparkling gold domes, and the smell of rustic incense permeated through the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Catholic church in the United States. But today’s mass is not the regular.
Celebrating the graduating class of 2014, students from the Catholic University of America walked in a progression to begin today’s Baccalaureate Mass. The historic arches, groin vaults, and the Romanesque-Byzantine structure are all too familiar to them. The traditional songs and chants recall the memories from the past four years, all of which are planted deeply and engraved in their hearts. The quiet whispers fill the air with both excitement and anxiety for they know that today, though seemingly ordinary to the naked eye, signifies a moment in time that will be relived for years to come.
Seats fill quickly as family and friends reserve entire pews for their loved ones, following the rule of first come, first serve basis. But the space is not enough as mothers, uncles, and siblings line against the massive, thick walls. Today’s mass not only congratulates the graduating seniors but also welcomes a special guest of honor.
Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, has flown in from the Philippines to speak to the graduating class. “There’s a buzz in the Filipino community. We see people who aren’t necessarily students but are coming for this event,” senior Nicholas Shields said. “It shows the universal church and how mass can be celebrated all over the world.”
As the ministers of the liturgy enter in a long procession, the acoustics of the organ and trumpet encompass this holy place. The graceful movements of white robes dipped in red and gold flow side to side as the principal concelebrants follow immediately after the graduating class takes their seats.
The artistic, mosaic depictions of Jesus and the disciples mirror the religious ceremony about to take place as the stained glass windows allow just enough lighting for all to partake and witness worship.
Verses from John 14:1-6 from the Bible are read aloud before Cardinal Tagle takes his stand to address the audience. Reminded to be good stewards and citizens of the world, the crowd responds in Amens. With a contagious smile, Cardinal Tagle addresses the farewell discourse of Jesus. He assures the students that the disciples had a reason for their strength. “Have no fear,” Cardinal Tagle said. “Do not allow your hearts to be troubled. But you look troubled.”
Laughter resonates throughout the church as students exchange glances with their fellow classmates. He states obvious reasons for those worried looks: money, job, and uncertainty.
His honesty and charisma display his character, not so much as a cardinal but as a human being. He speaks plainly telling students that they may find themselves in a place of the sick and the dying. Some may find themselves in banks or religious life. Others may find themselves in places of service.
Regardless of that place that God brings you to, Cardinal Tagle emphasizes on the importance of trying to seek it as a place prepared by God. “Seek righteousness. Live by compassion and love,” Cardinal Tagle replied. “Witness to Jesus, the Risen One. Witness that life is beautiful and worth living.”
Commencement exercises of the Catholic University of America will take place on May 17th, with the main ceremony at 10:00AM at the east steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. For a schedule of the distribution of diplomas, visit commencement.cua.edu.