By Jessica Trygstad Catholic News Service
ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — An estimated 12,000 students, teachers and staff of Catholic schools filled a baseball park in downtown St. Paul Sept. 22 for the first all-school Mass of the Holy Spirit in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda and Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens and more than 60 priests concelebrated the Mass for fourth- through eighth-grade students from the archdiocese’s 79 Catholic grade schools after a performance from the local band Sonar.
In his homily, Archbishop Hebda told the crowd filling the stadium seats and spread across CHS Field — where the St. Paul Saints baseball team plays — that the Holy Spirit is what makes Catholic schools great. And, in turn, students must ask the Holy Spirit to help them reach greatness.
“I am so happy that we have that opportunity at the beginning of this school year to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit,” Archbishop Hebda said. “Certainly, on all of you — our wonderful students, certainly on our teachers, certainly on those students who weren’t able to be here this morning, certainly on all those wonderful parishioners who support our Catholic schools.
“But we understand that we need the Holy Spirit if we are going to be great,” he continued. “And all that we need to do is to ask for the Holy Spirit. That’s how great is our God’s love, that all we have to do is to ask.”
Referencing the Gospel reading, Archbishop Hebda noted how the apostles were changed once they received the Holy Spirit.
“My hope, that of Bishop Cozzens, that of all of these priests and deacons, that of all of your parents, and parishioners, is that as we ask for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit this day that we become men and women who are bold and brave in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ,” the archbishop said, “that we’re able to share the good news that we have a God who loves us without end, a God who forgives us when we sin, a God who gives us second chances, third chances, a God who calls us to greatness.”
Telling students they have the benefit of a good Catholic education, Archbishop Hebda said he hopes they’ll be great sons and daughters of God who’ll go on to be great parents, husbands and wives, doctors, lawyers, teachers, even second basemen.
“We don’t know what it is that God has in store for you, but that you’re going to be able to do it with greatness because you know Jesus Christ, and you have received the Holy Spirit that he desires to place in our hearts.”
Students from different schools read the prayers of the faithful and assisted priests during Communion.
The Catholic Schools Center of Excellence, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, sponsored the Mass.
The organization’s president, Gail Dorn, said the event took nine months of planning, 220 buses, and a lot of security and communication with the schools.
“We’re just so happy that we’re able to have this community of faith and be able to celebrate with one another,” said Dorn, adding that they’d like to make the Mass of the Holy Spirit an annual event.
“It was a holy day. And it was a healing for our students and for our schools,” she told The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper. “It’s very powerful to worship together. I think it was very nourishing for our students to strengthen them in their faith and their belief, not just in our holy Eucharist and celebration of our faith, but also the community of our schools and our belief that they should be stronger and better.”
Bishop Cozzens, who is archdiocesan vicar of education and a board member of Catholic Schools Center of Excellence, said after the Mass that it was a great opportunity to get all the students together to help them see that they’re part of something bigger.
Masses of the Holy Spirit date back to the Jesuits in the 16th century. Noting the church celebrates the start of important events, such as papal conclaves, with a Mass of the Holy Spirit, Bishop Cozzens said the day highlighted the “treasure” of a Catholic education.
Thankful the weather cooperated for the event, Bishop Cozzens said he most enjoyed seeing students’ joy and love for Jesus as they came forward to receive Communion.
The all-school Mass was a visible sign for teachers, too, that they’re part of something bigger.
Kathy McRae, a seventh-grade religion and English teacher at Nativity of Our Lord School in St. Paul, has taught for 29 years, called the Mass “an incredible experience.”
Nativity eighth-grader Chip Knap, who will be confirmed this year, said the archbishop’s message was meaningful.
“It was the best Mass I’ve ever been at,” he said. “I really liked the energy of it.”