A reader has sent in these timely questions about Baccalaureate Masses:
Does anyone have knowledge about the historical development of the Baccalaureate Mass?
If one is involved in the preparation of the Mass at a high school or college/university:
Is there a specific set of Mass propers one uses? (i.e. Which Mass from the Roman Missal is prayed?)
Similarly, are there readings that you use every year? If yes, which ones? If no, how do you go about selecting readings?
Do you include the Gloria in your Baccalaureate Mass?
Let me say at the outset that I think celebrating a Baccalaureate Mass is a laudable custom. It is a liturgical event bringing before God an important moment of transition in the lives of the faithful at a school, as students conclude their course of study and turn to the future. I would see it as an occasion of joy, thanksgiving, and humble recognition of need.
That said, it seems to me that the Baccalaureate Mass falls under two categories that pose considerable challenges to the liturgist.
First, school Masses in general come with some challenges. Do the students and faculty enter into them with a good attitude or are they corralled under pressure? Does the assembly have a shared repertoire of prayer and music that fosters participation? Is full participation cultivated or is attendance considered “enough”? School Masses can suffer from a tendency to plan the Eucharist as if it were a school assembly–showcasing achievement and giving speeches (with God as “our sponsor”)–rather than grappling with the more profound aspects of liturgical worship as they reveal the mystery of sin and death overcome by the pascha of Jesus Christ.
The second category is: big liturgy. A Baccalaureate Mass will bring together a lot of people from many different places who don’t always worship at all, much less all together: students, parents, family members. How to engage them? (See participation questions above.) What sort of hospitality is needed? The right sense of scale is needed, for processions, attire, music, and ritual.
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Turning to the first question: “Where does the Baccalaureate Mass come from?” I did some looking around to see if I could find an account of the origins and history of this practice.
There are Baccalaureate Masses at Catholic schools, and Baccalaureate services at schools with a Christian history. Oxford College at Emory University in Atlanta had this to say:
The baccalaureate service originated with an English statute of 1432 that required every degree candidate at the University of Oxford (England) to deliver a sermon in Latin. British practice was continued in colonial America, and baccalaureate services have since become an integral part of commencement exercises, marking the completion of an educational program, just as opening convocation marks the beginning.
Columbia University in New York has something similar on its website. Their description in turn has been repeated, almost verbatim, on Wikipedia. But a qualification in the Columbia website (“it is believed”) plus that little red flag at Wikipedia (“citation needed”) should alert us to the possibility that claims about its origin may lack a factual basis.
Frankly, it seemed a little fishy to me. All the candidates giving sermons in the same liturgy in order to qualify for their degree? Really? I could not find a reference to it in Munimenta Academica or Documents Illustrative of Academic Life and Studies at Oxford (Henry Anstey, 1868), which relies on manuscript sources beginning in 1350 and continuing through the fifteenth century up to “a collection of comparatively modern statutes—of the years 1564-5.” (This work does make reference to the Mass of the Holy Spirit at the start of the school year, however, which is a fun fact to know.)
Happily, whether or not an Oxford preaching requirement of the fifteenth century is behind it all is pretty much beside the point today. If anyone can point us to a source that traces the origins and development of the Baccalaureate Mass, please do so in the comments.
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As for the second set of questions, I know of no requirements concerning which Mass texts to use or which readings, aside from the general guidelines depending on the calendar day. Readers may wish to share their experiences in answer to the questions concerning what they use for Mass texts, readings, and Gloria.