Catholicism 101: Mass of the Holy Spirit

by Libbie Steiner


On Thursday, September 10, the Boston College community celebrated the annual Mass of the Holy Spirit. Presided over by University President Fr. William P. Leahy, SJ, and with a homily by School of Theology and Ministry Associate Professor Fr. Thomas Stegman, SJ, the Mass called upon the Holy Spirit to bless the new academic year.


Catholic institutions of education, particularly Jesuit institutions, have been celebrating Masses of the Holy Spirit since the Middle Ages. In 1548, when families in Messina in southern Italy wanted to start a school for their children, Ignatius Loyola sent ten Jesuit priests to Messina to start what would become the first Jesuit school. At that first school, now the University of Messina, the first Mass of the Holy Spirit was celebrated. By the time Ignatius died in 1556, there were thirty-five Jesuit schools in total, each celebrating a Mass of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of classes.


At the celebration of a Mass of the Holy Spirit, we are asking the Holy Spirit to imbue all of our endeavors in the upcoming year with the fruits and gifts of the Spirit. Father John LaRocca, SJ, a history professor at Xavier University in Cincinnati, explains the Mass of the Holy Spirit as “asking the Holy Spirit to be with all of the university community: all who learn here, all who teach here, all who work here to be able to see the presence of God in the world and within the subject matter we deal with.” We ask the Holy Spirit to be with us, to guide and direct us through our efforts during the year. Everyone in the university community is blessed by the Spirit when we pray and celebrate a Mass of the Holy Spirit.


The gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence, and wonder and awe in God’s presence. These gifts allow believers to be brought into fuller communion with God and see His work in our relationships, our work, and every part of our lives. Father LaRocca says that “the Holy Spirit is… essential in… asking the God of wisdom to help us become wise and to help us understand what it means to be a human being, because that’s what a liberal arts education is about.” The Holy Spirit is a conduit through which we ask for the God of wisdom to make us wise. The entire university community comes together to pray for that wisdom for us and for each other through the intercession of the Spirit.


The Holy Spirit allows us to recognize the value of a Jesuit education and to realize that in the spirit of Jesuit education, we are always working towards something greater than ourselves. When we celebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit, whether outside in the sunshine of O’Neill Plaza or in a slightly chilly Conte Forum, we are celebrating the work we will do in the coming months towards growing wiser, more prayerful, more articulate, and more joyful in the love of our God and the love of our neighbors. We celebrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit that have been celebrated at Jesuit institutions for more than four hundred years, remembering the words of Ignatius to “go forth and set the world aflame” with a Spirit of love.


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