The Catholic University of America

Jan. 27, 2012

At St. Thomas Aquinas Mass, Students Urged to Focus on God 

  St. Thomas Aquinas Mass photo 1

Rev. Brian Shanley, O.P., president of Providence College delivers the homily at CUA's annual Mass honoring St. Thomas Aquinas.

Amid ethereal wafts of incense and Gregorian chant, Catholic University ushered in its 125th year and a new semester at a special solemn Mass on Jan. 26 honoring its ancient patron St. Thomas Aquinas and encouraging students to keep God at the center of their lives.

“St. Thomas teaches us through everything he said and did that this life needs to be focused on Christ,” said homilist Rev. Brian Shanley, O.P., president of Providence College. Father Shanley is a CUA alumnus who also taught for a number of years as a faculty member in School of Philosophy.

The annual Mass takes place on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century Italian Catholic priest of the religious Order of Preachers, better known as the Dominicans. St. Thomas Aquinas is considered the greatest philosopher and theologian of all time. His best-known work is the “Summa Theologica,” a 3,000-page-plus summary of all that’s known about God and humanity’s interaction with him.

St. Thomas Aquinas’ intellectual work and life reflect a deep devotion to Jesus Christ, Father Shanley explained.

“Aquinas spent his entire life and all those Scripture commentaries and all of his theological works contemplating, probing, praying, and embodying in his own life, the example of Christ.”

Father Shanley challenged his listeners: “How many of us really truly deeply ponder the life of Christ in a way as if, as St. Thomas did, our lives depended upon it? How often do we take for granted the tremendous gift that is the life, the deeds, and the words of Christ?”

He said the “best way” to honor St. Thomas Aquinas is “to have a deeper devotion to Christ in our own lives — his words, his deeds, his presence in this Eucharist.”

The Mass took place in the medieval-styled Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception adjacent to CUA’s campus. The church was filled to standing-room only; about 800 attended — mostly faculty, staff, and students, with a preponderance of students.

The liturgy began with a formal procession of dozens of Catholic University deans and professors in academic robes and caps, including President John Garvey. They were followed by more than 50 priests and candle- and incense-bearing altar servers all dressed in white vestments — the liturgical color marking special Church celebrations, including feast days of non-martyr saints.

St. Thomas Aquinas Mass photo 2  

Catholic University's faculty, staff, and students at the annual Mass on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of the University.

The principal celebrant was Very Rev. Kenneth R. Letoile, O.P., prior of the Priory of the Immaculate Conception, more commonly known as the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. The concelebrating clerics and attendants came from Catholic University and the nearby Dominican House of Studies. A schola or choir of Dominicans, dressed in their characteristic white friar robes and long black capes, sang Gregorian chant.

At the end of Mass, Garvey addressed the assembly, saying that the sainted Dominican academic is a “great moral teacher” by having lived a virtuous life.

“Aquinas understood that how we think and how we live are connected. He understood that practicing humility was more important than being able to define it.”

Garvey encouraged students seeking academic goals like good grades in the coming semester to “always” keep God at the center of life, as St. Thomas Aquinas did. “This is maybe the most important lesson that Aquinas teaches, and it’s the one that all saints teach,” he said.


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