Being Mercy: Sweet Comforts

Author: Father Joseph V. Corpora, CSC, ’76, ’83M.Div.

From the beginning, this was a year of displacement for the men of Dillon Hall. During the dorm’s renovations, residents had to move to the newly built Baumer Hall nearby. If only temporarily, Dillon residents lost a connection to the place that has been their home at Notre Dame. We called ourselves “the Dillon community in Baumer.”

We kept up traditions like the 10 p.m. Thursday Milkshake Mass, now in its 23rd year, that Father Paul Doyle, CSC, ’65, ’75M.Div. began when he became Dillon’s rector. When I celebrated the Milkshake Mass on March 5 with 200 students, there already were indications that coronavirus would have at least some impact. We knew that, after spring break, we would not be able to offer each other the sign of peace or to receive the precious blood. But no one could have imagined that we would not have another Milkshake Mass together this semester.

When some 60 students took part in the post-Mass Zumba — a new tradition this year — no one could have imagined it would be the last time we would be doing Zumba (Zumba-ing?) together.

And while the students enjoyed their delicious milkshakes after Mass, we had no idea we would not share them again on March 19. Only those who gave them up for Lent, we assumed, would not have them that night. And we believed that everyone would have milkshakes again after the Mass on Easter Thursday, April 16.

It’s still difficult to comprehend that all these things won’t happen.

Once students and staff and faculty got over the shock and started working through the grief of letting go of our life at Notre Dame, creativity began to grow. The Alumni Association and Campus Ministry asked if I would be willing to celebrate a virtual Milkshake Mass on March 26. Yes, of course.

“Let us offer each other an elbow bump of God’s peace.”

Two weeks before spring break, we had begun to collect names and email addresses of students who go to the Milkshake Mass to compile a list for next fall’s Milkshake Mass Retreat and the Milkshake Mass Day of Service next spring. Never did we think that we would be contacting them about a livestreamed Milkshake Mass. The Alumni Association promoted the Mass on its website and set up the livestream.

Joe Drey and Chris Lembo, two Dillon resident assistants, created the new after-Mass Zumba. Once they heard about the streaming Milkshake Mass, they set up Zumba via a Zoom link. They called it Zoomba. Our students are so creative!

Noah Bongiovanni, another Dillon resident and co-director of the Milkshake Mass choir, invited students to pray the rosary together on Zoom that night as well. Mass at 7 p.m., Zoomba at 8 p.m. and the rosary at 10 p.m.

I was hoping for 200 views of the Milkshake Mass, about the usual number of people who attend on campus. On that Thursday evening, I received many emails and text messages from current and former students saying that they had watched the Mass and how grateful they were for this. Many sent pictures of milkshakes that they drank afterward with their families. Student body president Elizabeth Boyle told me that she and her brother Jack, a Dillon resident, had ordered blizzards at Dairy Queen. Later that night Father Doyle, the Dillon rector, stopped by my room with a milkshake. Luckily, I was wise enough to not give them up for Lent! It was the best ever!

A few days after the Mass, the Alumni Association told me that they were closing in on 7,000 views and that the Milkshake Mass had been shared on Facebook 70 times. In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined so many people participating and sharing the experience.

Why 7,000 views? Because Notre Dame students and alumni are so loyal to Our Lady’s University. But there is more to it, I think.

The coronavirus has impacted the lives of everyone we know. No one has escaped its reach. It has produced so much fear and uncertainty. In times of fear and of uncertainty, we yearn for things that are comforting and familiar. For so many people that is the Milkshake Mass. And like all Masses, it is the highest form of liturgy and prayer.

When we do not know what to say, the Church puts words in our mouths. When we are completely incapable of thinking, the liturgy of the Church gives us words and gestures and movements. When the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” we know what to say. When the priest prays, “Lord, have mercy,” we know to respond, “Lord, have mercy.” And so on.

Good liturgy can give us hope in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties. The Milkshake Mass provided an opportunity to celebrate something familiar, even if from a TV or computer screen.

We will all have to find events and people that can help us during this time of coronavirus. While there is so much suffering and fear all over the planet, I have seen and heard examples of great courage and sacrifice. They remind me that the victory is already won in Christ, a victory which we celebrate in a very profound way this Holy Week and Easter.

Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Father Joe Corpora works in the Alliance for Catholic Education and Campus Ministry, and is one of 700 priests whom Pope Francis appointed in 2016 to serve as Missionaries of Mercy. He has written two books of reflections on this experience, The Relentless Mercy of God and Being Mercy: The Path to Being Fully Aliveboth published by Corby Books.