Photograph of Assisi Heights chapel

Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel

At 11 a.m. on Sundays through Thursdays, the sisters make their way over to the chapel for morning mass. The elderly Sisters fill up the comfortable seats towards the front of the chapel, while the townspeople enter into the hardwood and less comfortable pews in the middle.

Mass is open to the public every Sunday through Thursday in Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel; however, townspeople tend to only attend Sunday mass. The townspeople come in various groups: alone, with their spouses, or with the entire family – little children included. Their attires vary from casual jeans to nice dresses for women or dress pants for men. The Sisters similarly do not show much uniformity. A few are in habit; some only wear their black veils; most come in secular clothing.

On the particular Sunday mass that I visited, cojourners and Sisters stood at the entrance of the chapel, greeting worshippers with hymn books, program papers, and small bells that one could ring during worship time. A couple minutes before 11 a.m., worshippers were encouraged to settle down and find seats by the playing of a popular hymn on a trumpet, indicating the start of the service.

The service that followed was similar to traditional Roman Catholic masses. Worshippers were asked to join in the singing of hymns. Following this were a series of calls and responses, of which all attendees were familiar. All recited the phrases in unison without any explanation, guidance, or script. Similarly, they stood and sat simultaneously, without any direction from the priest.

After some scripture readings, the priest – one of the Mayo Clinic’s chaplains – approached the center of the stage to give the day’s homily. The Bible verse around which this particular day’s sermon was centered was John 14:6, where Jesus proclaims, “I am the way…” The priest spoke of how people can walk the way of Jesus through embodied practices, such as service work. He reminded worshippers that service is not only a matter of doing; it’s a matter of being able to give oneself.

In many ways, the priest presented himself and the message in a very approachable way. He spoke in a casual and friendly tone, evoking laughter several times. He offered biblical stories of Jesus and the disciples, as well as of familiar Sisters in the community as model examples of service work. Furthermore, he did not stand behind an altar or rise up to stand at a higher level. Instead, he stood near the front and in the middle of the stage, closer to and easily seen by the worshippers.

Following the homily was preparation for Communion. Again, worshippers knew what to do and how to act without any explanation. They rose for the Prayer over the Offerings and the Lord’s Prayer, and knelt for the Eucharistic Prayer. They then entered the Rite of Peace, where worshippers shook hands and offered each other peace.

The Communion that followed afterwards and the many calls and responses throughout the service felt traditional due to the formal language that was used by the priest and the worshippers. However, once the service had ended, worshippers rose and began to chat lively among one another. Sisters and townspeople greeted each other in a familiar way, and the formalities and traditional feel that had existed just a while ago disappeared. It seems that there naturally exists a level of formality due to the Roman Catholic tradition, but from the tone of the homily and the mood of the worshippers, there is an attempt to achieve a balance between the traditional and the modern.

There are also a few hidden technological presences in the service. There is an electric organ that replaced a traditional one a few years ago. Furthermore, every mass is streamed and can be watched live by Sisters who are unable to make their way to the chapel. Therefore, they can watch and partake in mass without having to leave their rooms.