|Download Paper as PDF|
|Breaking Open the Word|
|Saint of the Week|
|World & Nation|
|Paper Delivery: Questions|
Boulder’s candlelight Mass ‘evangelizes, converts hearts’
By Anna Maria Basquez
Regis University senior Mark Westhoff had a common college experience when he started into his first two years of studies, first at St. Bonaventure University in New York and later at University of Colorado in Boulder: He had fallen away from his faith.
“My freshman year of college, I got caught up in everything,” said Westhoff, 22, a religious studies major. “I got into the party scene. I didn’t find satisfaction in that, because it’s empty. It’s an empty life. So I pulled away from everything—from friends I had made, from the parties. I pulled away from God. I sat in my room and didn’t do much. I felt really alone.”
He thought his problem was that he didn’t like the school. However, upon moving back to Colorado to attend CU, the same pattern played out, he said. He then made a resolution the spring of 2009 to change his life. From attending Mass one Sunday, he found out from a bulletin about the Tuesday candlelight Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish. One evening, he wandered in.
“It was quiet. It was dark. I had time to think and pray on my own,” said Westhoff who pointed on a recent Tuesday from behind the altar toward the seats closest to the glass doors in front of the church at 898 14th St.
“It all started right around the corner,” he said. “This Mass has been a big part of my reconversion.
“The main feeling I had … was of being alone,” he said. “Even when I was with people. But it was because I had isolated myself from God really.”
Westhoff on Feb. 22 donned a suit jacket, took up his Latin music booklet and joined at least a dozen of his fellow members of the Schola Cantorum, the choir that leads Latin music, chant, renaissance and classical choral music.
“The schola was what kept me coming back,” he said.
At least 100 candles were lit as the traditional lights moved from dim to darkened for the twice-weekly occasion. The scent of Laudate incense, a spicy citrus blend made by Monks of the Holy Rood Guild, perfumed the air.
People were going to confession and adoration during the hour before Mass time.
“Sacred music evangelizes and converts hearts and helps us to worship,” said Father Kevin Augustyn, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote his master’s thesis on sacred music.
The Tuesday night candlelight Mass has endured for 30 years. A second one was added to Sundays in recent years because of the overcrowding of the late afternoon Sunday Mass that started happening.
There are now some 700 registered Catholic students at St. Thomas Aquinas, compared with 500 registered last year. Now, the parish is trying to build a program of sacred music steadily after it added music director Mark Thomas, who has more than 20 years experience as a music director in four states, a year and a half ago.
“There’s a hunger for a sort of connectedness with the lineage of the Church, which would include the treasury of the art and music,” Thomas said. “It’s been neglected a little bit. The younger people, in general, are pretty drawn to it. These are people I think that are drawn to the mystical side of the Catholic Church in particular.”
Most in attendance at the Tuesday candlelight Masses are CU students. There are some post-graduates, high school students and people in their 50s. They usually number between 60 and 100.
Thomas said of the type of music heard at the Mass is a kind attendees “probably haven’t had a tremendous amount of throughout their life.”
The university parish in the past hasn’t had a mix of music, Thomas said. Today, it hosts a praise and worship that draws liturgical music based on pop styles. The other Masses have a mixture of styles.
“One of the things Father Kevin is interested in doing is building up a really significant music program, which takes a long time,” Thomas said. “His goal, and really a goal of all churches should be to re-establish the treasury of music throughout the history of the Catholic Church, and also to incorporate the new stuff, the absolute best of that music.”
In Matthew’s Gospel for the Chair of St. Peter feast, Father Augustyn referred to Christ’s question, “Who do you say that I am?”
“It should echo in our minds,” Father Augustyn said. “’Who do you say that I am?’... in the books that you read, in the movies that you watch ... in the classes you take, in the guys you date ... in your life, in your choices. Do you speak boldly? Do you live boldly, like Peter?”
CU freshman Summer Swisher, 18, said she enjoys the beauty of how the history of the Church plays out at the candlelight Mass.
“I love how you can quiet your mind, quiet your heart, and how much you can focus on the Eucharist,” said Swisher.
“The Latin music gives the Mass a different perspective,” said Neil Roberts, 20, a CU astronomy major. “It’s interesting to see how part of it was done back then.”
The ambiance and music, CU ecology major Andi Schweers, 18, said “add to the whole solemnity and holiness” and inspires reflection.
Matt Blubaugh, 19, CU architectural engineering major, said, “It’s the traditional study and putting myself back into the tradition of 2,000 years of the Church that keeps me coming back. The candles and incense help bring about love for the Church and the Mass.”
“The darkness allows you to enter into the Mass,” said Beau Wagner, 20, environmental engineering major at CU.
“Anyone with any kind of spiritual background will enjoy the tranquility of it,” asserted Ace Vergne, of Boulder, who said she is not affiliated with a church but grew up Catholic. “I absolutely love it because the singers are incredible. There’s a sense of complete calm when you walk in.”
For Westhoff, the Mass helped lead him to a place where the loneliness has ceased.
“It was when I finally got involved in St. Thomas (Aquinas Center) I started to feel God’s presence,” he said. “I felt satisfied. I felt whole. There’ve been good times and bad times, but I’ve learned through people that faith isn’t a feeling. It’s a commitment. Even in the rough times, you can find strength in it.”