By Fr. Brogan Ryan, C.S.C.
Catholics love ritual! There is something comforting and predictable about it; ritual shapes our lives and helps give shape to our community. Mass and the liturgical calendar are the obvious rituals of the Catholic community, but one of the wonderful things about being a campus minister is that I get different opportunities to be part of or create ritual. The prayer service or ceremony are not often named as ritual, but they are just that – an opportunity to ritualize a moment, to allow a gathering to give shape to a community and deeper meaning for a particular moment. I’ll highlight two that took place right at the beginning of this year: the Cadaver Lab Blessing and the Football Medal Ceremony.
On the first day of Anatomy Lab, the Pre-Physician Assistant Program at King’s invited me to come and pray with them as they started in the Cadaver Lab. The students will be learning about physical anatomy through people who have donated their bodies to science, and the program has a tradition of holding a prayer service at the beginning to honor the lives of those who have donated their bodies and to give thanks for the opportunity to learn from them. A student read a reading from scripture, and people offered prayers of intercession before I gave a blessing over the whole anatomy lab.
This was my first time doing this prayer service with the PA Program, but it is something that they have done in the past. Many of the students and faculty who were present shared that it helped them approach their physical anatomy study in a different way and helped them think about how they could reverence the gift of life differently as students and future health care providers. I hope that this ritual helped the students discover deeper meaning and even God’s presence in our cadaver lab.
In a similar yet also very different way, I received an invitation from our football team. At the beginning of each season, they gather in our College Chapel for an opening of the season prayer service. They call this “The Medal Ceremony” because we bless and distribute Miraculous Medals at the end of the service. One of the team members reads a passage from scripture and then gives a reflection on the meaning of sacrifice and commitment as a member of the team. We pray intercessions asking for virtue throughout the year and then at the end distribute the medals. While the whole service has deep meaning, the blessing and distribution of the medals hits hardest for the team.
The head football coach received a medal in his first year as an assistant coach at King’s and has made sure it is a tradition that continues. He still wears the medal he received, and right before distributing the medals to the team, he shares what it has meant to him over the years to celebrate his connection with the efforts, commitment, and sacrifice of so many on the King’s football team, who have also received a medal. I bless the medals and give them to the coaches, and then the coaches distribute them to all of our players. At the very end, the captains on the team are invited forward to give the coaches a medal. It is a really powerful moment.
It’s my hope that both of these rituals and others like them help to bring our students to a deeper sense of meaning and God’s presence in these aspects of their education at King’s College.
Thank you, Lord, for the eyes of faith to see where you are here with us!