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2583: Opening Mass at the Pavilion, Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania, USA
Pavilion, Villanova University
Mystery Worshipper: Kat.
The church: Opening Mass at the Pavilion, Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania, USA. The mass was held to welcome the freshman class of 2017 and their families to the University and university life.
Denomination: Roman Catholic. The University is administered by the Order of St Augustine, Province of St Thomas of Villanova.
The building: The mass was one of many events comprising a full day of welcome and orientation for students and their parents; thus, it could not be held in the chapel as there were way too many people. And so it was held in the Pavilion, which is where basketball games are usually held. Opened in 1986, the Pavilion is an eye-catching structure with a hyperbolic parabaloid roof. There are a main court and four smaller multipurpose courts; pits for track, pole vault and jumping; batting cages; a press room; and meeting spaces. The main court can easily be converted into a fully operational hall with a stage, curtains, and folding chairs when the need arises, as it did today.
The church: Villanova University was founded in 1842 by the Order of St Augustine and is one of only two Augustinian Catholic institutions of higher education in the country, the other being Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. In the Augustinian tradition, the University sees itself as (quoting from its website) "a community of scholars searching for truth in open discussion." There are five colleges: Liberal Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Business, Nursing, and Law.
The neighborhood: Villanova is a community located in the area west of Philadelphia known as the Main Line: a string of highly affluent towns along what used to be the right-of-way of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The area drips money! Main Line homes are very large and are surrounded by tall, leafy trees and vast swatches of lawn. The University is the principal business of the community.
The cast: I believe that the entire Villanova staff of priests was in attendance. Every last one of them, as well as the student ambassadors who help transition the freshmen into the college community.
The date & time: Thursday, August 22, 2013, 4.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
Opening Mass.

How full was the building?
The building was bursting at the seams. The entire main floor was filled as well as all the side bleachers. According to the Pavilion's web page, concert-style seating can accommodate 5500 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were baskets filled with mass programs but no one was personally handing them out, as the student ambassadors were going to take part in the mass and process in with the clergy. So we were on our own finding bleacher seats.

Was your pew comfortable?
I would say this was OK ... not real comfortable (it was a bleacher seat, after all), but as the mass took less than an hour, it was bearable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was lots of talking pre-mass. A regular din of noise!

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon! My name is Ashley Traysec and I would like to welcome you to our opening ceremony for the class of 2017!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was a small paper booklet that had a mass outline as well as the songs that would be sung during mass.

What musical instruments were played?
I was seated too far back to get a good view of the musicians, but I did see an electric piano and I did hear what sounded like a flute, although I personally could not see a flute.

Did anything distract you?
My thoughts on how crowded the Pavilion was distracted me. Specifically, I worried about how I would escape if, God forbid, a fire broke out. Prudently, I took note of where the exits were.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There was a lot of congregational participation in that lots of people sang the hymns and took part in the prayers. We also were asked to turn to our neighbors and introduce ourselves at the beginning of the mass, so I would call it a happy, friendly kind of mass.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The priest was pretty enthusiastic. His first words were "Arise! Arise! Arise!" I found his sermon rather interesting.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He compared how living in community was like being on a journey. He brought up Pippin, the eldest son of Charlemagne and the subject of countless fictional tales. He said that Pippin searched for and found meaning in his journey through life. He also compared Pippin to St Augustine and the saint's journey toward God. He told the students that they, too, were about to embark on a great journey.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I enjoyed the songs that they choose to sing. They were not standard Catholic hymns, but rather songs that related to the moment. For example, one song was called "Homeward Bound" and was about returning home after a journey – about being free and not chained to a plow or bound to a pasture. Actually, it was a very pretty tune.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
My thoughts on escape routes in case of fire were not so pleasant. And at one point I wondered if the air conditioner was on, as it was quite a humid day.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service, a picnic was to be held. Everyone was in a hurry to get to the food, which was at the back of the Pavilion.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were various sandwiches (turkey, veggie, roast beef, Italian), chips, fruit (plums, apples and bananas) as well as sodas and water to be taken. The lines were long but eventually everyone was served.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – It was a very inspiring and satisfying event, although not your everyday mass, and so there is no possibility of making it my regular.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
This was a happy service and made us all feel very welcome.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I will remember the songs and sitting up high in the bleachers.
 
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