Adjustment at the academic ceremonies: the prayer will be announced differently from now on

20 Jan 2023

The Latin prayer spoken at the beginning of PhD defences, inaugural lectures and the Dies Natalis ceremony will henceforth be announced in a different way. There is no question of abolishing the prayer, says Rector Han van Krieken: 'We want to retain this tradition at Radboud University.'

Since 1 January, the formalities surrounding academic ceremonies in Nijmegen have a slightly different form. Henceforth, at the start of a PhD defence, inaugural lecture, or Dies Natalis ceremony, the Rector Magnificus will no longer open the ceremony ‘with a prayer’. Instead, he will say: ‘with the words’. What follows is the same Latin prayer ‘Spiritus Sancti gratia illuminet sensus et corda nostra’, meaning ‘May the grace of the Holy Spirit illuminate our senses and our hearts.’

This subtle change was originally intended to be implemented only after completion of the University’s ongoing identity process. Due to a misunderstanding, the new rule, which has not yet been updated in the Doctorate Regulations, has come into force earlier than planned.

‘This subtle adjustment,’ says Rector Han van Krieken, ‘means that we no longer speak the words, which have been spoken for so long by Rectors of our University, as a common prayer. This doesn’t take away the fact that people who, based on their religious or other beliefs, experience the words as a prayer can still say ‘Amen’ afterwards.’

‘Maintaining a tradition’

The reason for the change, says Van Krieken, is that some PhD candidates have indicated that they prefer not to have a prayer at academic ceremonies. So why not allow PhD candidates and professors to choose whether or not to open their academic ceremony with a prayer? This option, the Rector says, was discussed in the Council of Deans, which is responsible for these kinds of changes. ‘As was the option of taking the prayer out altogether. But we fairly quickly came to the conclusion that we want to maintain this tradition at Radboud University.’

Modifying the prayer text, as happened recently at VU Amsterdam, was not included among the options, however. ‘You can argue for a long time about whether this is really the best text,’ says Van Krieken. ‘But we would like to preserve this tradition and ritual.’

But isn’t the change so small that many people will wonder whether anything has actually changed? ‘For us, it’s more of a clarification than a fundamental change,’ says the Rector.

In the name of the Lord

Incidentally, the Doctorate Regulations were also amended on another point. Until recently, when PhD supervisors handed out a PhD diploma, they spoke the following words: ‘In the name of the Lord, and by the power entrusted by law to the Doctorate Board, I hereby confer upon you […] the title of Doctor at Radboud University.’ Since the start of this year, the words ‘In the name of the Lord’ have been removed.

‘The Council of Deans did not find it appropriate to mix faith and law in this way’

‘I personally consider this to be a greater change,’ says Van Krieken. ‘I’ve always found it strange that a legal degree, one that is based on science, should be awarded in the name of the Lord. The Council of Deans did not find it appropriate to mix faith and law in this way.’

The Latin words spoken at the conclusion of ceremonies (‘Gratias tibi agimus, omnipotens Deus, pro omnibus beneficiis tuis. Qui vivis et regnas per omnia saecula Saeculorum,’ which translates as ‘Almighty God, who lives and reigns throughout all ages, we thank you for all your benefactions’) will remain as they are, once again with the adjusted announcement.

Catholic or not?

Van Krieken does not wish to go on record saying that these adjustments mean that Radboud University is taking another step away from the Catholic Church. ‘I see it more as a clarification than a change in the ritual.’

‘We no longer have a legal link with the Roman Catholic Church, but we remain connected to the tradition’

In November, the Vatican announced that it continues to see Radboud University as a Catholic institution. At the time, the university spokesperson we spoke to did not wish to give a direct answer to the question of whether this meant Radboud University also considered itself Catholic again. The reason for this, says Van Krieken, is that the answer to that question is not straightforward. ‘That is also part of the dialogue. Most people connect being Catholic with the Roman Catholic Church. It is clear that we no longer have a legal link with the Roman Catholic Church,’ he says. ‘But we do remain connected to the tradition.’

The Rector cites a text by Flemish theologian Edward Schillebeeckx (1914-2009) about the word ‘Catholic’, and how this word means different things to different people. ‘For Radboud University, this means making Catholic values such as stewardship, subsidiarity, and social thinking part of our identity, even if we are no longer linked to the Church through our statutes.’

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