The Masses at the Masses

Two masses in Washington, DC this past week gathered many to pray for peace, justice, and the dignity of human life.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and leader of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, celebrated mass on Thursday night, prior to the next day’s annual March for Life that calls for an end to legalized abortion. This prayer occurred in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest church on the continent.

Sunday saw more than 550 worshippers celebrate an outdoor mass across the street from the White House, certainly one of the most powerful offices in the world. They gathered to pray for refugees and immigrants impacted by President Trump’s executive orders banning their entry to the United States from seven largely Muslim countries. They also prayed for wisdom for President Trump.

The wave of grace defending the dignity of human life in these two masses affirms the consistency of Catholic social teaching, the church’s articulation of the Gospel in action. Additionally, praying in such politically charged contexts illustrates the power of Catholic voices speaking for the voiceless, standing in solidarity with those who are most vulnerable among us: Human beings denied the most basic rights.

Fifty years ago, Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote these words:

The development of peoples has the church’s close attention, particularly the development of those peoples who are striving to escape from hunger, misery, endemic diseases and ignorance; of those striving for a wider share in the benefits of civilization and a more active improvement of their human qualities; of those who are aiming purposefully at their more active improvement (On the Progress of Peoples, 1967).

The ethos of this exhortation sounded at the two DC masses that challenged the immorality of two current national issues: abortion and the mistreatment of immigrants and refugees.

Cardinal Dolan, in his Thursday night homily, discussed the sacredness of sanctuary, whether a mother’s womb for a child, a safe nation for a refugee, or the environment protected from pollution and the effects of climate change. The worshippers at the White House sang popular songs that took on richer meaning as they prayed for our neighbors seeking sanctuary from potentially dangerous lands. “You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst.” Words that are lulled on Sunday mornings in the song Be Not Afraid sounded more like an anthem of solidarity across the street from the new president’s new home. The mass ended with Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.

We need more channels of peace today. For those who are unborn, refugees, immigrants, addicted, homeless, and sick. And for those who are strong and healthy, well-fed and housed, educated and employed, elected and leading. We are all called to be channels of peace.

Perhaps the first step is prayer: Let us never stop praying for peace, justice, and the dignity of all human life, which advances the progress of all peoples!

Father, you have given all peoples one common origin,
and your will is to gather us as one family in yourself.
Fill the hearts of all with the fire of your love and the desire to ensure justice
for our brothers and sisters.
By sharing the good things you give us, may we secure justice and equality
for every human being, an end to all division,
and a human society built on love and peace.

(From the Sacramentary, Mass for the Progress of Peoples)

Artwork by Bro. Mickey O’Neill McGrath, OSFS. Visit