ATLANTA—Public safety officials, first responders and Catholics gathered to celebrate the fifth annual Blue Mass Sept. 11 at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta.
Bagpipe notes from “Amazing Grace” accompanied people as they entered the cathedral. Soloist Louis Bell sang the national anthem with the presentation of colors by the City of Atlanta Police Honor Guard before the opening procession.
“We come together on this day enshrined in our nation’s memory to pay respect to the fallen, to show our gratitude to those who endure danger for the sake of general wellness, and to pray that we are united in a fight to promote and preserve the common good,” said Bishop Joel M. Konzen, celebrant of this year’s Blue Mass.
In the United States, the Blue Mass tradition began in September 1934, when Father Thomas Dade of the Archdiocese of Baltimore formed the Catholic Police and Fireman’s Society. That year, the first Blue Mass was celebrated for police officers and firefighters. The name comes from the traditional uniform color associated with law enforcement.
Since then, the Blue Mass has been celebrated in many dioceses across the country and is often tied to the anniversary of 9/11 to honor first responders who risked their lives and died in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
During his homily, Bishop Konzen, an Atlanta auxiliary and currently administrator of the archdiocese, talked about the common ground between first responders and men and women religious.
“You in the response professions and we in the faith professions have something in common. We are championing a life for the general public that is rooted in mutual respect, regard for life,” he said.
“Our hope comes from the constancy that propels us, the reality that we will not be defeated by the sins that threaten life, and the prospect of goodness and well-being,” said Bishop Konzen.
Memorial wreaths for Atlanta firefighters and police officers were on display near the altar of the cathedral. Bishop Konzen blessed the badges of first responders attending.
“We pray at this Blue Mass for all professionals dedicated to law and order and to rescue, including those present here and your compatriots elsewhere, that God might preserve them in safety, in steadfastness and in their ability to judge in the quickness of the moment, the right thing to do,” he said.
On the eve of 9/11, many firefighters, police officers, first responders and families prepared for the next day not knowing what was to come, said Maj. Ricardo Vazquez, Zone 6 Commander for the Atlanta Police Department.
For those still healing from the aftermath of the attacks, Major Vazquez encouraged them to “live and enjoy the breaths you take today. And tonight, before you go to sleep in preparation for life tomorrow, kiss the ones you love, snuggle them a little bit tighter, and tell them you love them and never take one second of your life for granted.”
“September 11 is a day that we will never forget,” said Deputy Chief Antonio Webb from the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department. He said department members take the things that were learned that day “and embrace our role in society.”
In the Diocese of Rochester, New York, Bishop Salvatore R. Matano celebrated that diocese’s annual Blue Mass Sept. 8 at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. As in Atlanta, several local law enforcement agencies were in attendance for the liturgy, during which prayers were offered for those serving throughout the community.
Ahead of the Mass in an invitation to Catholics of the diocese to attend, Bishop Matano said that besides praying for those in law enforcement and in the military, it also would be an opportunity “to beg the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, to bestow peace upon our communities, nation and world as we stand in the shadow of the most recent tragedies,” including the mass shootings in August in Texas and Ohio.
“Eighteen years later after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, violent attacks continue and have become more numerous,” he said. “Who can question the need to pray more earnestly for peace and to work for peace? … As a community of faith, it is necessary to cultivate peace and charity in our homes and then to reach out to our parishes and the local communities.”
At the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, Maine, the Blue Mass Sept. 15 began with the sound of marching heels walking down the main aisle.
Moments later, Christopher Pelonzi, director of music for the cathedral, and the cathedral’s liturgical choir began a stirring version of “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones” as Bishop Robert P. Deeley, priests and deacons processed in. Every pew was full of either first responders or those wishing to thank them.
During his homily, Portland’s bishop told the assembly that the events of 9/11 were the impetus for creating the Blue Mass in Maine. The tradition was inspired not by the hopelessness of that day, but by the hope first responders offered our nation by answering horror with heroism, he said.
“We began to see that there was something good in the midst of all that loss and tragedy. That was the way in which the first responders acted. They were the ones heading into falling buildings to save people even as those in the buildings were trying to escape,” said Bishop Deeley. “As tragic as Sept. 11 was, as destructive as it was, it was also a moment of hope, it was a moment in which we saw much good amidst the evil. That was evident in the first responders.”
The selfless and benevolent actions of first responders should be held as examples of how to live and answer God’s call, added the bishop.
“Nurture hope, seek to do the merciful act, try to appreciate the gift the other person is to you, focus not on the negative, but on the human dignity of each person,” he said. “We must work to seek a dialogue which cultivates a true respect for every human being. We need to seek ways large and small to be a sign of hope in the everyday routine of life.”
By Samantha Smith