By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published September 21, 2017 | En Español
ATLANTA—As Georgians prepared for the arrival of Tropical Storm Irma, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the annual Blue Mass Sept. 8 at the Cathedral of Christ the King to pray for those who help others in emergencies.
Before the Mass began at the Peachtree Road cathedral, the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department raised an American flag between the raised ladders of two fire trucks.
Students from Christ the King School and parishioners joined first responders for Mass, including representatives of Atlanta fire and rescue, the Atlanta Police Department and the City of Atlanta Department of Corrections.
“All things work for good for those who love God,” said Archbishop Gregory in the opening of his homily.
He acknowledged that the Scripture from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a challenging word for those who have just faced Hurricane Harvey and those about to deal with Irma in the coming days.
“It is difficult for anyone to face any tragedy and to continue to believe that God is still in control,” said the archbishop.
It is in times of disaster, he noted, that society depends upon the generosity and bravery of first responders.
“We believe that God continues to work for the good of those of us who do believe, and he often does so through your work and dedication,” Archbishop Gregory told first responders.
In the United States, the Blue Mass tradition began in 1934, when Father Thomas Dade of the Archdiocese of Baltimore formed the Catholic Police and Firemen’s Society. Father Dade celebrated the first Blue Mass for police and firefighters.
The name of the Mass alludes to the uniform color that many first responders wear, noted Archbishop Gregory. It had an additional significance on Sept. 8, a Marian feast day.
“Today, it also happens to reference a Catholic spiritual belief that associates the color blue with the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose feast we observe,” said the archbishop. “Whether blue was, in fact, her favorite color, or the usual hue of her attire, that color fills the pews of this cathedral church and reminds us all of the bravery of those who wear it.”
The worship is an opportunity to pray for the safety and security of all first responders, no matter what the color of their uniform, said Archbishop Gregory.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to be a first responder because of the polarized state of the nation, where public displays of violence have pitted members of the community against each other, said the archbishop.
“Today, we honor all of you for your dedication, even as we remind you of the human dignity of each citizen—even those who may be guilty of a hideous crime or violation of the laws of our nation,” he said. “Your dignity as a human being and their dignity must be the foundation of a civil society and never compromised or denied.”
The Mass included a blessing of badges and a saluting of memorial wreaths by the honor guards of the Atlanta Police and Atlanta Fire Rescue Departments. The wreaths honored those who lost their lives in the line of duty on Sept. 11, 2001 following terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and on flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania. Among the 2,977 victims, 343 were New York City firefighters and 60 were New York City or Port Authority police officers.
The congregation also prayed together the Prayer for Peace in Our Communities.
The U.S. Catholic bishops called upon Catholics and all people of faith to observe a day of prayer for peace on Sept. 9, the feast of St. Peter Claver. In the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Catholic schools joined in saying the prayer at the time of the Blue Mass.
Mary Grace Deus, 12, is a sixth-grade student at Christ the King School. She joined classmates and Msgr. Frank McNamee, cathedral rector, to watch the raising of the American flag from the cathedral steps.
“I love it; it is so uplifting,” said Mary Grace.
She and classmates, all born after Sept. 11, 2001, learned about the events of that day and the actions of first responders during history class. Mary Grace said the Blue Mass seemed a perfect way to honor public safety officials.
“I love how everyone is so respectful to the first responders and celebrates their work. I think their work is very hard,” said Mary Grace.
Cathedral parishioner Jamie Graebner attended the Blue Mass with her husband and five children.
“I think we’re going to start coming every year,” said Graebner.
Soloist Natalye Howard of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department sang the national anthem. Bagpiper Tommy Burns of the Cobb County Police Department played “Amazing Grace.”
More than 160 first responders were treated to a buffet luncheon after Mass. They read handmade cards crafted by Christ the King elementary students. The officers and firefighters took the cards back to their departments for others to enjoy.
Chief Joel G. Baker of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department spoke before the recessional hymn.
Baker told the men and women gathered as first responders that they are like beacons of light.
“What you do matters. What you do endures,” said the chief. “You do the heavy lifting without complaints.”
Baker encouraged first responders to hold fast to principles of integrity.
“They are the bedrock of public trust,” he said.
Assistant Chief Diane Jones of the Atlanta Department of Corrections spoke on behalf of the department’s leader, Chief Patrick Labat.
She asked those attending to pray for their fellow first responders who would be assisting storm victims in the coming days.
“Always remember that the job you do is very important,” said Jones. “You’re doing the work of God. It is a monumental task to ask anyone to put their lives on the line.”