Bishops' Pastoral Plan Calls For Pro-life Petitions at Every Mass

Frank Pavone
Reproduced with Permission

In section IV of the US Bishops' Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, A Campaign in Support of Life (November, 2001) we read, "Parishes should include in the petitions at every Mass a prayer that ours will become a nation that respects and protects all human life, born and unborn, reflecting a true culture of life."

We at Priests for Life have heard, from coast to coast, a constant call from the laity for initiatives such as this. There are many reasons why such a step is not only appropriate, but vital to the success of the pro-life cause and to the integrity of the Church's witness.

1. Faith and worship are not disconnected from life. The first chapter of Isaiah relates the anger of God toward those who come before Him with songs, sacrifices, and incense, but are oblivious to the injustice around them. "What care I for the number of your sacrifices? says the Lord. When you come in to visit me, who asks these things of you? Trample my courts no more! Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; though you pray the more, I will not listen" (Is 1:11- 15). The reason for this anger is then indicated: "Your hands are full of blood! (Is. 1:15). The problem was not that the worshipers themselves were shedding the blood, but that they were doing nothing about the bloodshed around them. The solution, therefore, came in these words: "Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow" (Is.1:16). The God who rescues us expects us to rescue one another. At the Eucharist, we celebrate and touch the Mystery of His rescuing us, sinners who are helpless to save ourselves. It is therefore the appropriate and necessary place to acknowledge, in prayer, our responsibility to intervene for our helpless brothers and sisters.

2. The Eucharist is, by definition, the celebration of Life. "Dying you destroyed our death; Rising you restored our life." The Eucharistic sacrifice is the source of life and salvation, since it is, by definition, one and the same sacrifice that our Lord made on the cross. In the Eucharistic banquet, moreover, we receive the Bread of Life, the pledge that our call and destiny are to be with Christ in the heights of heaven. Those who profess such a faith and cherish such a hope are necessarily responsive to attacks on human life. Such attacks, from whatever source they come, give a counter-witness to the Eucharist. The Eucharist raises our humanity on high; attacks on human life cast our humanity down. The Eucharist gives witness that we have a place on God's throne; attacks on human life give witness that we are disposable. It is not, then, an "intrusion" into the liturgy to express our concern for the attacks on human life that occur in our world. It is, rather, a natural corollary of the very meaning of the Eucharist.

3. We remember what we repeat. The call for respect-life petitions "at every Mass" is appropriate because the repetition of a theme raises its importance in our minds and hearts. Moreover, the repetition of a theme amidst the most sacred action of our religion indicates its central importance to our life of faith. This makes all the more sense when we reflect on how the victims of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia are at greatest risk of being forgotten. Many of them are unseen, unnamed, and unknown. Discussion of these topics is often taboo in media or educational circles, or, when it is mentioned, the humanity of the victims is overlooked or directly denied. The community of faith, united in love of the Creator and His creatures, counteracts this inhuman dynamic by remembering, in prayer, the most forgotten members of that community.

4. The Eucharist sends us forth to renew the earth. "The Mass is ended; go in peace." When we dismiss the congregation, we are not simply asking them to exit the Church. Rather, we are reminding them of the commission they have been given by the Lord in baptism and confirmation to bring the truth and grace they have received, in Word and Sacrament, to the rest of the world. The Eucharist, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, is the "source and summit" of all the life and activity of the Church. In an age which sees an unprecedented attack on innocent human beings at the beginning and end of life, it is most appropriate that the prayers of the faithful gathered for Mass make explicit the need to respond to that problem.

We at Priests for Life are committed to assisting our brother priests to carry out the bishops' call for a prayer at every Mass for the sanctity of life. On our website, priests will find a suggested petition for every Sunday and Feast Day of the year. Such petitions will be added regularly on the page Please spread the word!