In Your Midst
Bringing Calm out of Crises:
The Liturgical Response to Current Events
Summer 99

Students Praying At Mass
St. James has often aknowledged world or local crises by designating a special place of prayer in the Cathedral. Recent examples are the Gulf War, Kosovo, Hurricane Mitch and (shown above) the Columbine High School tragedy.
Bruce H. Savadow
The illustration on the cover of Thomas Hobbes' masterpiece book, Leviathan, is of a king wearing an armored suit with his arms stretched out over a vast countryside. A closer look at the details of the picture as well as a broad look reveals the true nature of the book and the philosophy contained in it. The suit of armor is made up of of people. Individuals come together in an orderly fashion to shape the body of the king. Without the community, the king would not exist. St. Paul told us the very same thing when he examined the Body of Christ and the body of the Church at length. We come together at Mass not as an atomized set of individuals but as a community forming one body.

All this takes on special importance when a great crisis occurs, stopping the country or the world in its tracks. As individuals we may feel isolated or alienated at such times so we need to gather as community. St. James offers opportunities to do just that and not only for parishioners, but for residents of the city and region as well. The Cathedral has become well known for its beautiful liturgical services in response to tragedies and world crises.

How do these special services come about? Similar to all planned services there needs to be a spark, that is, someone who recognizes the need and transforms that need into action. The one responsible for initiating such a response at St. James Cathedral is Father Michael G. Ryan.

While Father Ryan is the catalyst, it is the staff of the Cathedral's Liturgy and Music Department who put these events together. This involves the music and choral arrangements, assigning readers, defining the processions and environment. Dr. James Savage leads this effort. The Cathedral utilizes several different models of prayerful response: a Mass, an ecumenical service or an inter-religious service.

Scheduling is often a critical factor that determines how quickly a response can be formulated. For example, the Cathedral observed the death of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin at the 5:30 p.m. Mass on the same day as the news was announced. The death of Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy came in much the same way but required additional time for his fellow bishops and family to travel to Seattle for the requiem Mass.

The scheduling of the Mass following the Littleton tragedy also required more time. It was important to gather our own Seattle-area high school students, not just to attend, but to participate in the procession, as readers and as cantors. Coordinating details with Arch-bishop Alexander J. Brunett, his staff, and the area high-school staffs called for many phone calls. The result was a thoughtful, directed, articulated series of services that allowed for mourning the innocents and honoring the families and friends of the victims.

Dr. Savage described a service that involved sailors who happened to all be in Seattle one weekend. Marine chaplains from many Christian faiths came with containers of water from their home ports. The waters were all poured together in the St. James baptismal font creating a memorable symbol of unity.

Sometimes there is a need to respond to a world event with an inter- religious service. Two events that come to mind are the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 and the death of Mother Teresa in September 1996. The liturgical service for Rabin was commendable for its character. Father Ryan, a rabbi, Protestant ministers and a member from Seattle's Idris mosque presented prayers of peace. The inclusion of a Muslim in a service for a Jewish leader martyred for bringing peace into a world of religious intolerance was not only fitting, but necessary.

The liturgical service for Mother Teresa was also an inter-religious service. Some might find it strange that an ecumenical service was held for a Catholic nun in a Cathedral. The love she had for the Mass and Eucharist was true and genuine and yet she served people of all faiths. Her work was accomplished in a land where there is an uneasy co-existence of faiths: Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Zoroastrians. Mother Teresa not only brought a sense of love and charity but also a sense of tolerance and respect. St. James reflects that same concern in its response to the tragedies of life.

Frank Jacobson is a freelance writer, volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul Society and is a member of St. Alphonsus Parish.

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