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'Blue Mass' celebrates, thanks emergency personnel

By Mark Labbe
Posted: 10/9/2015

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Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh pose with Cardinal O'Malley and first responders outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross following the Mass for Public Safety Personnel and Families, Oct. 5. Pilot photo/Mark Labbe

The Mass for Public Safety Personnel and Families began with a flourish of music, bellowing out from police bagpipes and drums.

Marching into the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to the beat of drums, Oct. 4, uniformed emergency personnel made their way in single-file lines to the front of the cathedral. Already seated, Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans, and other public and law enforcement officials looked on, joined by the families of the first responders and other churchgoers. The music, which began outside with the slow Irish tune "Down by the Salley Gardens" and later switched to a more regimented song, came to a stop as the various safety personnel took their seats.

Police officers, corrections officers, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders from around the Boston area were the highlight of the "Blue Mass," as it is colloquially called, and their presence was both honored and thanked.

"We are all pleased to have our first responders and their families gathered here for this 'Blue Mass.' We are here to thank God for you, for your courage, your sacrifice," Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley said in his homily.

The "Blue Mass" had been a tradition in the archdiocese for decades until it waned in the early 2000s. The hiatus ended last year, when the Mass for Public Safety Personnel and Families was reinstated.

In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley discussed the importance of safety personnel, likening them to the angels lead by St. Michael during his battle with Satan and his army.

The cardinal described first responders as "guardian angels."

"The response to human weakness, the response to human fear, and human sinfulness is dependent on raising the strength that comes to us from God. We know how important your role is as first responders, as protectors of our community," he said.

The cardinal also highlighted the importance of community in the homily, drawing a contrast between what he described as "the community" and "the crowd."

"The crowd is a collection of individuals thrown together by circumstances, but working for their self-interests, their personal gains without reference to the needs of others. The community, on the other hand, are those people that have a sense of connectedness, connectedness with the Lord and with their brothers and sisters," explained the cardinal.

Cardinal O'Malley continued by saying that individualism, or the movement away from the community, has caused "social problems."

He emphasized the importance of the community by drawing upon the parable of the paralyzed man who was healed by Jesus. In the parable, the man cannot reach Jesus, because he is in a crowded house. To help get him into Jesus's presence, the man's friends opened the roof of the house and lowered him in. The cardinal expressed his desire to have friends like that, and explained how he, in turn, would like to be that kind of friend. He then used the parable as a comparison to today's firefighters and EMTs.

"The visual puts us in mind of our firefighters and EMTs climbing around, putting themselves in harm's way to save a friend or a stranger," the cardinal said. "The great task we have as a community of faith is to strive to change the crowd into a community. This parallels what our first responders when they give their lives to serving the people by making us truly a community where we care for each other and protect one another."

After the Mass, a number of first responders and members of the clergy lingered outside the cathedral to talk with their family members and people who attended the service. Before leaving, Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh paused to greet and take photos with Cardinal O'Malley, members of the clergy, and the gathered emergency personnel outside of the cathedral.

Lt. Pauline Wells of the Cambridge Police Department, who participated in the choir, spoke with The Pilot, and expressed her excitement at having been able to take part in the Mass.

"To be able to sing with professionals like that was pretty awesome. And to look to my right and see Cardinal Seán O'Malley doing the Mass and then giving me Communion... three of our close friends are priests up on the altar, so it's really nice," Lt. Wells said.