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This past November, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to designate January 1, 2002, the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, as a National Day of Prayer for Peace. This action was taken in the light of the terrorist attacks of September 11th and the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
The most appropriate way for individuals to take part in this day is to pray for peace. On January 1st we ask Mary, our mother and Mother of the Church, to intercede for us as her children. For this reason, the USCCB Committee on the Liturgy has developed a series of reflections on the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary ( A Rosary for Peace: Meditations on the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, available by calling 1-800-235-8722) for use in private or public prayer.
Only the prayers and readings for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God may be used on this day. However, these liturgical and scriptural texts are rich with reflections on our search for peace. These, or similar themes, might well be incorporated into the homily. Likewise, the General Intercessions could appropriately include petitions like the following:
What aspects of the scriptural readings or prayers for the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, might be incorporated into a homily for the National Day of Prayer for Peace?
In the first reading for today, the Lord himself gives a blessing to his priest Aaron through Moses in the Book of Numbers (6: 22-27). He directs Aaron to invoke the same three-part blessing still found among the Solemn Blessings of the Sacramentary, where God is asked to keep us, to shine upon us, and to give us his peace. The third blessing is the natural consequence of the first two: for it is only when we seek God's care and enjoy his rich blessings that we can know "the peace the world cannot give."
The Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 67: 2-3, 6, 8), like today's prayer for peace, is a call for God's mercy (antiphon: May God bless us in his mercy). With the Psalmist, we ask for the blessing of God's mercy "among all nations," in order that they may "be glad and exult," and that "all the peoples may praise God and all the ends of the earth fear him." Peace is to be found only in God, who rules the whole earth "with equity." Thus, just as God offers his friendship to all the nations, so does he offer his peace.
Shepherds were among the poorest and most forgotten of Jesus' day. They had no political influence, no wealth or weapons, and no means of power. God first sent his angel to the poor shepherds in the Bethlehem hills to announce the good news of great joy that today his Son, the Prince of Peace, was born for all mankind. Today we join the shepherds (Luke 2: 16-21) and adore the child in the arms of his Blessed Virgin Mother. In his littleness, we are made strong. By his innocence, we are freed from sin. By his brokenness, we are made whole. Only a few days before, we sang the hymn of the Divine Child sleeping in heavenly peace. Today, as that child rests in Mary's arms, may we know heavenly peace as well!
The second option for the Opening Prayer today speaks eloquently of the light God offers every age amidst the darkness of the world's sin: "Father, source of light in every age, the virgin conceived and bore your Son, who is called Wonderful God, Prince of Peace." The prayer then looks to Mary's maternal intercession for us: "May her prayer, the gift of a Mother's love, be your people's joy through all ages." Finally, the prayer asks that Mary's example "born of a humble heart, draw your Spirit to rest on your people..." Mary is presented to us as the model believer who believed the unfathomable message of Gabriel, endured the initial doubt of Joseph and the exile in Egypt, witnessed the events of Christ's public life, and was tried at the foot of the cross.
We, as members of Christ, with Mary as our Mother and Model, are called to the same faith, now in the grim reality of war, of terrorism, of hatred, of unrestrained violence and the threat of biological attacks. We may feel powerless in the face of so much real and potential evil, but we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of powerlessness. In doing so we shortchange the power of God who hears our prayer and works through us. We are called to believe that God has a plan for us and that God's plan will prevail. We are also called to collaborate in that plan by our own prayer made in union with Christ, our Head, by our efforts to promote peace with those whose lives intersect with ours.
If possible, Evening Prayer might be scheduled as a special event at which the parish, on this first day of a new year, can come together and with hearts and minds united to reflect on and pray about the exchanging of peace, the possibility of peace and the responsibility for peace that has been given to each baptized Christian. Coming together will involve some sacrifice of time and the more popular New Years Day pastimes of food and football— but the extraordinary events of the past four months demand extraordinary effort. While it would be desirable to sing the psalms and/or canticles of Evening Prayer, an inability to sing should not preclude the celebration of Evening Prayer. Every parish can at least to begin the Hour with a hymn, while the texts of the psalms, readings and prayers retain their ability to praise God and to touch us even though we are unable to sing them. The two psalms and the canticle for Evening Prayer II which are taken from the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary are rich in themes of peace:
These resources were prepared and published by the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy to assist in the preparation and commemoration of the National Day of Prayer for Peace. Copyright 2001, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All Rights Reserved. Catholic dioceses and parishes may reproduce these pages for free distribution.
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