Thursday, July 01, 2021

Independence Day in the New Missal

John Trumbull, Declaration of Independence (1819)
The following article is an abridged version of “Independence Day and the Day of Prayer for the Unborn,” which appeared in The Latin Mass magazine 30:2 (Summer 2021), 46-51. Many thanks to the editors of TLM for allowing its republication here.

The Roman Rite is both universal and particular. Besides a General Calendar that the entire Church observes, the Holy See approves calendars for individual religious communities, nations, and dioceses. The U.S. edition of the 2002 Roman Missal (Ordinary Form) contains over a dozen saints and blesseds who are cherished by American Catholics but perhaps not well known elsewhere: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother Cabrini, Mother Seton, the North American martyrs, and Kateri Tekakwitha, to name a few. Commendably, the American calendar also includes Mexican martyr Father Miguel Pro, even though he has no direct ties to our country—unless you count the arms and ammunition that our federal government supplied his despotic persecutors.

But alongside these salutary additions to the liturgical year are three anomalies: an optional memorial on July 4 called Independence Day, an optional memorial on the fourth Thursday of November called Thanksgiving Day, and an obligatory memorial on January 22 called the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. Earlier we examined the liturgical observance of Thanksgiving Day; now, we turn our attention to Independence Day.

Independence Day
The Second Vatican Council makes no mention of incorporating national holidays into the Church calendar, [1] nor does the 1969 edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). [2] In November 1971, however, the American bishops approved a new Mass for “Independence Day and other Civic Occasions,” [3] and on February 15, 1972, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship sanctioned its use. [4] A second set of Mass propers was created for the bicentennial celebration of American independence in 1976, which went on to be included in Appendix X of the 1985 edition of the Sacramentary. The 1985 Sacramentary allows this second Mass to be celebrated “on July 4, Independence Day, or, when permitted by the norms for the liturgical year and Roman Calendar, on other civic observances.” [5] But it also contains a modified version of the 1972 Mass for “Independence Day (and for Other Civic Observances)” on July 4 that differs from the Mass in the Appendix. [6]
The 2011 edition of the Sacramentary, on the other hand, has no additional Independence Day Mass in the appendix. Its Mass for July 4 contains some prayers from the bicentennial Mass, some from the July 4 Mass of 1985, and some new prayers of its own. The new version is simply titled “Independence Day,” with no references to “other civic occasions.” Currently—and, in our opinion, wisely—it is customary in the new rite for priests to celebrate the Mass for Peace and Justice on Memorial Day and the Mass for the Sanctification for Human Labor on Labor Day, but these two civic occasions do not appear by name in the most recent edition of the Missal, the GIRM, or on the liturgical calendar.
The 2011 Sacramentary also displaces the feast of St. Elizabeth of Portugal. Elizabeth’s feast in the 1970 General Calendar is July 4, but for the past decade in the dioceses of the United States it has been moved to July 5. The Mass for Independence Day is still an optional memorial, but priests in America no longer have the option of following the universal calendar on July 4. No doubt this decision was made in order to keep the cult of St. Elizabeth from being overwhelmed by Fourth of July celebrations, but it also gives the impression that honoring the life of this great Catholic monarch is a distraction from, or in conflict with, our exuberance over American democracy.
For the sake of brevity, we will focus mostly on the Mass currently in use (from the 2011 Sacramentary). In this edition, the three Opening Prayers from 1985 are replaced by two Collects, the second of which (taken from the 1976 bicentennial Mass) is:
Father of all nations and ages, we recall the day when our country claimed its place among the family of nations; for what has been achieved we give you thanks, for the work that still remains we ask your help, and as you have called us from many peoples to be one nation, grant that, under your providence, our country may share your blessings with all the peoples of the earth. Through.
In some respects, the Collect is an improvement over the 1985 opening prayers, which promoted a borderless or “globalist” outlook oddly out of tune with the occasion (one would expect at the very least a petition for the welfare of the country). The 2011 Collect corrects this deficiency but in a way that is out of tune with liturgical idiom. Roman orations typically follow a formula in which God is addressed and then described in a subordinate clause: “O God, You who do X, Y, and Z.” Here, however, God is addressed and we are described as recalling our nation’s birth. The expression of gratitude and the petition for help are commendable (provided that the “work that still remains” is not the pursuit of Manifest Destiny, making the world safe for democracy, expanding the nanny state, or any other nationalist agenda), but likewise fail to conform to the style of a Roman Collect.
The second Prayer over the Offerings is more problematic:
Father, who have molded into one our nation, drawn from the peoples of many lands, grant, that as the grains of wheat become one bread and the many grapes one cup of wine, so we may before all others be instruments of your peace. Through Christ our Lord.
As Peter Kwasniewski writes:
Should the unification of former British colonies under a Protestant-Deist constitutional regime be compared to the manufacturing of the bread and wine for the Eucharistic sacrifice? The phrase “before all others” is especially unfortunate, since it has a double meaning: “in the sight of others,” and “holding the primacy above others”—a view known as American exceptionalism. In this prayer, America is presented as the Eucharistic city on the hill offered to God to bring about peace in the world. [7]
Kwasniewski also notes that the 2011 Prayer after Communion, with its ambivalent language about “working together to build a city of lasting peace,” is little better.
The Preface for Independence Day has a similarly jingoist tone:
[Christ] spoke to us a message of peace and taught us to live as brothers and sisters. His message took form in the vision of our founding fathers as they fashioned a nation where we might live as one. His message lives on in our midst as our task for today and a promise for tomorrow.
What is most arresting about this prayer is that it puts in the mouth of Holy Mother Church, immediately before the most sacred moment of the Mass, an unequivocal proclamation of the American Founding as an instantiation of the Gospel. There are, of course, Catholics who believe that the United States had not only a Christian founding but a Catholic one. In 1924, Professor Carlton J.H. Hayes, a convert to Catholicism and a prominent historian at Columbia University, went so far as to call the United States “the daughter of the Catholic Church.” [8] He was followed by Jesuit Father John Courtney Murray’s influential We Hold These Truths, a book loved by present-day liberals and neoconservatives. Today, books regularly come out praising the contribution of Catholic figures to the American Revolution [9] or the American reliance on Catholic political philosophy. [10]
On the other hand, as Kwasniewski’s description of the American republic as “a Protestant-Deist constitutional regime” attests, other Catholic authors point to the Founding Fathers’ reliance on Enlightenment thinking, their heretical convictions, their Freemasonry, and their opposition to the pro-Catholic Quebec Act as proof that America is anything but a daughter of the Catholic Church, or if she is, she is quite a bad daughter. [11]
My purpose in drawing attention to this debate is not to resolve it, but simply to point out that it exists and is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Why, then, should the Church weigh in on a controversial secular event in her solemn liturgy when there is no compulsion to do so? And let us be clear: there is no compulsion to do so because, as we will see in a moment, one can pray for the American constitutional order and even admire it or be grateful for it (as many American Catholics have done for centuries) without endorsing a specifically Catholic reading of the Founding.
As for the rest of the Mass, the celebrant may choose any readings from the Lectionary (vol. IV), the Mass “For the Country or a City” (nos. 882-886), or the Mass “For Peace and Justice” (nos. 887-891). Whatever he chooses, the liturgical color is white and the Gloria in excelsis is used.
To put this in perspective, the 1962 Roman Missal also has a Mass for Peace, but the liturgical color is violet, and of course there is no Gloria, which is out of place when the dominant note is plaintive. White, a symbol of purity, is traditionally reserved for the Trinity or Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, the Angels, Confessors, Virgins, and baptized Catholics who die without attaining the full use of reason (e.g., infants and persons with a severe mental handicap). Into which category, we wonder, do the signers of the Declaration of Independence fit? [12]
Confusing the Sacred
Based on these considerations, we conclude that the prayers and rubrics of the Mass for Independence Day are less than ideal. But even if they were perfect, there is a deeper problem, namely, the inclusion of a civic occasion on a liturgical calendar.
The Second Vatican Council teaches that the liturgical year: 1) “unfolds the whole mystery of Christ” and His Mother; 2) “proclaims the paschal mystery achieved in the saints”; and 3) “completes the formation of the faithful by means of devout practices” such as the Ember and Rogation Days. [13]  Everything on the Church calendar should be subordinated to or a consequence of one of these ends. Even the Ember Days and Rogation Days, which are concerned with the four natural seasons or the agricultural cycle, are absorbed into a liturgical season and imbued with a supernatural spirit of penance.
The liturgical year is also no stranger to historic events that took place after biblical times. The 1962 General Calendar, for example, has commemorations of pivotal battles (Belgrade, Lepanto, Vienna, Rome) and important ecumenical councils (Ephesus).
Yet the commemoration of these events follows two rules. First, the event itself is of special significance to Church history. The Battles of Belgrade (1456), Lepanto (1570), and Vienna (1683) were key military victories by Catholics to stop the Muslim conquest of Europe. The 1849 defeat of the insurgents of the Roman Republic by the French army allowed the Pope to return to Rome from exile. The Council of Ephesus, which defined Mary as the Mother of God, provided a theological understanding of Marian devotion.
However—and this brings us to the second rule—these events are never commemorated directly, but subordinated to a mystery of Christ, His mother, or the Saints. There is no “Battle of Lepanto” on the calendar, but there is a feast of the Holy Rosary (October 7) which was instituted in gratitude for the battle’s outcome. Nor is there a “Battle of Belgrade,” a “Battle of Vienna,” or a “Liberation of Rome,” but there are feasts of the Transfiguration (August 6), of the Holy Name of Mary (September 12), and of the Most Precious Blood (July 1). Even a sacred ecumenical Council like that of Ephesus does not appear as such, but as the feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (October 11).
The inclusion of American civic holidays on the Church calendar—the Proper Calendar for the Dioceses of the United States of America lists July 4 as “Independence Day”—violates both these principles. American Catholics can certainly be grateful for the many blessings the Founding has given them, but Independence Day is no more a Catholic event than Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo: it is not liturgically significant. Sadly, it sometimes seems that the contemporary Church in America spends half her time demoting the sacred to the level of the secular (in the case of irreverent Masses) and the other half elevating the secular to the level of the sacred.
Finally, according to Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium, “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them” (23). It is difficult to see how the Mass for Independence Day meets this criterion.
Happily, there are alternatives. The Catholic Church in Ireland has a feast of All Saints of Ireland (November 6) that falls within the old All Saints’ octave. One could easily imagine a “Feast of All American Saints” on July 4 that taps into one’s patriotic impulses, but transposes them into the higher realm of fellow citizens renowned for their sanctity. Next to Our Lady, who better to intercede for the American republic than the saints who died under her flag, perhaps even enriched her soil with their martyred blood?
Of course, one does not need to make a single liturgical change in order to offer a Mass for the USA. American Catholics have long marked the holidays of their country in a religious manner. Prior to Vatican II, the U.S. bishops were authorized by the Holy See to dispense with the laws of fasting and abstinence on American civic holidays. [14]  The traditional Roman Missal has a number of Votive Masses suitable for these occasions such as a Mass for Peace; it also has “Diverse Orations” that can be added to a Mass, such as Prayers for Thanksgiving and Prayers for the Country’s Rulers. Finally, priests have the option of celebrating a Votive Mass in honor of our nation’s patron saint, which since 1847 has been Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
To give one colorful example of how Catholics once kept the Fourth of July: in 1846, in Troy, Massachusetts, St. Mary’s parish greeted the dawn by ringing their new bell while the commandant of the nearby arsenal fired a piece of ordinance. At 9 a.m., the pastor celebrated a “grand High Mass” for the soldiers who had recently perished on the Rio Grande during the Mexican-American War. The Requiem included a catafalque surrounded by military paraphernalia and “a stand of muskets, bayonets fixed, bandaged in mourning crape.” The beginning of the Mass was marked by a “salute of three guns” outside, the Consecration by “the roar of cannon,” and the conclusion by more gun fire. The congregants then formed a Fourth of July parade and listened to a speech against Know-Nothing prejudice in which the speaker argued that several republics, some of which still exist, originated with Catholics; he further asserted that “probably the most perfect republic among men” is “the ecclesiastical organization of the Catholic hierarchy and clergy,” since it is not hereditary. [15]
When Paul VI became the first Pope to visit the United States, he greeted America by renewing, “as it were, the gesture of your discoverer, Christopher Columbus, when he planted the Cross of Christ in this blessed soil.” The Holy Father went on to make the sign of the cross over our sky and land and to beseech God’s blessing upon us. [16]
The image of planting the Cross in our soil is one worth cherishing. I believe that the American bishops had this commendable goal in mind when they added civic occasions to our sacred calendar, but I fear that instead of planting the Cross in America they planted the Stars and Stripes in the Holy of Holies. If the Catholic Church in the United States wants to help her country, she should heed the advice given by the Presbyterian minister and Founding Father John Witherspoon: “He is the best friend to American liberty who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion.”
[1] Sacrosanctum Concilium has a section on adapting the liturgy to the culture and traditions of the people (37-40), but it seems to have in mind the ordinary of the Mass and not the calendar. In its chapter on the liturgical year (102-111) it discusses adaptation but in reference to “the conditions of modern times” rather than specific cultures or nations.
[2] The closest that it comes is its statement that the new Prayers of the Faithful should usually be for the necessities of the Church, “the rulers of the country” (a phrase found in a Votive Mass in the 1962 Missal), those oppressed by some difficulty, and the local community (46).
[3] BCL Newsletter, Vol. 8, nos. 3-4 (March-April 1972), pp. 2-3.
[4] Prot. n. 2153/71; see Notitiae 73 (1972), p. 142.
[5] P. 1147.
[6] Pp. 663-665.
[7] “Mass for ‘Independence Day’: Catholic Patriotism or Americanist Inculturation?,” July 3, 2019,
[8] “Obligations to America,” Commonweal 1:8 (31 December 1924), 200.
[9] Dan LeRoy, Liberty’s Lions: The Catholic Revolutionaries Who Established America (Sophia Institute Press, 2021).
[10] Timothy Gordon, Catholic Republic: Why America Will Perish Without Rome (Sophia Institute Press, 2019).
[11] See Christopher Ferrara, Liberty, the God That Failed (Angelico Press, 2012; Patrick Dineen, Why Liberalism Failed (Yale University Press, 2018). 
[12] White is also used for Votive Masses on the anniversary of a bishop or pope’s election or consecration.
[13] Sacrosanctum Concilium, 102-105.
[14] T. Lincoln Bouscaren, The Canon Law Digest, vol 4 (Bruce: 1958), 353.
[15] Boston Pilot, Volume 9, Number 28 (11 July 1846), p. 7.
[16] Kennedy Airport, AAS 57 (1965), 875-76.

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