Friday, January 21, 2022

Day of the Unborn

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Slaughter of the Innocents, ca 1308-1311
The following was part of an article entitled “Independence Day and the Day of Prayer for the Unborn” that appeared in The Latin Mass magazine 30:2 (Summer 2021). Many thanks to the editors of TLM for allowing its republication here.

In the United States, the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children is obligatory. The 2011 American edition of the GIRM states:

In all the Dioceses of the United States of America, January 22 (or January 23, when January 22 falls on a Sunday) shall be observed as a particular day of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life and of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion (373).
January 22 is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand in the United States and that has led to, according to one estimate, the murder of over 61 million unborn children so far. My guess is that the bishops were moved to institute this day of prayer after President Ronald Reagan declared January 22 National Sanctity of Human Life Day in 1984. To date, the states of Louisiana Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama observe January 22 as the “Day of Tears” during which “citizens are encouraged to lower their flags to half-staff to mourn the deaths of unborn children who have lost their lives from abortion.”
One can certainly empathize with the desire to end genocide, but as with the Independence Day Mass, there are two problems: liturgically enshrining such an event on the Church calendar and the content of the propers and rubrics.
Regarding the latter, the day is supposed to petition God for the legal protection of the unborn and be a day of “penance for violations to the dignity of the human person.” In the Mass options, however, one must choose one or the other. Priests can celebrate either the Mass “For Giving Thanks to God for the Gift of Human Life” in white vestments, which has no penitential aspect, or the Mass “For the Preservation of Peace and Justice” in violet vestments, which has no petition to protect the unborn. Neither Mass, in fact, supplicates God for an end to legalized abortion or atones for the slaughter it has caused unless it is inserted into the Prayers for the Faithful. Indeed, there are no propers for this obligatory memorial at all.
And regarding the liturgical commemoration of Roe v. Wade: it is one thing to have an annual Votive Mass calling for the overturn of this decision, it is another to list it on the calendar nestled among the feast days of the saints. One wonders what precedent this novelty may set. Should we also mark the anniversary of the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage, or the 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, over which LGBTQ+ activists rejoiced? If we add a Votive Mass every time the U.S. Supreme Court disregards the natural law, we will probably end up with an exceedingly cluttered calendar.
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. [Kennedy Airport, AAS 57 (1965), 875-76]
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.”

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