Eucharist, Prayer, and Protest

America magazine reports that approximately 550 people gathered on Sunday to celebrate Mass in Lafayette Square, near the White House, in order to show solidarity with immigrants and refugees affected by President Trump’s recent Executive Order.

Lafayette Mass

Is this a case of inappropriately “politicizing” the Mass by turning it into an instrument of “protest”?

Certainly, there have been throughout history political uses of the Eucharist that have distorted the sacred meaning of the sacrament. Indeed, the Church’s liturgy has often been used to sacralize oppressive power by providing the setting for the coronation of tyrants or offering a bully pulpit for frankly partisan agendas. And without having been at the Mass in Lafayette Park it is difficult for me to say whether it crossed some sort of line.

But it is also good to remember that the Mass is in one sense an inherently “political” act, because it is the food for the journey of the City of God while on pilgrimage; it is the act by which God constitutes the Church as a “people” who seek to be disciples of Jesus by seeking him in the hungry, the naked, the stranger. Whether celebrated in a public square or in a private chapel, the Eucharist is an act of protest against all the forces of dehumanization that plague our world (a dehumanization that is sponsored by partisans across the political spectrum); it is the anamnesis of the state-sanctioned death of one who was perceived as a threat by representatives of the most powerful empire in the world; it is the “sacrifice of our reconciliation” that has the power to “advance the peace and salvation of all the world.”

The Eucharist is political dynamite. It is the supreme act of protest, by which we say “no” to the powers of death. It can be misused and manipulated for political purposes, but abusus non tollit usum. If the public celebration of the mysteries of the Son of God, who

chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and… chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and… chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something… (1 Cor. 1: 27-28)

seems in light of current events to carry a message of political protest, well, maybe that is God’s doing and not our manipulation.



  1. thanks for this post and to those who attended this Mass.

    I don’t think that it’s ‘political’ to make known and act on our fundamental Christian principles. Now is a particularly important time to speak out an act so that those in the secular world can see clearly what our principles are. There are many who think that Christians applaud excluding Muslim refugees. And there may be some who do. All the more reason to clarify our beliefs, our love and our obligations.

  2. I appreciated the strong sense in which the Eucharist as “political act” was described in the post. Humanitarian themes seem to be the keynote here rather than partisan politics, yet the poor and the suffering do have a claim on us, and we can’t remain indifferent to the policies that afflict them.

    That said, I recall Aidan Kavanagh complaining about people celebrating Mass on the steps of the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam war as a lamentable sign that we have narrowed down our ritual repertoire too much. Mass is expected to do and be everything. “Why not celebrate a rip roaring exorcism?” he asked.

    It was an interesting suggestion.

    (I offer this reminiscence especially for you, Fritz, since you knew Aidan. If you didn’t actually hear him hold forth on this subject, I am sure you can imagine it.)

    1. @Rita Ferrone:
      I wonder what Fr. Kavanagh thought “about people celebrating Mass” on the beaches of Iwo Jima, the jungle of Viet Nam, the streets of Fallujah, etc.
      Or was Fr. simply saying that there might be better options to celebrate the Presence of Christ?

      1. @James Anderson Murphy:
        No, no, the point was that the activity was a protest, a denunciation of evil. Mass is a supreme act of thanksgiving, not an act of denunciation… There are other tools in the kit. Mass isn’t alone in our ritual repertoire, but it seemed to be the only tool anyone could think of at the time. It’s related to the subject of a post on “Mass Obsession” at Pray Tell, if you recall:

      2. @Rita Ferrone:
        Thank you for the reference you supplied. I’m probably a “mass-centric” Catholic.
        But to the case in point: denunciation is not a disposition for Eucharist. If we gather for thanksgiving and remembrance of the life of Jesus this focuses on His pursuit of mercy and justice. When I celebrate Eucharist I pray for this disposition.

  3. “If we gather for thanksgiving and remembrance of the life of Jesus this focuses on His pursuit of mercy and justice.”

    And this is exactly what the people assembled were doing on behalf of refugees, for example. In this regard I don’t think that denunciation of evil is the main or, anyway, the only point being made.

    But I agree that celebrating Mass isn’t necessarily the best ‘tool’ for achieving this.

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