Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, celebrated the Archdiocese’s annual White Mass on Sunday Nov.8, honoring individuals with disabilities and mental health challenges at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Where he urged the congregation to embrace, serve and welcome the diversity of the Church.
Father William Byrne, Parish Priest of Our Lady of Mercy in Potomac delivered the homily. The sermons urged all in attendance to embrace one another, be in service to one another, show hospitality to one another and welcome one another. He especially encouraged those involved in special needs ministry to both accept and receive love. “For those involved in this special ministry, every day we meet women and men who are like the Gospel’s widow. In the mystical hug that is discipleship, mom’s and dad’s, brothers and sister, friends and neighbors, caregivers all, are the modern day vision of this Gospel. They sacrifice but they also receive.”
In this giving and receiving, the mystical body is able to see the love of Christ. Real love is Jesus’ love and Jesus’ love goes out of its way for the other, Fr. Byrne reminded the congregation. “The mandate to show forth the love of Christ is why I know that Cardinal Wuerl founded the White Mass,” said Fr. Byrne. “The White Mass is not just a nice thing to do. It is something we have to do.”
“Last week, I just met a wonderful man named Jason,” Fr. Byrne said in his homily, explaining that he came across the man at the Tricia Sullivan Respite Care Program run by the Potomac Community Resources.
“During the Rhythmic Music Program, Jason reached over and grabbed me around the neck, pulled our heads together and gave me a long hug,” he continued.
“The hugs of Jason and me, the embrace of the apostles, the warm squeeze of the cousins Elizabeth and Mary while John leaps for joy in his mother’s womb – these hugs are a great image for what we are called to be as a Church.”
“We are the universal Church, whose job it is to welcome, embrace and accompany everyone in his and her encounter with Jesus,” Fr. Byrne stated, saying “we are called to be the hug of Christ to the world.”
“The White Mass celebrates not just all are welcome to the altar, but most important, all are needed at the altar of God!” the priest stressed.
“The White Mass boldly proclaims that all are needed at the altar of God and commends and commissions us to be the agents of that message,” Fr. Byrne continued.
Fr. Byrne laid emphasis on Sunday’s Gospel of Mark 12:38-44, talking about the “The widow who had given ‘all she had to live on “…he praises the poor widow’s offering, and makes it clear that the standard measurement for assessing gifts is not how much we give to the work of God or how much we put in the offering plate, but how much we have left for ourselves.”
Her witness of giving everything she had, he stated, should be every Christian’s aspiration.
“The lady is not just giving up her second latte and dropping the change in the basket. She is literally hungry, hungry to serve God. She is hungry to help others.”
“Remember that in the end, what the woman in the Gospel was given was truly more than she herself gave. But, her giving also hurt,” he said, emphasizing that true love is sacrificial
Every year for the past six years, the White Mass in the Archdiocese of Washington has been held to honor individuals with special needs and their caregivers. Those in attendance are usually invited to wear white as a symbolic renewal of their baptismal vows.
Catholics are called upon to embrace the disables as equals, mingle with them, to see the person and their gifts, interests and unique personality, neglect their disabilities and focus on their abilities as well as recognize that each person is an important member of the Body of Christ. In 1995, the Catholic Bishops issued the Sacramental Guidelines for Persons with Disabilities which states: “By reason of their baptism, all Catholics are equal in dignity in the sight of God and have the same divine calling.”
The Archdiocese of Washington’s Department of Special Needs Ministries hosts this annual liturgy. The archdiocese has a proud legacy of serving Catholics and community members with special needs.