Today was one of my favorite assignments as a reporter: covering the annual Blue Mass in our diocese which honors police officers and first responders. From past years, I knew the planning committee strove to make the liturgy meaningful for officers and their families alike (and, as a bonus, that the reception for visitors usually included some mighty tasty Cap’n Crunch-coated chicken breasts). These valiant men and women in blue sacrifice so much to keep the rest of us safe and secure; today they did their jobs so well I almost missed my whole assignment.
I left my home early to assure a close parking space in the Cathedral lots, a challenge even on a regular Sunday. I knew that the police would reserve a number of spaces for dignitaries, but I was surprised to see that my arrival 45 minutes before the liturgy was still too late: officers had blocked all surrounding roads and were motioning cars to drive further. I circled around to find a strip of curb, but noticed it adorned with a “Resident Parking Only” sign. The officer on the nearest corner assured me that they would give me absolution for the infraction, (outside a
confessional and without saying a pocketful of Hail Marys), but I still worried. It brings to mind that old “if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around” adage, doesn’t it? But today’s version was: “if a journalist parks illegally and the police are too busy to ticket her, is she still breaking the law?” Unsure of the answer, and unwilling to test the maxim, I drove to the next intersection where I met another stern-faced uniformed man standing before a wooden road block. “Officer, I know you have a job to do, but I am the press and I need to get to the Cathedral for the Blue Mass…” I babbled, trailing off into a mature yet audible whimper. Either because he took pity upon me, or he wanted to get rid of me, the officer moved the barricade and waved me through. (That’s only the second time my “I am the press” entreaty has worked in my career!)
I parked near the side door of the Cathedral and reconsidered my plan to find to find a seat with a clear view of the altar. Numerous reserved signs and programs placed on pew seats indicated this would be a struggle, so I punted and retreated to my second home, the choir loft. My long-time friend Anita was reviewing the music with the children’s choir she conducted, but stopped and beckoned me closer. “Children, this is Miss Leslie,” she announced to the young singers. “She works for the diocesan newspaper, and she is a cantor here. As a matter of fact, she was in my very first children’s choir many years ago.” The organist stifled a laugh as he heard some of the children gasp as if I were a character in the Smithsonian’s dinosaur exhibit that had suddenly come to life. I smiled, thanked my music mentor, then went to sit in a corner away from the little ones whose birth years all began with a “2-0”. My newspaper editor Joanne then appeared and helpfully escorted me downstairs to a prime position near the front of the church; just as she retreated to the loft to take more pictures, an officer immediately walked over to tell me that I would have to make room for the troops that would be filling the section. I tried the “I am the press” statement again, but this man in blue was not as amenable as his counterparts at the barricades, (or maybe they walkie-talkied ahead about me). I slunk to the back of the church much like the wedding guest who insisted he would sit in the place of honor yet was bumped down the table (Luke 14:7-11) just as the Mass began.
It was worth the struggle to get there, for the liturgy was powerful. Row after row of uniformed officers marched into the Cathedral in formation, then sat ramrod straight as they honored their fellow keepers of the flame of righteousness. The roll call of the deceased was punctuated by the tolling of a bell, then the plaintive wail of bagpipes sounding “Amazing Grace” and a bugler sounding “Taps”. Each officer was given a blessed prayer card with a picture of St. Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of policemen, to keep them safe as they toiled. (I later found out many officers keep the cards tucked into their uniform hats.)
As the homilist addressed the officers, he noted the presence of the schoolchildren in the pews and the little music ministers in the loft. Father Ed declared, “The dignity and honor of your service will inspire these children to greatness, and inspire all of us to be keepers of peace and justice.” Peace and justice are admirable goals for all of us, regardless of our occupation. So, let’s do our part: thank a police officer for his or her service, beseech St. Michael for his intercession…. and park only in approved areas.