.- Catholic bishops across the U.S. are urging all of the faithful to unite their prayers with Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday, Nov. 27, in an unprecedented worldwide vigil for unborn life.
The Pope will celebrate a special Vespers service that Saturday evening at St. Peter's Basilica, heralding the first Sunday of Advent. Pope Benedict has recommended that “parishes, religious communities, associations and movements” join him for evening prayer, in “churches throughout the world.”
The season of preparation for Christmas, the Pope said on Nov. 14, “is a favorable time to invoke the divine protection of every human being called into existence, and to give thanks to God for the gift of life we have received from our parents.”
Although it is common for the Pope to encourage prayer for particular intentions, the request for a coordinated worldwide vigil –to be held on the same date and approximately the same time, in all dioceses– is highly exceptional. Several bishops' comments have indicated that nothing comparable has ever occurred in the history of the Church.
While many Americans may be occupied with the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving and the shopping blitz of “Black Friday,” bishops across the country are encouraging believers not to neglect the Pope's historic call to prayer.
“At this moment in history,” Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco wrote, “when societies are endorsing the killing of human beings as a solution to social, economic, and environmental problems, the Holy Father is reminding us of the necessity and power of prayer to protect human life.”
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta stressed that those Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church should nevertheless join their prayers with those of the Pope and his flock throughout the world. He also encouraged those who cannot attend a vigil service, due to other commitments, to participate to the best of their ability.
“I invite all Christians to begin the Advent season uniting in prayer for God's protection and help for human life,” he wrote. “All are welcome to take part in a special prayer on November 27 whether at home or traveling over the Thanksgiving holidays.”
The Diocese of Davenport in Iowa has produced a booklet that will allow families who are unable to attend the full services, to join in some of the same prayers that Pope Benedict XVI will pray at St. Peter's on the night of the vigil. That booklet is available from the diocese's website, at http://www.davenportdiocese.org/lit/liturgylibrary/litPrayerforLifeFamilyBooklet.pdf.
All of the vigils will feature exposition of the Eucharist and and benediction, with most slated to include the Church's traditional evening prayer of psalms and petitions. Some parishes will also be hosting Marian processions and recitation of the Rosary. While most participating parishes will hold services during the evening, some have scheduled them earlier, or in conjunction with a vigil Mass.
Those planning to attend should confirm times and parish participation, either through the Internet or by contacting their local diocese before the Thanksgiving holiday, since offices may be closed the following Friday.