In union with the Holy Father and bishops and parishioners throughout the world, the people of the Diocese of Harrisburg united in prayer for an end to violence in Ukraine and invoked the Blessed Mother’s maternal help for peace and justice on Friday, March 25, during a solemn Mass celebrated by Bishop Ronald Gainer.
During the Mass on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the bishop united with Pope Francis in the consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as the Holy Father called on all people to “raise a heartfelt and choral plea to Mary our Mother.”
Some 600 people gathered at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg for the Mass, with hundreds more watching via live-stream on the Diocese’s Facebook and YouTube pages.
“In faithful response to the call of Our Lady of Fatima, today’s Act of Consecration deepens the one made earnestly by Pope St. John Paul II on this day in 1984,” Bishop Gainer said during the greeting. “Our Lady, ever the first and perfect disciple of Jesus, reminds us to believe in His Word: ‘If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my Heavenly Father.’ Now, gathered together in the name of Jesus, and as children of Mary, we agree to intercede for peace and pray for Russia and Ukraine.”
For the Act of Consecration, the bishop knelt in front of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which was surrounded by the familiar blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag.
“Amid the thunder of weapons, may your prayer turn our thoughts to peace. May your maternal touch soothe those who suffer and flee from the rain of bombs. May your motherly embrace comfort those forced to leave their homes and their native land. May your Sorrowful Heart move us to compassion and inspire us to open our doors and to care for our brothers and sisters who are injured and cast aside,” the bishop prayed from the prayer for the Act of Consecration.
“At this hour, a weary and distraught humanity stands with you beneath the cross, needing to entrust itself to you and, through you, to consecrate itself to Christ. The people of Ukraine and Russia, who venerate you with great love, now turn to you, even as your heart beats with compassion for them and for all those peoples decimated by war, hunger, injustice and poverty. Therefore, Mother of God and our Mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the Church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine,” he prayed.
Consecration to Mary, as defined by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, is a recognition of the “singular role of Mary in the Mystery of Christ and of the Church, of the universal and exemplary importance of her witness to the Gospel, of trust in her intercession, and of the efficacy of her patronage.”
A solemn congregation of clergy, religious, men, women and children joined Bishop Gainer in the earnest prayer, many holding Rosaries or clutching small Ukrainian flags that were distributed prior to Mass.
In his homily, Bishop Gainer said the attendance at the Mass was “a wonderful expression of what is on our hearts that weigh so heavily for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.”
The country has been under siege by Russian forces since February 24. Thousands have been have been killed and upwards of four million have fled their homeland, the largest displacement of people in Europe since World War II.
“In light of this hate-filled disaster, how can our hearts not be moved with compassion?” Bishop Gainer expressed in his homily, underlining the need for “the conversion of hearts from hatred to justice and peace.”
“By consecrating Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we intentionally recognize our Blessed Mother’s singular role in the Mystery of the Church, her exemplary witness to the Gospel, our deep trust in her intercession and in the efficacy of her patronage,” the bishop said. “By this consecration, we invoke her maternal help, so that you and I might offer ourselves fully to Christ, following her example.”
On the Feast of the Annunciation, the bishop underscored the significance of Mary’s “Fiat” and trust in the Father with the archangel Gabriel’s announcement that she would be the Mother of the Son of God.
“Mary shows us the power of a simple, humble, obedient yes to the will of God. The Gospel of the Annunciation begins with Mary’s confusion and question ‘How can this be?’ but it ends in peaceful acceptance with the presence of Christ within her,” Bishop Gainer said. “May this too be the fruit of today’s consecration. Through Mary’s intercession and the power of the Prince of Peace, may hearts and minds be converted from hatred to peace, and may the power of the Most High come upon us and bring a rebirth of the Prince of Peace among us.”
After the Mass, AnnaLaura Russell of the Mater Dei Community in Harrisburg told The Witness, “This was a very moving Mass, very much so. It is very important that we consecrate our prayers to Ukraine and Russia through the Holy Mother. We can have peace by doing this.”
“I do not think the average person in Russia or Ukraine would be in support of this war.”
The solemn Mass and Act of Consecration underscored the universality of the Church and the power of prayer for Dan Reisteter, a parishioner of the Cathedral Parish of St. Patrick.
“It was so very humbling to be part of and know that people from throughout our Diocese came to the Cathedral to pray for peace and for a change of heart and minds of the Russian leadership, and to know that others throughout the world were doing the same,” he told The Catholic Witness.
“It was deeply spiritual and so gratifying to see such a large assembly attending and participating in the Mass and feeling the Lord’s presence as we all fervently prayed to Him for peace in Ukraine and peace among the people of Ukraine and Russia,” said Reisteter, who served during the Mass.
“Because we are a community of faith and believers, it was important that we as the Catholic faithful came together to unite and petition God for His assistance in this very difficult situation,” he said of the Mass and consecration. “As Jesus said in the Gospel of St. Matthew: ‘For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there I am with them.’ So when several hundred gathered at the Cathedral for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we united spiritually with our brothers and sisters throughout the world in prayer for the people of Ukraine and Russia. Just as importantly, we all prayed to our Blessed Mother, on the feast of the Annunciation, for her intercession with our Lord for peace in Ukraine and peace for all in Ukraine and in Russia.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness