Pope Benedict XVI is opening Advent this year with what appears to be an unprecedented liturgical focus on the unborn and the gift of human life.
On the evening before the First Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27, in St. Peter’s Basilica, he is scheduled to lead a First Vespers service and “Vigil for All Nascent Human Life.” The pope has requested bishops and parishes around the world to do the same.
(For more information, vigil prayer aids and alternatives to make it work with parish Mass schedules on that busy Thanksgiving weekend, or even prayed individually or by families, see the U.S. bishops’ website: www.usccb.org/prolife/papalvigil.)
The start of Advent is an obvious choice for such a reflection and prayer considering that the season culminates in the celebration of the most important human birth in the history of the world.
“This unprecedented worldwide vigil is a fitting start to Advent when we prepare for the Nativity of Jesus Christ, who gave every life its full worth and dignity,” said Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for policy and communications at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.
“Nascent human life is under attack in a myriad of ways,” she noted in a press release. “In the United States alone, over 50 million unborn children have lost their lives to abortion since Roe v. Wade.” In addition to abortion, “embryonic stem cell research kills human beings at their earliest stages in the name of science. Reproductive technologies destroy or indefinitely freeze many more lives than are ever born.”
Cardinal Daniel D. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the U.S. bishops’ current point man on life issues, also encouraged Catholic Americans to participate in the prayer and to become “a voice for the child in the womb, and for the embryonic human being at risk of becoming a mere object of research, and for the neglected sick and elderly.”
“If we allow the dignity of every human life to guide the decisions we make as voters and public-policy advocates, we can surely succeed in creating a more just and humane society,” the cardinal said.
In some ways, the U.S. bishops were trailblazers on prayer initiatives of this sort. In 2009, they overwhelmingly approved the text for a “Mass in Thanksgiving for the Gift of Human Life.” It is to be celebrated each year on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
The year before, the bishops also approved a blessing for unborn children, which the bishops’ pro-life office drafted in response to multiple requests from dioceses. It is intended “to support the parents awaiting the birth of their child, to encourage in the parish prayers for and recognition of the precious gift of the child in the womb, and to foster respect for human life within society.”
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