Monument engraver Kyle Fricke prepares to add names to the memorial wall at 9/11 Responders Remembered Park in Nesconset, New York., on Sept. 11, 2020, the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

9/11: Twenty Years Later

Suggestions for communal and private prayer

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Most of us remember where we were on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. We watched in horror as images of the terrorist attack flooded the news media. Thousands perished in the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania. The victims were Americans and citizens of 77 other countries.

Churches, synagogues and mosques opened their doors as people tried to find meaning. These worshippers entered with a range of emotions — grief and fear, shock and rage, insecurity and uncertainty. Preachers often struggled to formulate the right words.

Jesus came to bring peace, but he also brought the sword (cf. Mt 10:34). Our God is full of mercy and compassion, yet he is a just judge (Ps 7:12). Jesus said to love our enemies (Lk 6:27), but could we love so despicable an act? Could we forgive as God has forgiven us? Believers — old and new — found comfort, strength and challenge in prayer.

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More Resources Available

For additional resources — including prayers, the full text of a prayer service, sample intercessions, and music suggestions — visit www.fdlc.org.

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Since that day 20 years ago, war continues to be waged against terrorists. Politics, diplomacy and military tactics have been forever changed. In Afghanistan alone, 2,312 Americans have died, and twice that many soldiers and civilians have perished. Security measures, which were implemented in airports, stadiums and office buildings, have become commonplace. Children not yet born in that fateful year are now grown. More recently, the world has faced catastrophic loss during the pandemic — yet again, and still, we grieve our dead.

This September, our assemblies will be faced with renewed turmoil. Media coverage, national observances and family gatherings will refresh their minds and open their wounds. Our nation will again express its grief and try to understand. While politics and patriotism will certainly be visible, prayer should take the more central role on this somber anniversary.

In what follows, I offer a few suggestions for communal and private prayer.

The Roman Missal

Certainly, the parish will want to commemorate the day with Mass. In 2021, Sept. 11 falls on Saturday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time. During the day, the priest celebrant may choose from several options in the Roman Missal.

Certainly, Masses for the Dead provide appropriate texts. The Lectionary for Mass provides a rich variety of options for the readings (cf. Nos. 1011-1016). It would be appropriate to choose Eucharistic Prayer III with embolisms for the dead. Any of the five Prefaces for the Dead may be used, but Preface I and V are particularly suitable. Solemn Blessing No. 12 (Ordinary Time IV) offers a fitting conclusion.

One will find several worthy options among the Masses for Various Needs and Occasions. “30: For the Preservation of Peace and Justice” has several options for the collect, and the Lectionary (cf. Nos. 887-891) has many options that provide rich fodder for preaching. One might choose to use the Eucharistic Prayer for Masses for Various Needs and Occasions III — Jesus on the Way to the Father. Solemn Blessing No. 10 (Ordinary Time II) would complement the rest of the Mass texts.

Another option might be “31: In Time of War of Civil Disturbance.” Again, there are two options for the collect. The readings may be found in the Lectionary, Nos. 897-901.

Finally, Masses for Various Needs and Occasions offers only a collect at “21: For the Nation or State,” but this might be used at other times or as a prayer to begin parish meetings.

Order of Christian Funerals

This liturgical book provides prayers and resources for a variety of pastoral circumstances. Chapter IV offers texts for the Liturgy of the Hours: Office of the Dead. Consider drawing from the beautiful psalms and prayers used at Morning Prayer (cf. OCF, Nos. 373-383) or Evening Prayer (OCF, Nos. 385-395).

The section entitled “Prayers and Texts in Particular Circumstances” has some particularly appropriate selections, including General (cf. Nos. 1-13); One Who Died Suddenly or Violently (No. 43); or Several Persons (Nos. 46-47). The presider may also wish to choose from among the Prayers for Mourners (No. 399) or the Litany for the Dead (no. 401.4).

A Celebration of the Word

The parish may also wish to prepare a prayer service for use outside Mass. This might be a fine choice for a school assembly or as an evening prayer service to begin meetings. This option will be best for an ecumenical or interreligious prayer service. It would be important to meet with the representatives of various faith communities beforehand and have them be involved in the actual preparation of the event (cf. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, No. 111). The readings may be drawn from any of the aforementioned Lectionary citations.

An Act of Remembrance

The following ceremony might begin a prayer service or be used before Mass. As each phrase is read, minister(s) could light a candle. At least 15 seconds of silence should be maintained between each phrase. A somber tolling of a bell or a sung acclamation might conclude each invocation.

• For the passengers on American Flight 11 and United Flight 175, which were flown into the World Trade Center.

• For all the workers who perished in the World Trade Center and neighboring buildings.

• For the firefighters, police and rescue workers who died trying to save others.

• For the crew and passengers on American Airlines Flight 77, which was flown into the Pentagon.

• For the military personnel and civilians who were killed and injured at the Pentagon.

• For the heroic crew passengers on United Flight 93, which crashed into the field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

• For all military personnel who have died in the battle against terrorism.

• For all those who have died as the result of terrorist activity and for those who mourn them.

Environment and Art

Consider the environment for the church building on Sept. 11 or for that entire weekend’s liturgies. Though the American flag is ordinarily not to be displayed in the sanctuary or nave of the church, on this occasion it might be appropriate.

The Paschal candle might be placed next to a Book of Remembrance. (The names of those who perished on Sept. 11, 2001, may be found at www.911memorial.org or other websites.) Flowers or plants might also adorn this space.

A candle stand could be placed in the sanctuary or alcove with a sufficient number of candles for the prayer service. It is recommended that the sacristan use large, glass-enclosed votive candles, which may be lit for all the weekend Masses.

Prayers

Consider preparing, printing and distributing prayer cards. Alternatively, post something on the parish website. This will be particularly helpful for those who are still confined to their homes due to advanced age or to coronavirus health concerns. These will also be fitting remembrances that parishioners can routinely use at home for family prayer time.

Certainly, one can compose an original prayer for this 20th anniversary. The following prayer might serve as an example. It was prayed by both Pope Benedict XVI (on April 20, 2008) and by Pope Francis (Sept. 25, 2015) when each visited Ground Zero in New York City.

Looking Forward

Certainly, Sept. 11 will always be a day of solemn remembrance. Certainly, once again, we will mourn our dead and pray for their souls — knowing that they rest in the arms of their merciful Father. Certainly, we should console those who lost loved ones. Certainly, we must give comfort to those who still suffer from injuries incurred that day. It is right that this day should never pass from our collective memory.

On this 20th anniversary, let us also acknowledge a longing for peace. Let us pray for peace — fervently, continually, vocally. Let us work toward a lasting peace in all our actions — personally, communally, nationally. And in all things, give praise to almighty God who gives us the peace of Christ.

Rita A. Thiron is the executive director of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions.

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Papal Prayer When Visiting Ground Zero

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.
We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here —
the heroic first responders:
our firefighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.
We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope.
We are mindful, as well, of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.
God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.
God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.
 

© Libreria Editrice Vaticana. All rights reserved.

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