Detroit — As the entire Archdiocese of Detroit gathers this fall to discuss ways to better share Christ’s saving message with the people of southeast Michigan, an important part of the gathering will be the honest acknowledgement that, to this point, the Catholic Church in Metro Detroit could have done better.
In order to improve each and every Catholic’s ability to share Christ, it’s first necessary to “acknowledge that we have, indeed, been held back from fulfilling our mission as disciples of Christ,” Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said in a recent letter to parishes.
To do that, Archbishop Vigneron announced that he will preside over the first-ever archdiocesan Mass for Pardon at 7 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
“Before this November’s Synod, I felt it important that we deeply and seriously reflect on the sinfulness that has kept us as a People of God apart from our Lord, and repent for this,” the archbishop wrote. During the Mass, “I will come personally before God to repent on behalf of the Archdiocese for the sins committed over the generations by our bishops, our priests, our lay ministers, our institutions, and all the faithful — sins which, all too often, have become embedded in our church-culture.”
The historic Mass will be modeled on the worldwide “Day of Forgiveness” led by Pope St. John Paul II during Jubilee 2000, and will be “a cornerstone in our local observance of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and an occasion of repentance and humility for every member of the Archdiocese,” the archbishop said.
Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Byrnes, who together with the archbishop has led efforts related to the synod and ongoing evangelization initiative, said the Mass is not about apologizing for teachings that conflict with secular society, but rather is a way to “get right with God” as a community of faith before asking for the graces needed to evangelize.
“Corporate repentance, repentance of a body of God’s people, goes back to Leviticus and the Day of Atonement,” Bishop Byrnes told The Michigan Catholic in an interview. “One figure that represents the whole body is the principal agent of this repentance that leads to atonement.”
Just as the high priest represents the people in repenting to God in the Old Testament, Archbishop Vigneron will represent the Archdiocese of Detroit when he comes personally before God during the Mass for Pardon, Bishop Byrnes said.
“That’s a crucial part of this. This is really about us and God” said Bishop Byrnes, who attended the pope’s Day of Forgiveness Mass in 2000. “We know we’re doing it in public and we know there’s going to be criticism about what we say and don’t say, but this is really about addressing our heavenly Father with repented hearts but also with great confidence because God desires to forgive us.”
Before the Mass, the archbishop will lead a solemn procession in silence into the cathedral, and the congregation will be invited to kneel as a litany of pardon is prayed, asking God’s forgiveness for the “concrete actions that have caused harm” both from an institutional and personal standpoint, Bishop Byrnes said.
“There are a couple of big rocks that stand out: the sexual abuse of minors and institutional racism,” Bishop Byrnes said. “Those are two really big elements of our history that we really need to repent for. And there are others: the different scandals of financial mismanagement in our parishes, sins of the people of God. When you look at the tremendous segregation that goes on in our community, there’s many ways that we have abandoned the city and abandoned the people in the city, and that’s had tremendously bad consequences. On the spiritual front, we so often leave Mass unconverted, and we’ve denied the grace of God.”
Bishop Byrnes added the Mass for Pardon is not about “beating ourselves up” or taking “a guilt trip, which is something Catholics are good at,” but rather humbly acknowledging the sins that have held the local Church back and repenting with confidence in the Father’s love.
“That’s important to frame because our image of God is so often the stern judge and we’re scared, and that’s part of the Catholic ethos, or it has been for a long time,” Bishop Byrnes said. “By entering this with confidence, we’re breaking down a false image of God, and that’s an important aspect of this.”
The Mass will be open to the public, and people are invited to participate by offering a rosary, fasting, visiting the Holy Door of Mercy at the cathedral or receiving the sacrament of penance at their own parish.
Bishop Byrnes said the Mass also isn’t an attempt to say the local Church is perfect now or won’t sin again in the future, because repentance is an ongoing process, just as evangelization is.
“Ultimately, sin holds us back from unleashing the Gospel,” Bishop Byrnes said. “How do we respond to the Gospel? Repent and believe. Repentance always comes first as we engage the Good News.”