In recent weeks, we have all been publicly informed, once again, of the widespread abusive, damaging and cruel treatment of innocent victims. These victims have been terribly hurt by persons of power within the structure of our church. 

In the face of increasing allegations, an intense sorrow — and even anger — can overwhelm us. For all the members of the “body of Christ” who have been carrying this burden and wound of abuse, this is an extremely difficult time. 

And as members of that same body of Christ, are we not all called to stand in solidarity with the victims; to share their pain and anguish; to surround them with the love of God; to embrace their brokenness, to serve their needs and work to try to help heal their wounds? Yes, our first duty is to hold in our hearts and in our prayers those who have been abused. We must pray, not just as individuals, but as church.

What liturgies do we have that can bring us together to lament in such a way before the Lord? We need communal prayer that draws us together in new ways. It is prayer that requires lay leadership. Our priests and deacons, all members of the ordained ministry, need to sit in solidarity and prayer as equals with the laity, if we are to find a new path for our church. This is an important moment for which lay people need to rise and take action. 

Lament means to cry out in sorrow, sharing the pain of those who have been wronged. Together in prayer, we cry out to God, in solidarity with those who have been abused. In this context of “Liturgies of Lament,” (J. Frank Henderson, Liturgy Training Publications, 1994) together we express our sorrow, ask God for healing and pray for the wisdom to change our systems and behaviors. 

Here is a possible outline of a Liturgy of Lament:

  • Song — consider David Haas’ “God Weeps,” GIA
  • Introductory comments by the lay presider explaining why we have gathered and calling for silent communal penitential prayer
  • Silence (all kneel for an extended period of time)
  • Opening Prayer (all stand) — lay presider offers these or similar words: God of love, who lives in the midst of all suffering, hear our prayers for those who have been abused. Help us to surround them with your love. Give them strength when they are weary, wisdom when they are confused and peace when they are troubled. May we be your compassionate presence to them in times of need. Forgive our ignorance, inaction and silence in the face of their wounds. May their pain never again be hidden or disregarded. Bring us all to new depth of understanding and truth. May we be renewed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
  • Reading (all sit) — consider Philippians 4: 6-8 
  • Silence
  • Responsorial Psalm — Psalm 34: The Cry of the Poor, OCP
  • Gospel (all stand) consider John 14: 1-3
  • Silence
  • Ritual Action: Vigil candles are lit in the altar area throughout the prayers of intercession, offered in these, or similar words. The petitions should be paced slowly. Soft instrumental music may accompany the words: For all the victims of clergy sexual abuse, here in this diocese, in this country and around the world, that they may know we share their pain. For all victims still experiencing pain and anxiety, that they may know peace. For all the families of those who have been abused, that they may be embraced by God’s love and compassion. For all advocates of those who have been abused, that they be given strength and wisdom to help find a pathway to healing. For those who have no one to pray for them. For our church, that the Word of God may break upon our hearts and our minds in new ways. For those who are angry, that they may find justice. For all those who were abused by persons of power in times past, and who have died, that our sins of omission may be forgiven. For all the prayers and sorrow we hold in the silence of our hearts.
  • Silence
  • Let us pray as one body of Christ in the Words he gave us to pray: Our Father…
  • Closing Prayer — in these or similar words: God of all power and peace, forgive us our sins. Comfort our sorrows. Grant us your wisdom to find a pathway forward. May the body of Christ be renewed here on earth, and may your Holy Spirit energize and renew us in the truth of your Word. We ask this with renewed commitment, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. 
  • Closing Song — Psalm 90: In Every Age, Janet Whittaker, OCP

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