Washington D.C., May 2, 2017 / 05:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- At a Mass on Tuesday, the archbishop of Washington, D.C. thanked law enforcement officers and first responders for putting themselves in harm’s way for the betterment of society. “This Mass,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl said, “should call forth from all of us enormous gratitude.” He thanked officials in attendance, their fallen comrades who died in the line of duty, and the families of the deceased.

Cardinal Wuerl was the celebrant and homilist at the 23rd annual Blue Mass at St. Patrick’s Church in downtown Washington, D.C.  The Mass is said for law enforcement and fire safety officials, and for those who have died in the line of duty. According to the Archdiocese of Washington, the tradition of the Blue Mass dates back to 1934 but it has only been an annual tradition beginning with 1994.

In 2016, there were 144 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in the U.S., according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

In attendance at the Mass were various federal and local law enforcement honor guards and families of slain law enforcement officials. At the end of the liturgy, two trumpeters played Taps after the names of the slain officials from the past year were read.

“Recognizing that not every law enforcement officer, firefighter, emergency responder or medical personnel returns home at the end of their shift, we pray especially for the fallen and their families,” the cardinal wrote later on his blog. “Reflecting our faith in the Resurrection, our prayers are directed to our loving and ever-merciful God, whom we ask to receive into his kingdom of new and eternal life those who have paid the last full measure so that others might live, prosper and be free,” he continued.

Those officers fallen in the line of duty show us that “violence” is around us, the cardinal admitted in his homily. “We recognize unfortunately that violence is also a part of life,” he said, yet “we must never let it change us.”

He reflected on the first reading of the martyrdom account of St. Stephen, insisting that there was “more to the story” than an unjust death. The officers who “stand in harm’s way” in defense of human dignity witness to “the great hope that there is a better way,” he added. “Your lives and your service are a great witness to that hope,” he told the officials in attendance at the Mass.

Ultimately, these officers are motivated by love, the cardinal stressed: “their love of their families to be sure, and also their love for the community, their selfless love for those they do not even know, for those who may not even like or appreciate them, but for whom they are willing to risk their own lives.” “This love is reflected in all of the routine day in and day out challenges they face all the time.”