Wednesday, 18 May 2011
A Catholic church in Florida will offer Mass for the repose of Osama bin Laden's soul, whilst a Dublin church cancels a similar Mass intention
Two news items came to my attention last night. The first, which can be found on the Florida based WPTV Channel 5 News website mentions the controversy concerning a Mass that will be offered for Osama bin Laden later on this week. The second story, from a recent edition of The Belfast Telegraph, mentions the fact that a church in Ireland recently decided to cancel a scheduled Mass for bin Laden's soul after locals protested to the Archdiocese of Dublin.
According to WPTV, Osama bin Laden's name appears in the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus' Sunday Bulletin for this coming week. The former leader of al-Qaeda is listed as one of the souls to be prayed for during the 12:00pm Mass on Sunday 22 May. His is one of four deceased souls for whom that particular Eucharist will be offered.
Lois Pizzano, a parishioner from Holy Name of Jesus is reported to have said that offering a Mass for bin Laden was "totally wrong" adding that "he doesn't belong in the Catholic religion. For what he did to Americans, he doesn't belong anywhere." She also called the intended Mass "sacrilegious." The parish priest, Fr Gavin Badway (honestly, that's his name!) points out that the Church has never turned down a prayer request before. Whilst acknowledging the evil committed by Osama bin Laden, Fr Gavin points out that, "Nevertheless, Jesus tells us, love and forgive." It seems that many support Fr Badway's decision to offer the Mass, though some were concerned that the friends and family of the three others who will be remembered at the same Eucharist might be be upset to see the notorious terrorist named with their loved ones.
The Belfast Telegraph also reported last week that "Howth parish in Dublin yesterday hastily withdrew an online newsletter advertising plans to dedicate a Mass to the man credited with masterminding the 9/11 attacks on New York's twin towers." The Mass for the repose of Osama bin Laden's soul was to be offered in the Church of the Assumption last Thursday, but diocesan officials removed the online notice after they were alerted by members of the public.
Of course, the Church teaches that it is a work of mercy to pray for the dead, even if they aren't Catholic. But, some would argue that public prayers that could cause scandal or confusion might be best said in private - or at least not during the public celebration of the Eucharist. In fact, the relatives of those killed by Osama bin Laden could very well be scandalised to know that certain priests were offering Mass for his soul, whilst possibly neglecting to pray as publicly for the souls of his victims.
As far as we know, bin Laden died unrepentant, violently and as an active enemy of the Christian faith. We cannot judge whether or not he is in Hell, of course, but I somehow doubt he met the essential criteria even to make it into Purgatory - which is, after all, only open to the baptised or those wanting to know Christ. A priest friend said to me a few years ago that "it is a sin to pray for those in Hell." Well, seeing that we don't know who is in Hell - bar the Devil and his angels - it is always prudent, I guess, to err on the side of caution when it comes to the dead. But, is it scandalous or ill advised, though, to offer public Masses for men such Osama bin Laden?
[Image: Holy Name of Jesus West Palm Beach's Mass intentions for this week, as found on the parish website]