NEW YORK — The New York Archdiocese’s “Mass for Labor” this year was offered Sept. 12 from the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Manhattan with just a few faithful in the pews during the morning liturgy, and many union members watching via livestream.
New York City’s annual Labor Day Parade, normally held on Fifth Avenue the same day, was canceled because of the city’s COVID-19 restrictions. The Mass was offered by Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of archdiocesan Catholic Charities.
“There are only a few of us here in this Chapel of the Sacred Hearts in midtown Manhattan. Usually there are hundreds of us gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral,” said Sullivan in his opening remarks at the Mass.
Sacred Hearts chapel is a mission of the Parish of Our Saviour and St. Stephen-Our Lady of the Scapular.
While events celebrating “the role, the importance, the value of labor” could not be held this year as they traditionally are, Msgr. Sullivan said he was thankful the archdiocese could mark the occasion with the liturgy, which was requested by the New York City Central Labor Council.
The church teaches that each person is made in the image and likeness of God and advocates for the dignity and importance of work, he noted.
In a statement issued in advance of the Mass, Sullivan said the liturgy would take on “added solemnity in the time COVID-19,” because so many front-line workers “risked their lives workers risked their lives providing essential services for New Yorkers this past spring throughout the height of the pandemic.”
“Many unfortunately became infected with the virus, and some tragically lost their lives carrying out these essential services. We will remember them and their families at this Mass,” he added.
In his homily, Sullivan called the day’s readings “incredibly appropriate.”
“When Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 10:14-22), he’s writing to a troubled community … and we (also) live in somewhat tumultuous times, in which many things appear to us to be out of control,” he said.
“And then Jesus speaks to his disciples (Gospel, Luke 6:43-49) about the need for strong foundations to build upon; otherwise it just doesn’t work. It is destroyed.”
St. Paul reminded the Corinthians that one of the ways they were led astray was by idolatry, Sullivan said. “Instead of worshipping God, they make sacrifices to demons. In the discussion, Paul speaks to them of unity. And unity has a number of synonyms; it may be solidarity; it may be mutually looking out for one another. Is there nothing more at the center of the labor movement than workers looking out for one another?”
“At its best, the labor movement has reminded us that the unity of working men and women extends even beyond those who are in unions,” he added. “The labor movement looks to the good of all, the unity of society.”
Sullivan spoke about how the labor movement, through collective bargaining and other efforts, seeks to “foster the best interests of all for the sake of all.” He then explained how demons look to divide people in all sectors of society, and he went to name two of the today’s “demons” as divisiveness and self-centeredness.
“And those are the demons that today are threatening the unity that needs to be that firm, strong foundation, the solidarity upon which we can build a common good,” Sullivan said.
Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, gave the first reading. Patricia White, president of the Theatrical Wardrobe Union, Local 764 IATSE, led the prayer of the faithful, which included a petition “that the labor movement will continue to uphold the dignity of the human person through its struggles for fair wages and benefits for workers and their families, unafraid to stand up for migrants and refugees who are seeking economic opportunity and a better life for their families.”
Alvarez later told Catholic New York, the archdiocesan newspaper, that “our faith and the teachings of the church complement the issues that we in the labor movement are dealing with on a regular basis. It’s important that we reaffirm our commitment to the work of the Catholic Church and the labor movement in protecting the rights, the dignity and the respect of all working people.”
“Right now, it’s more important, with the pandemic, the economic crisis and the ongoing effort to address the racial issues and tensions in our country, that we’re working together.”
Machado writes for Catholic New York, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York.