LEWISTON, Maine — Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Maine, told the congregation at the diocese’s annual Blue Mass Sept. 19 that “a good thing” brought them all together that morning.

They gathered to thank first responders, pray for their safety and remember the fallen, including those who lost their lives during 9/11.

“We are here to perform an act of duty. We are here to remember,” the bishop said.

The Blue Mass — so named for the blue uniforms that firefighters, law enforcement and other first responders wear — began with the sound of marching heels walking down the main aisle of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Lewiston.

Visible on the street next to the basilica were ladder trucks from the Lisbon and Lewiston Fire Departments displaying a massive American flag high in the air as a multijurisdictional honor guard comprised of members of four different public safety departments solemnly posted the colors in front of the sanctuary.

An assembly of hundreds stood in silence, with the pews full of either first responders or those wishing to thank them.

Moments later, Bishop Deeley, priests and deacons processed in, starting the 2021 Blue Mass, a tradition that dates to 1934 in the U.S. Catholic Church. The events of 9/11 prompted the Portland Diocese to institute the special Mass locally.

“We gather in thanks for the generosity of those who were the first responders, those who rushed into falling buildings to try to save those who were trying to get out, those who struggled to get the wounded to hospitals despite the difficulties, those who protected the citizens of the country when no one was sure what was happening,” the bishop said about 9/11. “We must always remember that gratitude.”

Police, firefighters, disaster personnel, game wardens, EMTs and other first responders “keep us safe each day,” the bishop said during his homily. “We have certainly seen that during this year as we live through this pandemic. The strain on these first responders has been great as they themselves cope with an illness that has challenged all of us.”

Deeley noted that the strain on these civil servants was clear to him when arrangements were being made for the Blue Mass.

“I was told that it might be difficult to see a large number of first responders attend because they are stretched thin in keeping sufficient people on duty to maintain the safety of their communities,” he said.

He said it was especially important “in remembering the heroism of Sept. 11th and its aftermath” to “express our gratitude for the continuing service of the same groups of people.”

“There have been challenges this year when some of our first responders might have wondered about that support,” the bishop said. “Some of our first responders have even been subject to attack.”

“All the more does that make a gathering such as this necessary,” he added. “It is a reminder of the good that is done by those who help to keep order in our society. That is the act of duty we live out together this morning.”

First responders from around the state attended the Mass. The Portland Diocese covers all of Maine.

Elected officials from the local, state and federal level also were there, including U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine; Gov. Janet Mills and former Gov. Paul LePage; Lewiston Mayor Mark Cayer; State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas; U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Mark Neeland; county commissioners, city councilors, state representatives and senators; and several local police and fire chiefs.

Many of the Mass’ participants also came from the public safety community, including Deacon Kevin Jacques, a police and fire chaplain for two decades, and Deacon Jeffrey Lewis, a fire chaplain who was an EMS provider for over 38 years and also is a former firefighter.

Representatives from different public safety agencies served as gift bearers, while Auburn Police Chief Jason Moen and Detective Joe Philippon of the Lewiston Police Department served as readers.

Deeley commended them all during the Mass, saying the task of those who want to follow Christ is the same task that Jesus shows in his own life: serving others.

“It is giving of self, not getting for self,” he said. “In sum, it is what we pause to honor today as we give thanks for the service of those who have chosen in their careers to serve the common good by watching over the safety of the public in the communities of our state.”

“We give thanks for their service as we pray that we might all hear the call of the Gospel today and challenge ourselves to follow the Lord in service to one another.”

The Mass ended with Scott Vaillancourt, the basilica’s director of music, performing a stirring organ rendition of “America the Beautiful,” accompanied by two trumpeters.

The Blue Mass is planned and organized by the diocese along with representatives from local, state, and federal public safety departments and agencies.