Leaders of both parties join Biden, Harris for Mass of thanksgiving at cathedral

President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, attend Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington Jan. 20, 2021, before his presidential inauguration. (CNS/Reuters)

By Mark Pattison / Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Hours before his inauguration as president, Joe Biden and incoming Vice President Kamala Harris were joined by the spouses and congressional leaders from both political parties for what was termed a Mass of thanksgiving early Jan. 20 at St. Matthew Cathedral in Washington.

Among those invited to the Mass were House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, a Catholic, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, tweeted, “Such an honor to be able to attend the inaugural church service this morning at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew. It is aptly called the ‘Mass of Thanksgiving.'”

Jesuit Father Kevin O’Brien, president of Jesuit-run Santa Clara University in California, was the scheduled celebrant.

In a tweet posted Jan. 20, Father O’Brien said: “My friends of ≈15 years, @JoeBiden & @DrBiden asked me to celebrate Mass for their family & friends at inauguration. I will offer the peace and support of prayer as the new admin tries to heal a divided nation. May God bless all public officials as they serve the common good.”

The Mass was considered private, and reporters were not permitted to cover it.

The cathedral posted a prayer from Archbishop John Carroll on its Facebook page the morning of Inauguration Day, prefacing it with its own message: “Thanking God for the morning’s sunshine on this Inauguration Day, let us unite in prayer for our nation.”

It had been a long-standing practice for incoming presidents to go to a prayer service at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, at the edge of Lafayette Park across from the White House, on the morning of their inauguration.

Dubbed “The Church of the Presidents,” every sitting president has attended the church at least once since it was built in 1816, starting with James Madison. With the exception of Richard Nixon, every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has attended spiritual services on Inauguration Day, many at St. John’s. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

The church, though, gained a measure of unwanted notoriety last June when church workers and volunteers, who were distributing food and water to Black Lives Matters protesters at the park, were evicted by federal officers. During the protest, the church’s parish house was damaged by a fire.

Police and National Guard troops later used tear gas to clear out protesters so that outgoing President Donald Trump could pose for a photo in front of the church brandishing a Bible.

On Inauguration Day, Trump boarded Air Force One following a farewell ceremony at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland moments before Biden, the nation’s second Catholic president, and his wife, Jill, were seen departing Blair House to go to church.


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