The Mass, informally referred to as the Blue Mass, is the New Year’s Mass of Blessing for the Safety and Success of Law Enforcement Officers. This year’s celebration, with Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki as principal celebrant, was held Jan. 18.

Bishop William P. Callahan, at the time pastor of the Basilica of St. Josaphat, started the special Mass in the mid-1990s after meeting two uniformed officers during a Christmas Eve Mass. The two officers had a chance to catch a portion of the Mass while on duty.

“At first I wondered if something was wrong, but they just wanted to be in church and pray,” Bishop Callahan said. “I realized the police officers and the firefighters don’t get a chance to do this. They’re taking care of us.”

The bishop said the special Mass morphed into a service designed to pay homage to the many officers who make sacrifices, and to offer a special blessing with each new year.

“It’s an opportunity to come together and recognize the men and women who serve and protect,” Bishop Callahan said. “It’s an opportunity to seriously pray for protection for these people. If there’s going to be peace, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, will bring peace. It’s very important, and shows the significance of who they are, and what they do.”

Early on, the Mass was geared primarily toward members of the Milwaukee Police Department, but over time the bishop said invitations also were extended to firefighters, the state police and other law enforcement agencies. As word spread throughout different departments, the event grew.

In his homily, Archbishop Listecki drew from the Gospel of St. Matthew, and used Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as a correlation to paying tribute to officers’ work.

“Every day, you have to put on that uniform that represents a domestic tranquility; all the rest of society depends on it,” Archbishop Listecki said. “You put your lives on the line so we can enjoy what we do on a day-to-day basis.”

Archbishop Listecki said police officers generally have keen insight into what it means to give of one’s self because of the demands of their profession.

“At the altar is the sacrifice of Christ; he literally is laying down his life for us,” Archbishop Listecki said. “You understand what it means to sacrifice and give up your lives.”

Saying police officers “helped make us who we are,” Archbishop Listecki offered the Eucharist as an expression of gratitude forthe officers.

The program has grown to include the honor guard from the Bishop Henni Assembly of the Knights of Columbus. Members of the local police band and the police and fire bagpipe group also participated.

The Mass has a special meaning for Charles Lelinski, a retired Milwaukee Police Department officer who has a daughter and three sons-in-law following in his footsteps. Lelinski also is a member of the Knights of Columbus and is part of the honor guard.

“This blessing … brings up the whole issue of our occupation,” said Lelinski, who stays active in his profession doing contract work for the Drug Enforcement Administration. “We need to have God involved with us with what we do. We can’t do it by ourselves, with the danger out there, the situations we face and the risks that are out there.”