QUAERITUR: American patriotic stuff in church

From a reader:

Is it permissible to recite the pledge of allegiance at Mass before
the final blessing and then omit the final blessing? Is it permissible
to display the American flag on the main altar during Mass?

Omit the final blessing? NO! Not unless there is a liturgical reason to do so.

But to have the Pledge at that point? Before the blessing? That’s out of place. After Mass would be okay. In the past I have after Mass willingly lead people in a recitation of Archbishop Carroll’s prayer for public figures. When I am in England I have after Mass happily lead a prayer for the Queen.

I believe there is no law for the universal Church that governs the placement of flags in church. Diocesan bishops could issues particular rules for their dioceses. However, if memory serves, flags in the sanctuary itself are discouraged.

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33 Responses to QUAERITUR: American patriotic stuff in church

  1. Legisperitus says:

    According to what I’ve read, the display of American flags in Catholic sanctuaries started essentially as a protest of loyalty during World War I, when the USA was fighting against the “Catholic powers” and German-speaking Catholics especially were widely suspected of being traitors. And today, curiously enough, we’re once again seeing Catholicism attacked as something un-American.

  2. This is such a contrast to Ireland! We have no pledge of allegiance for instance. While I have occasionally seen the Papal flag and the Irish flag on either side of the sanctuary in Irish churches over all I think it rare here. That could be due to the Protestants, particularly the Anglicans (C of I) hanging flags in their churches – especially in the North. While we should honour the people and nation God has assigned us to, as Catholics we are part of something infinitely greater: the People of God, the Church, the Body of Christ in which all nations (and their symbols etc) have a place but to which all nations are secondary.

  3. Imrahil says:

    Hon. dear @Br Forde,

    systematically (and I guess numerically, albeit I know little to nothing about the Third World here), America is here the exception.

    I don’t mind some fine American patriotism, even in Church, and might salute to the Bavarian anthem if noone sees me*, but I’d feel most awkward if anything remotely similar to the Pledge of Allegiance were recited in schools around here (even if it was to Bavaria and not Germany the pledge were directed to, one of the difficulties to begin with). And no, this has nothing to do with “national identity problems”.

    Yet… I don’t mind if, in America, they do as the Americans do.

    [*I never dared to do so as a soldier when outside uniform, because I thought there was a rule about not saluting in civilian clothes. Thus when I formally ceased to be a soldier and under obedience, I took it as civilian freedom to be allowed to perform the military salute... Think what you will, but I'm going to amuse myself about myself, here.]

  4. In my view, this is where we see an unwholesome tendency to mingle, and nearly merge, our worship of God and our love of country. It’s not something people realize they do. I suspect it’s because the emotions felt in association with patriotism are so akin to those felt in love of our Faith.

    If you stop and think about it, how often we can speak as though God has given a special blessing to the United States–as if God were an American! (I’m pretty certain he is not.) Consider how often folks will say, we got where we are because God blessed our advance–but if we sin too much, he’ll turn against us. Just one problem with that: you mean we haven’t already sinned enough to offend God? Seriously? And I mean more than legal abortion, contraception spread worldwide by our government, and our major export of porn.

    In my view, the flag belongs toward the back, or near the door of church–certainly not in the sanctuary. A hymn–if hymns must be sung–should be a prayer, and if its for our country, that’s fine. Of all the “patriotic” hymns, “America the Beautiful” comes closest to being a prayer: i.e., for God to make us noble. The final verse–which looks beyond our nation to our heavenly home–is, in my view, the best and makes the whole song worthwhile as a prayerful expression, and not just another version of “aren’t we wonderful?”

    Finally, am I really the only person who finds the pledge of allegiance off-kilter? I would rewrite it, to say something like, “I pledge allegiance to the Republic of the United States of America, for which this flag stands”–as it is, the allegiance to the republic is expressed in a secondary way in the pledge.

    And I wouldn’t use it at Mass in any way, shape or form.

  5. Lepidus says:

    Just wondering, Father, when you were leading the prayer for public figures or allowing for the Pledge, how do you define the “end of Mass”? After the final blessing or after the closing hymn? (in most parishes I’ve been in, that would mean you’re doing it by yourself!) I guess your answer to that would imply the permissibility of a patriotic song as the closing.

  6. Imrahil says:

    With an excuse to Tyrolean readers about poaching in their habitat,

    To the Pledge! people and land,
    lift to Heaven heart and hand,
    what to the Lord you once have sworn,
    in eternal fealty may be born:
    Thus we’re swearing, today anew,
    Heart of Christ, to be etern’lly true,
    Thus we’re swearing, today anew,
    Heart of Christ, to be etern’lly true.

    Thou wast e’er, in wondrous might,
    the treasure in our people’s sight.
    In distress, in dang’r of war,
    shielded’st people and altar.
    Thus we’re swearing, today anew,
    Heart of Christ, to be etern’lly true,
    Thus we’re swearing, today anew,
    Heart of Christ, to be etern’lly true.

    Fast and strong to our God
    we will hold, ‘spite taunt and mock,
    hard to faith we will endowr, [forced rhyme! apologies]
    our people’s fairest flow’r.
    Thus we’re swearing, today anew,
    Heart of Christ, to be etern’lly true,
    Thus we’re swearing, today anew,
    Heart of Christ, to be etern’lly true.

    Far as all the Earth is round,
    are no men more fairly bound.
    Let foes curse, their temper lose:
    fealty is in Christian use.
    Thus we’re swearing, today anew,
    Heart of Christ, to be etern’lly true,
    Thus we’re swearing, today anew,
    Heart of Christ, to be etern’lly true.

  7. Fr AJ says:

    Sounds like someone got a bit carried away with Mass on Memorial Day. The flag was actually on the altar? The Pledge in place of the final blessing? Well meaning I suppose but very mistaken.

  8. Fr AJ says:

    Lepidus, Mass ends with the final blessing. The closing hymn is not actually part of Mass.

  9. robtbrown says:

    On national holidays when the Star Spangled Banner or America the Beautiful is sung at the end of mass, I am always tempted to yell “Play Ball!” at the song’s end.

  10. jaykay says:

    I think I’d agree with Br. Forde and Imrahil, in that displaying the national flag in the sanctuary (or in the church as a whole) is probably not generally done world-wide. Certainly in Europe it’s not usual. The cases Br. Forde cites concerning Anglican churches in Northern Ireland and the UK I think are actually mostly displays connected with military memorials e.g. “laid-up” regimental colours or ships’ ensigns etc., where the regiment or warship has a connection to the church, or memorials to the fallen of various wars.

  11. Imrahil says:

    A patriotic song at the closing? Depends on what the patriotic song is.

    If it is the national anthem, the Bavarians, Britons, New Zealanders (with some misgivings for that familiar sound of false-ecumenism), and certainly the “reformed” Swissmen get a pass. Americans, Germans, Italians, Frenchmen, “old-fashioned” Swissmen do not.

    I do think you can sing America the Beautiful, or God bless America, or The Battle Hymn of the Republic at an end. Indeed that would be a very fitting end to a Corpus Christi procession. After the Te Deum of course (why not sing two hymns at a time…).

  12. Lepidus says:

    Thank you Fr. AJ. That’s what I thought. It’s also NOT what you here when they are trying to encourage the congregation to stick around for a minute instead of taking the “Go! The Mass is ended” quite too literally. A worthy goal, but not technically correct.

  13. Imrahil says:

    Apologies to New Zealanders, with my criticism I meant the second stanza, and the second stanza only, in that very beautiful anthem.

  14. The Masked Chicken says:

    Oh, the many ironies of this situation.

    Originally written as a Columbus Day activity, it was the Knights of Columbus, in the 1950′s, that started the campaign to get, “under God,” inserted into the Pledge. President Eisenhower, a newly baptized Presbyterian, thought this was just great and pushed for it. The idea came from one version of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, that say, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.” It seems that, linguistically, Lincoln meant, “Lord willing,” and not “under God’s Protection.” Of course, Eisenhower said,

    “From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty…. In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”

    Little did he know that only fifty years later a movement to invalidate his words would be afoot.

    The Pledge cannot be said during Mass. It could be said, after Mass, but one wonders, in this sad day and age if one can really pledge allegiance to a republic that is no longer one nation, nor under God. The Pledge has become a contradiction within itself.

    The Chicken

  15. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    Very interesting to read these comments. In France, of course on certain national days, the Tricolor is displayed by the altar, and also processed in, indeed most churches have the little triple-bracket for small national flags as well on the sanctuary walls (as also in the street).

    But then we must not forget that the parish churches belong to the local commune (Town Hall), so what goes on in church is within the gift of the municipality, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the political colour.

    So all-in-all not a good thing at all, really.

  16. How about this?

    What if we revised and renewed the traditional prayer, once part of the Leonine prayers (as I am told–I don’t recall): “Savior of the world, save America“?

    How does one do this? Just do it? Should we ask someone’s permission?

  17. Ed the Roman says:

    Father FOx, we’re Americans. Find a spot where it isn’t clearly prohibited and just start doing it.

  18. ReginaMarie says:

    Fr. Martin Fox,
    Thank you for your insightful comment:

    “In my view, this is where we see an unwholesome tendency to mingle, and nearly merge, our worship of God and our love of country. It’s not something people realize they do. I suspect it’s because the emotions felt in association with patriotism are so akin to those felt in love of our Faith.

    If you stop and think about it, how often we can speak as though God has given a special blessing to the United States–as if God were an American! (I’m pretty certain he is not.) Consider how often folks will say, we got where we are because God blessed our advance–but if we sin too much, he’ll turn against us. Just one problem with that: you mean we haven’t already sinned enough to offend God? Seriously? And I mean more than legal abortion, contraception spread worldwide by our government, and our major export of porn.”

    Sadly, some of this mistaken mingling of faith & patriotism has spilled over into US politics & military intervention.

  19. Ed:

    Well, I meant, adding that prayer in some way to the Leonine prayers, after Mass in the Extraordinary Form, in the manner I’m told their used to be a prayer, “Savior of the world, save Russia.”

    I would not change any of the prayers associated with the Extraordinary Form without being extraordinarily sure it was permitted by proper authorities–and only then, after making sure it’s permitted by those attending.

  20. Spaniard says:

    In Spain it is permitted to play the National Anthem after the Consecration and render honours with the flag during the elevations

  21. disco says:

    I’m not exactly sure what would qualify as “the sanctuary itself”, especially where there is no communion rail, but in our church (behind te rail) there is the flag of the Holy See off to the side near the st Joseph altar on the epistle side and old glory is off to the other side near the lady altar on the gospel side. Both flags hang with appropriate dignity, near as I can tell.

    In my experience this is a typical, though not universal, arrangement in the churches in the Boston Archdiocese.

  22. Matt R says:

    On hymns, I would encourage the use of ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save,’ which is the hymn of the United States Navy and I believe also the British Royal Navy.
    Pledge is inappropriate during Mass certainly, and a bit silly to me anyways afterwards.

  23. a catechist says:

    Interesting! My childhood parish was mostly folks who were descended from Bavarian and Czech settlers of Texas in the 1830s. An American flag and the Vatican flag were always in the sanctuary, until the neighborhood changed and became mostly Spanish-speaking, when both were removed.

    In the American Midwest, where I am now, displaying a U.S. flag would be controversial. Should only the American flag be present? What about the flags of our recent immigrants’ homelands? What about the flag of Mexico on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe? Immigration is such a hot topic here, any flag in our churches would be headache after headache for our priests, who already have headaches enough. There are “patriotic rosaries” here, usually outdoors, and I think it’s very wise to keep Mass universal and let private devotions be private devotions.

  24. wmeyer says:

    In the American Midwest, where I am now, displaying a U.S. flag would be controversial.

    Then surely someone is confused. One emigrates from one country to a new country, presumably to obtain a more favorable life condition. If one travels to a new country for the purpose of radically changing that country’s way of life, I believe that is normally referred to as invasion. Our country has only one flag; each state has only one of its own, and the Church has another. None of these, last time I looked resemble in any way the flags of Mexico, Iran, China, or any other foreign country.

  25. BLB Oregon says:

    This is something that Fr. Mariusz Frukacz said in an interview about Bl. Jerzy Popieluszko, and I think it is the model for how patriotism relates to our faith, which of course it must:
    (http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/father-jerzy-popieluszko-priest-and-patriot)

    “Father Popieluszko was a priest who always had with him the words taken from the prophet Isaiah and Luke’s Gospel: “He has sent me to take the good news to the poor, to bind the wounds of broken hearts.” This phrase is on the stamp of his priestly ordination.

    As chaplain of Solidarity he was always with the workers during strikes; he helped the families of persecuted and imprisoned workers.

    Father Popieluszko was not a political activist in the usual sense of the term, but he always reminded people that political action must serve the common good, must recognize the dignity of persons and respect human rights.

    In this sense we can say that Father Popieluszko, wishing to fulfill his priestly vocation to serve humanity, participated intensely in social life. The aim of his actions was not of a reductive or particular political character….

    “Solidarity was not just a labor union. It was formed from the beginning as a national movement of 10,000 persons.

    It was the first movement in which the Catholic Church and the world of workers united.

    We must remember that, for Communist ideology, the worker is a person who does not believe and in the name of materialist ideology must stay far from the faith and the Catholic Church. Already from its birth in 1980, Solidarity represented the opposite of Marxist and Communist philosophy.

    The Catholic Church and workers were consistently and solidly together.

    To understand better the reason for the defeat of the powerful Communist and Soviet regime we must look to the great and important role played by John Paul II.

    It all began in John Paul II’s first trip in 1979. It was the first trip of the Slav Pope to a country of Central and Eastern Europe. The invocations and prayers that John Paul II pronounced in Victory Square (today Pilsudski Square), were prophetic: “May the Holy Spirit descend on this land and make it change.” A year later, the Solidarity movement was born.

    We must also recall the 6th World Youth Day in August of 1991 in Jasna Gora and Czestochowa. It was the first youth day with the participation of young people of Eastern Europe.

    The Holy Father celebrated Holy Mass on August 15 and three days later the Soviet regime fell.

    Personally, I think that we must also look at the role of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, primate of Poland, imprisoned by the Communist regime during the years 1953-1956. It was Cardinal Wyszynski who organized the “Jasna Gora Vows” in 1965, the novena on the occasion of one thousand years of Christianity in Poland [celebrated in 1966].

    They were very hard years, in which it seemed impossible to survive Soviet domination. And yet Cardinal Wyszynski succeeded in organizing and guaranteeing the religious and social activity of the faithful in Poland.

    It was Cardinal Wyszynski himself who reinforced and defended the “Theology of the Nation” to reinforce the Catholic identity of Poles…

    …for the Polish people faith is also important in social life. It isn’t a private thing. Faith has a social and national dimension.

    For us Mary, the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, is the Queen of Poland.

    For us, the faith is united to true patriotism, that is, love of God and of the homeland. Often seen on Polish flags is the phrase “God, Honor, Homeland.”

    I think this identity and this religious practice fueled the spiritual force that defeated Communism. I would like to recall that the Marxist-Leninist regime placed itself against God (atheist) and against the nation (Communist Internationalism).

    We must also remember that even Jesus loved his homeland and wept over the fate of Jerusalem…”

  26. Jack007 says:

    The American flag and Papal flag, are in almost every sanctuary in my diocese, and have been since seemingly forever. This also includes my neighboring diocese as well. Even the SSPX parishes. I say almost… only in the FSSP and Institute parishes is it NOT there.
    Jack in KC

  27. vetusta ecclesia says:

    The display of flags in the sanctuary is very common and widespread in the Hispanic world old and new.

  28. Supertradmum says:

    a catechist, I do not know what Midwest state you are from, but when I grew up even into my twenties, all Catholic churches had the papal flag on one side and the American flag on the other. One can see these in photos of weddings, first Communions and such. These years would have been the fifties, sixties and seventies.

  29. Imrahil says:

    Only time we ever had any sort of flag in the sanctuary (to wit, on the old communion-rail behind the new altar) was when we had an official group of Italian guests. German and Italian.

    It is customary, though, to fly the “Church flag” (yellow and white, without Papal insignia) or sometimes the Vatican flag, and on Dedication the “Zachaeus flag” from the front door on high festivities… or also to decorate the sanctuary with it.

    Having the altar actually enfolded in a national flag (as I understand the text), I must say, exceeds my tolerance (which, as it were, does not matter, but you get the idea). It is not an autel de la Patrie.

  30. cwillia1 says:

    To me it is very simple. Unless the civil authority explicitly acknowledges its adherence to the catholic faith and its dependence on God and shows the proper respect towards the pastors of the church, its symbols do not belong in the sanctuary or in the nave. They may be displayed elsewhere on church property, so long as the state protects the freedom of Christians to proclaim the gospel and to live it.

  31. Gallia Albanensis says:

    I find flags in church unsavory, and maybe servile to the larger culture. Unless it’s a confessional Catholic state, or a Catholic personal ruler. I could live with Orthodox, also. As an above poster said, if you want a different flag around, put it in the back of the church, if anywhere. My humble opinion.

    I still can’t wrap my mind around Catholic American patriotism – outside of the minimum required to meet good morals – considering what an opponent of the faith (and the other apostolic churches) that the US has always been. But that’s another topic. We’re Daniel in Babylon here.

  32. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Gallia Albanensis speaks of “considering what an opponent of the faith (and the other apostolic churches) that the US has always been.” I cannot imagine Archbishop Carroll agreeing!

  33. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Indeed, if I am not mistaken, Archbishop Carroll’s flock sometimes enjoyed greater freedoms than the subjects of some contemporary confessional Catholic states with a Catholic personal ruler, where, for instance Papal publications were subject to state approval/censorship.