Bishop Gerard Clifford Homily to commemorate the ordination of St Oliver Plunkett as Archbishop of Armagh

28 Nov 2008

28 November 2008

Mass in the Cathedral of St. Bavo, Ghent to mark the ordination of St Oliver Plunkett as Archbishop of Armagh  339 years ago

Homily to commemorate the ordination of St Oliver Plunkett as Archbishop of Armagh here in Ghent 339 years ago

I am delighted today to join you here for your Sunday liturgy. Today 70 people have come from Ireland, from the Archdiocese of Armagh, to remember that some 339 years ago one of the great Archbishops of Armagh, St. Oliver Plunkett, was ordained here by the Bishop of Ghent. Today we will unveil a plaque here in the Cathedral to commemorate that event.

We come on the first day of the new liturgical year, the first Sunday of Advent. . The message in our liturgy is to ‘Stay awake’.  The first Sunday of Advent has two clear messages for all of us. It calls us to prepare spiritually for Christ’s coming at Christmas. It also has a more lasting message. It calls us to think seriously about the great issues of life, about the meaning of life, about our relationship with God, the role of faith in our own lives and the duty to hand on that faith to the next generation. 

All of those questions engaged St. Oliver Plunkett in his ministry and work as Archbishop of Armagh.

Oliver Plunkett was born in County Meath, in the midlands in Ireland in the year 1625 (363 years ago). Catholics at the time were being persecuted for their faith. Many were evicted from their homes and forbidden to attend Mass. At the time there was only one active Bishop in Ireland. Priests were hunted down and persecuted. Many fled to the Continent of Europe. Oliver Plunkett had to go to Rome to study for the priesthood because there were no Colleges or institutions of learning at home. Oliver was ordained priest in Rome and remained in Rome as a professor of Theology at the Propaganda College for twelve years. Because the persecution of Catholics was at a high point in Ireland Oliver Plunkett could not be ordained Archbishop in Ireland but was ordained here in Ghent by Bishop Eugene D’Allamont on 1st December, 1669. During the persecutions in Ireland the Bishops of Flanders had been more than generous in giving help to exiled Irish churchmen.  In fact Oliver‘s ordination was the third ordination of an Irish archbishop at which Bishop D’Allamont had assisted in those years.

Archbishop Plunkett returned to Ireland and began a ministry of reform and renewal of clergy and laity for the next eleven years. During the reforms he made many enemies not least among the clergy and it was one of the renegade priests whom he had censured who gave evidence against him in his trial. Oliver was brought to England and was charged with treason. He was executed in London in 1681. In 1920 he was declared a martyr for the faith and was canonised on 12 October, 1975.

Oliver Plunkett was also a man of peace. At the time he returned to Ireland as Archbishop of Armagh there were ongoing battles between those who had been evicted from their lands and the representatives of the British establishment who were responsible for the evictions.  Oliver was a key figure in arranging a permanent peace. Today he is regarded as the patron of the peace process in Northern Ireland. Today people still pray that the peace process which came about after some 40 years of struggle and rebellion in Northern Ireland will prove effective in delivering a permanent peace and justice for all communities in Northern Ireland.

Oliver Plunkett’s ministry was one of renewal of faith and commitment among the Catholic community. Today, like most of the free world Ireland has benefitted from the wealth and comfort brought about by new-found wealth.  For some time we have experienced large scale employment, better opportunities for all, more money and a much better standard of living for all. All of that is changing in the present worldwide downturn in the economy. But the years of affluence have had their effect on the faith and religious practise of many. Like many others we have become more materialistic and secular. The words in our readings today call all of us to live out our lives aware of the dignity that is ours. The Prophet Isaiah says;

“Lord, you are our Father,
We are the clay, you the potter
We are all the work of your hand”.

That is our dignity as God’s creatures. That is the context in which we live as followers of Jesus Christ. This season of Advent is a time for all of us to reflect on that. It is a time to reflect on priorities. The message of the Gospel is as urgent as it was two thousand years ago. “Stay awake because you do not know when the master of the house is coming”. That’s the message Oliver Plunkett preached. It is a message for every one of use at this time. I hope it is a message that every one of us will take to heart.

+ Gerard Clifford.
30 November 2008

Notes to Editors

  • Bishop Gerard Clifford, Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh, is leading a pilgrimage of 70 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Armagh to attend this unique and historic ceremony commemorating the Episcopal consecration of St Oliver Plunkett as Archbishop of Armagh in Ghent on 1st December 1669
  • A commemorative plaque in honour of St. Oliver Plunkett will be unveiled at this special Mass, which takes place in St Bavos’ Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium on Sunday 30 November, 2008 at 11.00am. The Mass will be concelebrated by Bishop Van Looy of Ghent and Dr. Gerard Clifford. It will be narrated in Flemish and English and is open to the general public.
  • The divine liturgy will be accompanied by St. Peter’s Church Choir, Drogheda, under the baton of Edward Holly.
  • In Ireland, each year, thousands of pilgrims visit St Oliver Plunkett’s Shrine in St Peter’s Church, Drogheda, in the Archdiocese of Armagh, to venerate his relics and to learn about his life story. Pilgrims pray for the sick and troubled, for family and friends. They fittingly turn to St Oliver, who was martyred for his faith in a time of political, religious and social turmoil, to pray for his intercession concerning conflict areas at home and abroad.

Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Kathy Tynan, Communications Officer (086 817 5674)