Ordination of Brother Joseph Ryan as a Deacon
Homily of Cardinal Séan Brady, Archbishop of Armagh, Mellifont Abbey, Collon, Co Louth
1 November 2011, Feast of All Saints
Deacons share in Christ’s mission and grace in a special way. They assist in the celebration of the Sacraments, especially at Mass, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and in preaching, in presiding over funerals and in dedicating themselves to various works of charity. The Order of Diaconate, which Brother Joseph is receiving today, is called Transitional, because it is the final stepping stone on the road of priesthood. The diaconate therefore is an important enrichment for the work of the Church. Separately, preparation for what is known as the permanent diaconate – which can be conferred on married men – has been undertaken by twelve men in the diocese of Armagh. In addition there are ten seminarians studying for the priesthood in the diocese.
Today is a day of great joy for many reasons. It is the feast of all the Saints, of all the ages and of all nations. It is the feast of all the Saints of our own families and friends and we think today especially of Brother Bernard and Brother Malachy. We think of our own parents and grandparents and we hope for this a feast of hope. We hope that they are already in the Glory of Heaven and if they are they are closely united to us who are still suffering here on earth as we continue to journey on our pilgrim way.
The general assembly of our Brothers and Sisters, already enjoying the Glory of Heaven, they represent that part of the People of God that are already safely home and dry, as we say. They are safe and sound in eternal happiness, but they are still close to us. They remind us gently of our own last end. They recall to us constantly that we are also called to holiness, this is our true destiny. We are called to become holy, not by means of extraordinary works, but by the constant faithful carrying out of the duties that falls to us from our Baptism, the keeping of the Commandments, especially the Commandment, ‘to love one another as Christ loved us’. The Saints, all of the Saints are our friends. They also are our role models. They are present to us and with us. Silently they watch over us and they protect us.
Today is a day of great joy for another reason. Today Brother Joseph Ryan is being ordained a Deacon. As we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Orders, as well as that of the Blessed Eucharist, I welcome his mother and his family. We ask the Lord to send His Holy Spirit upon Brother Joseph in a special way to give him the power to serve God’s people, to continue rather to serve God’s people, for he has been doing so for years as a solemnly professed monk of this great monastery. We pray that God will give him all the graces he needs to serve as deacon for a time and that soon, please God, as a priest.
I simply love that passage from the Book of Revelations which we heard in the First Reading. There St John describes the immense multitude which he saw standing before the Lamb of God in Heaven. They were dressed in white robes and they held the palm of victory in their hand. They represent the Chosen One of God. Thanks to the blood of the Lamb, shed and poured out for all of us on Calvary, they have been washed clean of their sins. They received the strength to remain faithful in the hour of trial and temptation and tribulation. They are those who have been baptised who bear the seal which shows that they belong to God. Now no harm can touch them, they are safe.
Then there is the magnificent last sentence, referring to those who have suffered martyrdom. “These are the people who have been through the great persecution and they have washed their robes white again in the Blood of the Lamb.” I was in Albania recently where there was a great and terrible persecution from 1945 – 1990. We were given a lovely picture of a cross. On the Cross were the photographs of some
55 Catholic priests, religious and bishops, brutally murdered for their faith. They too had washed their robes white in the Blood of the Lamb.
Jesus did not just pour out His blood on Calvary for the salvation of the world. On the night before He suffered, at the Last Supper, He took bread and wine and changed them into His Body and Blood and gave them to His disciples to eat and drink. Then He said to them: “Do this in memory of me.”
Now Jesus is not unreasonable. He does not command someone to do something without also giving them the power to do what He is commanding. For that reason we believe that Jesus gave to His disciples, the power to say Mass, and that power has been handed down through the ages in the Church.
Jesus has left us this great sacrament so that we too can have our robes washed in the blood of the lamb, in other words so that we too can have our sins forgiven and so that we too can eat His sacred Body and drink His precious Blood and so get the strength and the courage to remain faithful to his commandments.
So we have the great sacrament of Holy Orders. The sacraments have different purposes in the Church – Baptism, Holy Communion and Confirmation are the sacraments which initiate us, that is, introduce us into the life of God. That life can be damaged and destroyed by sin. So we have two sacraments which heal the damage done to our communion. They are the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Anointing.
They repair our communion with Christ and with one another.
Finally, we have the Sacraments of Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony. At first sight they do not seem to have much in common. In actual fact they have a lot in common. Both of these sacraments are directed towards the salvation of others. The attention of married couples is focused on the well-being of their children and of their families.
Those in Holy Orders concentrate on the salvation of their congregations. It is through their service to others, to their children, to their congregations, that married people and those in sacred orders achieve their own salvation.
At marriage and at ordination we get a special mission in the Church.
At our Baptism and our Confirmation, we were all consecrated, set apart and devoted, dedicated to sharing in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. By that I mean, we all share in His work of teaching people so as to lead them to faith. We all share in praying for ourselves and for others and we all share in the work of guiding people to Eternal Glory with the Saints.
But those who receive the Sacrament of Marriage are strengthened and consecrated for the duties of their state in life by a special sacrament, Marriage. Those who receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders are consecrated in the name of Christ to feed the Church by the Word of God and by the Sacraments of God.
So, today we give thanks that God has called Brother Joseph to set out on the road to priesthood and that he has reached the final stages of the journey.
It is a two-fold journey, a journey of discernment, an effort to know if that is what God really has in mind for Brother Joseph.
Secondly, it is a journey of hard work and preparation, the hard work of study, prayer and reflection.
Brother Joseph made his solemn profession as a Cistercian Monk, some years ago. Today he is being ordained Deacon, today he enters the Order of Deacon.
Deacons share in Christ’s mission and grace in a special way. They assist in the celebration of the Sacraments, especially at Mass, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and in preaching, in presiding over funerals and in dedicating themselves to various works of charity.
Of course Brother Joseph has been doing much of this already. The Order of Diaconate, which he is receiving today, is called Transitional, because it is the final stepping stone on the road of priesthood. I am delighted that he is being ordained deacon so that in his preaching he can share with his congregations the fruits of his life of prayer and meditation and so lead them into deeper faith and communion with Christ and with one another. We ask God to bless him and all deacons.
Fifty years ago the Latin Church restored the diaconate as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy.
This permanent diaconate, which can be conferred on married men, is an important enrichment for the work of the Church. I am very happy to say that there are now twelve men preparing, in this diocese, to be ordained permanent deacons, that is, they will not proceed to be ordained priests.
There are also ten seminarians studying for the priesthood in the diocese of Armagh.
We give thanks to God for all of them and ask your prayers for them and especially for Brother Joseph.
They are preparing to dedicate their lives to the service of your communion with God and with one another.
For further information: Martin Long 00 353 (0) 86 1727678