Chrism Mass Homily of Bishop John McAreavey, St Patrick and St Colman’s Cathedral, Newry, Holy Thursday 5 April 2012
On Holy Thursday we enter the most sacred time in the Church year. With the help of the liturgy and devotions of the Church we re-live moments of great tenderness and faith. Tonight in each parish of the diocese, priests and their parishioners will celebrate together the Mass of the Last Supper; the priest will wash the feet of some parishioners just as Jesus did at the Last Supper with his apostles. It is a reminder to ourselves – and to our people – that we priests committed ourselves in ordination to live our lives based on the example of Jesus who ‘came to serve, not to be served’.
In this Chrism Mass this morning the priests of the diocese gather, along with the people from our parishes and our religious men and women. We gather to affirm our dependence on Christ, our communion with him and one another as members of the Church of Dromore.
In the Word of God – in the OT reading from Isaiah and in the Gospel of Luke – we hear the same passage:
The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
For the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
To bind up hearts that are broken.
What must it have been like when Jesus read this passage in the synagogue at Nazareth? The gospel says, ‘and all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him’. Jesus went on to tell the people that ‘this text is being fulfilled today even as you listen’. This of course was true: in the ministry of Jesus, in his preaching and in the miracles, God’s Kingdom was at hand. In the ministry of the Church the signs of the Kingdom continue to manifest themselves. Bringing good news to the poor … binding up hearts that are broken: every time a priest visits an old person in hospital, spends a short time with them, perhaps gives Holy Communion and a blessing – he is bringing good news to the poor. Every time a priest visits a bereaved family to offer friendship and support – he helps to bind up hearts that are broken. I want to say to the priests here this morning: in your ministry the words of Isaiah used by Jesus are being fulfilled in your service of pastoral charity.
There is one moment when, as priests, we bring good news to the poor and bind up hearts that are broken. This is in the celebration of the Eucharist. In June this year the International Eucharistic Congress will be celebrated in Dublin. People will come from all over the world. It has the potential to bring renewal and healing to the Irish Church. The theme of the Congress – the Eucharist: communion with Christ and with one another – highlights a central aspect of the priesthood. I am sure if you were to ask any priest what was it that drew them into the priesthood, what it is that they value most about the priesthood, what it is that keeps them faithful to the priesthood, the answer would be – the satisfaction of gathering God’s people, nourishing them with the Word of God and with the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. This is also the greatest challenge to us: to preach well, to link the Word of God and the sacrament of the Eucharist with the hunger and thirst in the hearts of our people. Equally, it is a challenge to us and to our people to make sure that what we celebrate in the Eucharist touches and influences every aspect of our lives: at home, at school, at work and in the business and public life of our communities.
The celebration of the Eucharist is also an area of danger for priests: there is the risk of becoming over-familiar with sacred things and to lose our sense of wonder at what it is we are called to do; there is also the temptation to power that comes from dealing with sacred things and dealing with people at highly sensitive moments in their lives.
Over the past year the priests of this diocese have been concerned about how they will respond to the spiritual and pastoral needs of our people, particularly the provision of the Eucharist, both to those who are able to attend Mass and the sick and elderly who are not able to leave their homes. The number of priests available to celebrate the Eucharist in the parishes and schools of the diocese has fallen; several parishes no longer have priests residing in them. On the last day of January and the first day of February, we took ‘time out’ to reflect together on the future of the diocese and on the priesthood we have received. In the past every parish was a separate unit, with its own priests and its own pastoral needs. Priests often worked together as good neighbours to help one another out. At this time each year, for example, priests of the diocese work together to put on penitential services in most parishes. Priests also work together outside their parish boundaries to provide support for Craigavon Area Hospital and as chaplains to our post-primary schools.
The challenge facing us now is to move from being good neighbours and to find ways of working together in teams, while at the same time ensuring that people in each parish have a priest that they recognise as their own priest, who will celebrate Mass in their parish and whom they can call on in times of need.
Priests- working-together is only part of the picture: we want to make sure that in each parish our parishioners play an active role in parish life and in close cooperation with their priest. For example, parish pastoral councils and parish finance councils work with the priests to share responsibility for the good of each parish community.
If our parishioners are to accept real responsibility to ensure that the Catholic faith is handed on in each parish, they will need to grow into an adult faith. The task of a parish is not just to serve the pastoral needs of its people; the aim of a parish is to help its people make the journey from an inherited – and at times superficial – faith to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a deep conviction about the Gospel. The mission of the Church – to bring good news to the poor and to bind up hearts that are broken – is not entrusted to clergy alone.
I want to pay tribute to the thousands of people across the diocese who play an active role in their parishes: in parish councils, in the area of safeguarding, in music ministry, in the service of the poor. On this Holy Thursday when we gather together as the Church of Dromore, I renew my invitation to all our people to find ways of offering their energy, their faith and their talents to contribute to the building up of God’s Kingdom in the community where they live.
As we enter these sacred days of Holy Week and Easter, Jesus invites us to find ourselves in the story of his death and resurrection. We might find ourselves in the weakness of Peter who denied Jesus but who went out and wept bitterly; we might find ourselves in the witness of the women who were the first to see the risen Christ; we might find ourselves in the witness of the Good thief who, at the moment of death, recognised Jesus and pleaded to be able to see him in paradise.
My prayer is that, as we celebrate the sacred mysteries, we will be drawn to a deeper love and respect for one another, for a willingness to forgive one another so that, together, we can witness to the love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and by example lead others to faith in Jesus, the pierced One who was raised from the dead.
- Bishop John McAreavey is Bishop of Dromore. This homily was delivered on Holy Thursday, 5 April 2012
- Media contact: Martin Long, Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth, 00 353 86172767