Homily of Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland at Chrism Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh , Holy Thursday 5 April 2012
I welcome you all here today.
Three times during this Mass we will hear the words: The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me. Those words apply to each and every one of us.
For the Spirit of the Lord was given to us at our Baptism to give us new life – the life of God. I welcome all the baptised.
The Spirit of the Lord was given to us at Confirmation to give us strength and courage to go out and follow Christ. I welcome those who are receiving Confirmation this year.
The Spirit of the Lord was given to us at our Ordination to make us priests. I welcome all the priests present and those training to be priests.
During the Mass we will bless the Sacred Oils which are used in the anointing in the different Sacraments to indicate the coming of the Spirit. May the Spirit come with an abundance of graces and blessings on each and every occasion that one of those sacraments is celebrating. May the Spirit come now to heal us and restore us to the likeness of God, which we have lost by sin.
Pope Paul VI is one of my favourite Pope’s, for many reasons; we both got the same names at the Baptismal Font – John Baptist. I was in St Peter’s Square to see the White Smoke and get his First Blessing on the day of his election. I was ordained priest in his cathedral and by his Vicar General. On this occasion he was gracious enough to receive us, newly ordained priests and our parents and families in private audience. And I was in Castelgandolfo the day he died there in August 1978.
“Holy Thursday is our day,” he once said to the priests of Milan. “If we priests do not worthily celebrate it, who will?”
Today we give thanks for the gift of Holy Communion, the Mass and the Blessed Eucharist. Sometime in the 19th Century a French lay woman got the idea of holding a congress to give thanks as well. The idea took off, first in the diocese, then all over France and finally on the international scene.
I think it is a great honour that Ireland has been chosen to host this year’s congress. It is at once a tribute to our fidelity to the Mass down through the centuries and a challenge to us to rise to the occasion, once more. I hear great stories of the numbers who have attended daily Mass during Lent.
I thank you for the work you do to arouse interest in the parishes. I recently met someone who seemed quite indifferent to the significance of the Eucharistic Congress and yet quite excited about the visit of the Olympic Torch to Northern Ireland. Tommy Burns of Drogheda has played a hero’s part in accompanying the Congress Bell all over the place to raise awareness and arouse interest. He likes to point out that this is a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There won’t be another Eucharistic Congress in Ireland in our life-time.
The booklets, detailing the ceremonies billed for the RDS and Croke Park are now awaiting distribution. We have, not just one, but one box for everyone in the audience! Please make sure you don’t go home without your box. Make sure people know what is going to take place and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit. I can tell you it is an impressive programme, with a huge number of stands and workshops, showcasing the very best of church life today.
Please do your best to let people see for themselves what exactly is on, by making available and drawing attention to the booklet. Otherwise they may say after it is all over, “Pity you didn’t tell me in time and I might have gone.”
Thursday of Congress Week is a day dedicated to Repentance. I will have the honour of presiding at the celebration in the RDS on that day. Already groups are planning to walk from Drogheda and Mellifont on that day in a Penitential Walk. Even if you can’t get to the RDS, I would like something to be organised in every parish on that day as a sign of our Repentance.
The final day is in Croke Park. I am grateful to those who have promoted the distribution of tickets. There are still some available. I want to be sure that all our own needs are met before we release these tickets to other dioceses who are looking for them. Or course the preparation and the celebration of an event like this costs money. But I think it will be money well spent. The third National Collection will be held on the first week-end of May. We don’t want the debt to be hanging like a millstone around our necks for years to come. So, once again, I appeal to you to make a big effort to ensure we reach our targets.
Finally, there is the Prayer of the Eucharistic Congress. It is a lovely prayer and I suggest that it be recited in public at the end of every Mass in this diocese until the end of the Congress. If we do all of this, I am convinced that the Congress will bring whatever graces the Lord wants to give to us but it is up to each one of us to play our part.
Holy Thursday is the day on which Jesus ordained His first priest. It is a day when we priests remember that we have been chosen to share in the Priesthood of our crucified Lord and Saviour. The ordained priesthood whose birthday we celebrate today is not for one moment to be seen as an opposition to the priesthood of all the baptised. On the contrary the ordained priesthood has as its purpose to create one humanity in the whole world dedicated to God. Today we give thanks to God for all the priests throughout the world and especially for those present in our own country and in our own diocese. We think especially of priests who are sick or in difficulty at this time and we offer them the support of our prayers and sacrifices. We priests are not meant to substitute Jesus Christ but to be the sign, the effective sign of the presence of Jesus in the world. We ask the prayers of all here present that we be examples of faithful service and generous love.
As we do so, we turn our mind to the words of that second reading, “Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ. He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood and made us a line of priests to serve His God and Father.” There is a huge amount to ponder in this. It all begins with the love of God for us, revealed in Christ Jesus. He loves us, despite our sins. That is the essential Good News. The liberty we proclaim to captives is the liberty which Jesus has won for us. Today we recall that we have been chosen and anointed and sent to bring the Good News to the hearts that are broken. When that Good News is rejected and flung back, that too can lead to heart break. But then let us remember that Judas had heard the Good News from the lips of the Lord himself and had rejected it and what a heartbreak that must have been for Jesus.
We are sharers in the priesthood of a crucified Christ. He was totally innocent and yet he had to suffer so much. He has taken away our sins with His blood, for we are sinners. Should we be surprised if we too must suffer in this world?
We who are chosen instruments of God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Penance must be the first to avail of it ourselves. We must never forget that he has washed away our sins in His blood. We ourselves are the first to need the peace and grace which the Sacrament brings. That conviction must be obvious in our own attitude and in our celebration of the Sacrament, first and foremost for our own benefit.
The third great gift of Holy Thursday is the Washing of the Feet of His disciples, by Jesus. This is something quite extraordinary. It is placed precisely, where in the other Gospels we find the description of Jesus taking the Bread and Wine and changing them into His Body and Blood to be our food and drink. It looks as if Jesus is offering us here a new understanding of the Eucharist, namely that we are not celebrating it properly unless we bring to it, or take from it, a commitment to service, even very lowly service. The message is that all who eat the Body of Christ do so in order to become humble servants of one another. In ancient Palestine, washing feet was a job reserved for slaves, a most unpleasant and humbling task. Jesus showed how perfect His love was by this utterly self-forgetful act of service. He is telling us that if we want to regain our place in the family of God, we are to practice that same self-forgetting love. It is not easy, because we are naturally led to be self-absorbed and self-pitying. For Jesus is, even at the Last Supper, thinking about the welfare of His disciples, not His own difficult situation. “Do not be worried and upset, do not be afraid,” he tells them. What amazing freedom!
The fourth great gift of today is the commandment to love one another as He loved us. But Jesus is not a tyrant. He does not command what he does not enable us to fulfil. So He promised and sent the second helper, the spirit of love to enable us to live and love as he has loved us.
It is the aim of our diocese to live like Jesus Christ sharing the compassionate love with all.
I am totally convinced that the road to renewal lies in the second of the promises which we renew today – to be more closely united to Jesus Christ and more closely confirmed to Jesus Christ.
The response to the Apostolic Visitation says this renewal can be achieved primarily by listening humbly to the Word of God and learning what the Holy Spirit is asking from, and offering to, the Church in Ireland at this time.
My prayer today is that we get the humility to really listen and discover the treasures of Holy Thursday, the Blessed Eucharist, the Priesthood, the Washing of the Feet and the new and great command, to love as He has loved.