10:30am Mass in Saint Patrick’s & Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Newry
“Priests today are men who work in partnership with each other and with their people. So today we salute the men and women alongside whom we exercise our ministry as priests …
It is vitally important that we priests bring to God in prayer the anguish and suffering that we witness in our people and that at times we feel in our own lives” – Bishop McAreavey
In the setting of this Mass that is held in the Cathedral church of each diocese on Holy Thursday the oils that priests use in their ministry are blessed. There are three oils: the oil of catechumens that is used to anoint a person before baptism; there is the oil of chrism that is used to anoint a person after their baptism to celebrate their new dignity as a child of God. This is also used at confirmation. Finally, the oil of the sick is used to anoint a person who is seriously ill. The fact that priests come here today to celebrate this Mass and to take home afterwards these oils is a reminder to them that the ministry they exercise is not their own personal ministry. It is the ministry of Christ. The second Vatican Council teaches that when a priest baptises, it is Christ who baptises. Coming for oils on Holy Thursday is also a reminder to us that, in the words of Saint Paul, ‘we carry this treasure in earthen vessels, so that it will be clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us’ (2 Cor.4:7).
The ministry of priests is also a ministry of the Church; it is exercised in the name of the Church and the graces that the sacraments confer also build up the faith of the wider Church.
Today the priests who gather here thank God for the grace of the priesthood that we received in ordination. Despite the at times difficult circumstances in which we minister today and the discouragement we sometimes feel, priests – in my experience – regard the service to which they are called a great honour and feel humbled that through our often inadequate efforts the compassion and healing power of Christ touches the lives of our brothers and sisters.
As we thank God for the gift of our priestly ministry, we also thank God for those who are our partners in ministry. In the first place, I think of our permanent deacons – still unfortunately too few – who have joined us in the past few years and who offer themselves in a number of important areas of Church ministry. I think also of the women and men who act as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, distributing Holy Communion to the faithful at Mass or who bring Communion to the housebound in their homes. I think also of the women and men who carry out the ministry of Reader on a stable basis. Through their ministry our people hear the Word of God proclaimed by their neighbours and friends.
In addition to these liturgical ministries, a wide range of women and men offer their time, experience and talents in our parishes on pastoral and finance councils, in the areas of youth ministry, safeguarding and parish and school administration. And there are many others. So priests today are men who work in partnership with each other and with their people. So today we salute the men and women alongside whom we exercise our ministry as priests.
Since last year many books have been written and television programmes made in remembrance of the Great War. In recent times the stories have been told about the involvement of priests in that war. Recently the book of an Irish Jesuit priest, Father John Delaney was published, under the title From Easter week to Flanders field. A recent documentary told the story of a Donegal priest and a native Irish-speaker, Padraig MacGiolla Cearra (Patrick Kerr) who ministered to his fellow county-men in the trenches of the Somme. The programme told how the Catholic Padres insisted on living with the soldiers in the trenches, as they wanted to be able to anoint those who were injured and dying. Padraig MacGiolla Cearra returned home after the War, his black hair turned prematurely white as a result of the experiences of the horrors of war.
Thankfully this generation of priests in Ireland does not have to endure the trauma of war. However you might remember that in his first major interview, Pope Francis said that the Church today should resemble a field-hospital. Pope Francis believes that wherever there is suffering, wherever there is distress or loss, priests should be close to their people, sharing their pain and living in solidarity with them. This may be in the homes of our people at times of sickness and bereavement; it may be in Craigavon Area Hospital, the only major hospital in this diocese, where Father Michael Maginn and Sister Fiona Galligan serve every day, supported and backed up at night and at weekends by priests of the Lurgan and Banbridge areas. It may be in the Hospice here in Newry or in Daisy Hill Hospital. I know that this is a ministry that affects priests personally and that at times brings them to shed tears in solidarity with parents and bereaved families.
In the setting of Holy Week where we see Jesus approaching His humiliating death as a criminal, I think we do well to remember that what, in the end, enabled Jesus to offer Himself in sacrifice was His prayer to His Father. In His prayers the full range of human emotion finds expression. He expressed His distress when He prayed, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ He expressed His total trust in His Father when He exclaimed, ‘into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit’. It is vitally important that we priests bring to God in prayer the anguish and suffering that we witness in our people and that at times we feel in our own lives.
Just as important as our own personal prayer is our unshakable faith in the Resurrection of Jesus. Saint Paul said, ‘if Christ is not risen, we are of all men the most to be pitied’ (1 Cor 15:19).
For us as priests and also for you, the mystery of the death and Resurrection of Jesus – what the Church calls ‘the paschal mystery’ – is the key to facing suffering and death. That is why in the liturgies of Holy Week and outside them we make time for personal reflection and prayer, not to grasp these mysteries, but so that somehow these mysteries might make their way into our minds and hearts, our imaginations and sensibilities, so that, in the words of Saint Paul, we can gradually ‘have that mind in us that was in Christ’.
Bishop John McAreavey is Bishop of Dromore. The Diocese of Dromore includes portions of the counties of Antrim, Armagh and Down and its website is www.dromorediocese.org.
Holy Week Chrism Mass – or Mass of the Oils – is the celebration of the Eucharist at which priests and representatives from every parish in the diocese gather with the bishop for Mass, during which Holy Oils are blessed for the coming year and priests renew their priestly service. The Chrism Mass is a clear expression of the unity of the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ, which continue to be present in the Church.
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