“The Church has to change” – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at Holy Thursday Chrism Mass

18 Apr 2019



Homily notes of  Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin,  Archbishop of Dublin

Pro-Cathedral Dublin, 18th April 2019

“I would like first of all to take this opportunity to express our congratulations and prayers to Father Fintan Gavin as he takes on his new ministry as Bishop of Cork and Ross.

Fintan has given great service through his ministry to this Archdiocese of Dublin.  Perhaps we know him more familiarly for his work as a canonist.   Fintan’s contribution has however been much wider. Indeed the quality of his work as a canonist is due not simply to his knowledge of the code of Canon Law, but much more to the personal and pastoral qualities he brings to all his work.  He has worked in various parishes, as a teacher, as animator of youth ministry, on the young people’s pilgrimage to Lourdes, and just recently in building up a new generation of the Italian faith community in Dublin.  Fintan our prayers are with you.   Godspeed and know that we will miss you.

I would also like to express congratulations to Bishop Eamonn Walsh who celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his priestly ordination last week.  Again, the diocese and the faith community in this diocese owe a debt of great gratitude to Bishop Eamon for his ministry as priest and bishop, especially in his wide pastoral area and in the care of prisoners, and for his work and special care for priests.

This is a Mass that focuses in a special way on the ministry of priests and on the renewal of priestly commitment.  It focuses on the unity of the Presbyterate.  The oils that we bless or consecrate are symbols of the sacramental ministry of the Church.  That ministry reaches it pinnacle in the celebration of the Eucharist.  We have great priests and we need to foster future vocations to the priesthood to serve the people of God in this growing and changing diocese.

Our gathering here this morning visibly expresses the bonds that exist between the baptised and the service to the baptised that priests and deacons render.  The atmosphere of this unique liturgy reflects the admiration and affection that the people of this diocese have for their priests and it reflects the spirit of service that animates the Presbyterate.  We celebrate as one diocesan family.

Today I celebrate this Chrism Mass for the fifteenth time.  It is one of the great occasions in the life of the diocese.  Much has happened over that fifteen-year period.  There have been major actions, positive and negative. However, the diocese has undoubtedly changed for the good over these years.  I have constantly stressed that we have today parishes that have never been so vibrant at any other time in their history.    At this gathering, we see in the flesh the change that has taken place in the relationship with people and priests. At this Mass, we truly celebrate as one diocesan family.

Over these fifteen years, we have experienced the dramatic effects of the crisis of sexual abuse.  We move forward, not whitewashing the past, but recognising how our parish communities have responded with great dedication putting into place and supporting child protection structures of which we can be rightly proud.

Parishes are changing.  Parents are taking their part more actively in the preparation of children for the sacraments.  There are new efforts for more effective faith formation and catechesis.   If you look at the activities in our parishes during this Lent, you will see an extraordinary range of forward looking events and programmes directed at renewal. 

We reach out to young people. We have two Churches in Dublin specifically dedicated to ministry with young adults, something quite unique in Ireland.   Saint Paul’s in Arran Quay has moved from being a Church almost closed to become a focal point for a variety of ministries for young adults.  The Irish participation at World Youth Day this year was overwhelmingly made up of young people of this diocese.  These young people are now active in their parishes on their return home.

We have two remarkable young women working full time out of Saint Paul’s animating youth leaders in parishes and supporting programmes of youth activity.

And there is a second Church.  Some years ago, I asked the University of Notre Dame to begin a ministry in University Church in Saint Stephen’s Green dedicated to dialogue between faith and life and fostering a liturgy that reaches out to young adults. 

Many parishes have flourishing family Masses.  We have a working group of the Council of Priests looking at preparation for the sacraments.  It is consulting widely and coming up with proposals that respond to the changing religious culture of the diocese.

Looking at the preliminary results, there is a clear consensus about the way forward involving both a need and a desire to form new cooperation between priests and all the baptized.  The challenge for the diocese is to mobilize and facilitate the desire of many lay men and women to assume the responsibilities that come from their baptism.  We are on the right road.

The indications are that the years to come will witness a new sense of mission and purpose.  I thank the priests and the parish communities alongside the religious working in this diocese.   We are proud too of our deacons, parish pastoral workers and now parish catechists.

All of this renewal must take place within the changing religious culture of Ireland and this diocese.   We have challenges.  The overall population of the Archdiocese is growing. In some areas the growth is spectacular.   There are five parishes in this diocese with over fifteen thousand Catholics.  Patterns of ministry have to adapt to changing situations.  Things are happening. Parishes are working together. In the Ballymun area, we have united three parishes to respond better to the changing needs.

There is strong faith in this diocese but the culture is changing.  48% of those in the age group 24 to 29 living in the diocese registered at the last census as having no religion.  Only a few of the parishes within the two Dublin canals have a majority Catholic population.  Our ministry and outreach has to take place within that changing reality. We have to identify and recognise that reality.  

To look towards the future means to extricate oneself from the contingencies of the past to be free to look dispassionately to the future.  Young people are growing up in a very pluralist culture and have to be supported and accompanied in finding a strong personalised faith.

I use the term “personalised faith”.  I have been reading over the past weeks a book entitled Haunted by Christ. The title fascinates me.  Faith in Jesus Christ is never a point of arrival.  Every day we must allow Jesus to haunt us, to challenge us, to make us ask deeper and deeper questions, even when we cannot seem to find definitive answers. 

As we live with all the questionings about modern society, we must allow Jesus to haunt us and challenge us and we must spread that search for Jesus in a world of less certainty.

Our ceremony this morning focuses on the sacramental life of the Church.  The oils we bless or consecrate will be used in the building up of a community of men and women who believe and who worship.  This community may well become smaller within the wider Irish society.  I am not saying that the Church will be a small community just of the likeminded amidst a society un-minded about the mission of Jesus. 

A word that appears constantly in the liturgy of the blessing of the oils is the word fragrance.  The worshipping community is called to be fragrance within society.  Our faith communities must always be communities that reach out, touching the hearts of all who search for meaning.  People today come to faith through being attracted rather than having something imposed.

The Church has to change. I have to say that  the Interim Report published yesterday by the Commission of Investigation on Mother and Baby Homes leaves me with profound distress, even indignation.  We are the Church of Jesus Christ.  Jesus considered children as a sign of his Kingdom.  What went wrong to give rise to a situation in which children within the Church of Jesus Christ were not cared for with scrupulous dignity, whether in life or in death?   I find it hard to believe that evidence has simply vanished and that no one can remember.   

I am brought back to the strong words that Pope Francis addressed to the Irish Bishops on the occasion of his visit to Dublin.   “Do not repeat”, he noted, “the attitudes of aloofness and clericalism that at times in your history have given the real image of an authoritarian, harsh and autocratic Church”. 

The Catholic Church in Ireland has to look constantly at negative effects of the way it exercised a dominant role in Irish society in the past, while at the same time not renouncing its prophetic role in society today. 

The Gospel reading of our Mass is one where Jesus speaks about his own identity. He is the one who makes definitively present in the world what God’s people had sought and hoped for along the path of history.  Jesus is the one who brings freedom, who lifts burdens, who is attentive to the marginalised, who brings good news to the downhearted.

Let us commit ourselves this morning to being a Church that radically opens itself to the power of freedom that springs from faith in Jesus Christ and brings freedom and good news into hearts that are troubled.  That is our challenge, but it is truly the beautiful challenge of being a faithful believer in the God who is love, revealed to us in Jesus Christ.


  • Archbishop Martin celebrates Chrism Mass in St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral in Dublin at 10:30am this morning
  • Further Information: Annette O Donnell, Director of Communications, Archdiocese of Dublin – 01 8360723. 
  • www.dublindiocese.ie