We gather here this morning in a spirit of communion. Our fundamental communion is with Jesus Christ through our communion in the Church. The celebration of the Mass of Chrism at which we bless the oils that will be used in the coming year is a celebration of the continuing presence of the power of the Spirit in the sacramental life of the Church. It is a celebration of the manner in which through the sacraments the Church accompanies our lives as they unfold.
We celebrate this Mass of the Holy Oils on the same day in which, later this evening, we will celebrate the memory of the Lord’s Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the fundamental source of all ecclesial communion. This evening’s Gospel of the washing of the feet, and the symbolic rite within the liturgy, point immediately to the fact that our communion with Christ and with one another is a communion of service and love. Communion with Christ engenders a unique communion of love among his followers, who form the mystical body of Christ, the Church.
The celebration of the Eucharist is an act of the Church. When we celebrate the Eucharist we celebrate in union with the whole Church. Eucharist is never just personal devotion or personal privilege. The priest, with his unique ministry, celebrates in communion with God’s people who through the power of the spirit are gathered into one, around the one bread and the one cup. The Church is present and is constructed wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, but never as an isolated community. The Eucharist is always celebrated in union with the Bishop, who is called to be a witness of the unity of faith and communion within the local Church. The bishop is not just a functionary or a CEO, but one who presides in and through communion. That is why this liturgy this morning is such a significant moment in the life of the Church in this Archdiocese of Dublin, as each parish community is represented by its priests and by representative lay men and women. Our communion is also guaranteed by the bond that exists between the bishop and the communion of bishops together with the Pope who is the sign of unity in the entire church.
The Church is a communion. It is not just a multinational structure or an institution. The headquarters of the Catholic Church in Dublin is not Archbishop’s House, but this Cathedral Church and the Eucharist that is celebrated here in this Cathedral Church especially on a morning just as this where the entire diocesan community, clergy, religious and lay men and women celebrate and share in the one bread and the one cup.
That sharing is not just passive. One of the great emotions I have each year at this annual Chrism Mass is the remarkable sense of participation of everyone in the liturgy. From the very first Sign of the Cross and greeting you feel that you are together with men and women who are committed to their Church and who take part in the life of the Church. It is not just that you know the responses and join enthusiastically in the singing. What emerges is that this is a celebration of faith. The Eucharist we celebrate together is the fruit of the faith of us all.
Two of the oils that we bless today are linked with the sacrament of baptism through which we are incorporated into the mystical body of Christ and thus enabled to take part in the Eucharistic life of the Church. The oil of catechumens reminds us of what catechumenate means: it is the oil of those who search for Jesus Christ and who prepare to encounter him. This year we had over 50 catechumens in the RCIA programme and I thank the parishes which have with such love and attention prepared those candidates for the baptism at Easter.
Our search for God does not end with our baptism. It is a path which endures for an entire life. There is a sense in which we all remain catechumens: men and women who search for God and who prepare to encounter him more deeply day by day. That is why I would draw of your attention to the need to implement the National Directory for Catechises Share the Good News. There is no way in which our faith will survive the challenge of the contemporary shifting culture unless it is constantly nourished by the Word of God, not just individually, but also through our sharing, our communion, within a community of believers and witnesses to that faith. The parish where Eucharist is celebrated must become – alongside the family - the primary focal point of formation in the faith. This is more urgent today as the delivery of catechetical programmes will change due to the variety of school models and the complexity of school curricula within which the place of faith formation may well change.
Our parishes must become communities where education and development and witness to the faith of an entire community is ever more self evident. All our parishes must rediscover their sense of mission. There is an urgent need that the default position of the doors of our parishes and our parish Churches must return to “open”.
Through our baptism all of us are called to be a priestly people. Our task is to know Jesus, to make Jesus known and to lead people towards him. When we speak of renewal and reform in the Church we speak in the first place about ourselves. As a diocese we must look into our pastoral practice and ask deep questions about how we face our future. How well do we as the Church of Jesus Christ in Dublin really bear witness to his message in the culture of today? What are the ways in which we obscure the message of Jesus though our timidity, our fear of change and through being caught up in our own comfort zones and in doing things because that is the way there were always done? Must we not say that many of us have lost that restlessness of heart which should drive us on to seek to deepen our knowledge and love of Jesus? What more can we do to transmit that restless questioning for faith and meaning to our children and to the coming generation?
The Second Vatican Council placed great stress on the biblical notion of the Church as the People of God. But that teaching is not a standalone teaching. The Council also taught about the universal call to holiness. We are the people of God the more we become God’s holy people. Do we see how our imperfections are not just personal sins and weaknesses but affect the Church’s ability to witness before the world and the society in which we live? Do we see how our inertia damages the enthusiasm with which we as believers should be able and delighted to speak of what Jesus means in our lives?
“Communion with Christ and with One Another” must become a call to mission within the Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin in the years to come.
Deeper communion with Christ and with one another must be the aim and the outcome of our efforts at renewal and regeneration within our Church. But communion must also be a dimension of our method of evangelisation. When we speak today about collaborative ministry we are not speaking about some stop-gap measure due to lack of priests or to a fashion of the moment. Christianity is not an individualist faith. The distinguishing characteristic of the early Church as described in the Acts of the Apostles is that “they gathered”. The quality of our communion in the ministry of the Church will be a determinant factor in the outcome of our efforts of renewal and evangelisation. Communion is not an optional by-product of our ministry but a fundamental quality of the way we exercise our ministry. An ecclesiology of communion will only be attained by a spirituality of communion and a personal openness to communion.
We face many difficulties as the Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin. We have many signs also of hope and commitment. One of those is a renewed sense of what communion in ministry means. I thank the priests and the people – especially the members of our parish pastoral councils, our parish pastoral workers and catechists – who are seeking to find innovative ways to bring our parish communities - without diminishing all the vital characteristics of each parish - into new forms of working together for the mission of the Church in a spirit of communion. In some way this change will be painful. But learning to work together in ecclesial communion will foster the spirit of communion that we are all searching for. Jesus himself was restless that in his own mission he should never became embedded in any particular local community, as his disciples asked, but felt the need “to move on to other towns and villages”. We too must learn to reach out.
Saint Luke tells us that Jesus sent the disciples: “to preach the kingdom of God and to heal” (9:2). The oil of the sick which we bless this morning reminds us that healing is one of the fundamental tasks entrusted by Jesus to the Church, following the example that he gave as he travelled from village to village preaching the kingdom and healing the sick. The Church’s principal task is to proclaim the Kingdom of God but that very proclamation involves a process of healing: “bind up the broken-hearted”, we heard in today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah (61:1). Evangelisation is a proclamation of God’s great goodness. Our proclamation and the witness of our lives must bring healing to hearts that are troubled, to those who suffer hunger, to victims of violence and abuse, to the sick and to those whose hope is deeply tried. Healing is an essential dimension of the mission of the Church in today’s world.
A Church of communion must explode into a desire to ensure that all the men and women of our society can be fully part of the basic communion of human fraternity. Our Church in Dublin cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of the men and women of our time. I think of those who face precariousness regarding their homes and their jobs. I think of the frustration of the hopes of many of our young people. I think of especially of those talented but disadvantaged young people who need that little extra investment in their talents without which they may never see their talents recognised and fulfilled. I think of our sick and our elderly.
A Church of communion must indelibly marked by a spirit of solidarity with the world around us. Communion can never rest happy to live passively within a world of marginalisation. I thank those who in the name of Jesus Christ carry on the mission of keeping the spirit of caring and solidarity alive in the diocese I think especially of our own Diocesan Crosscare and the Saint Vincent de Paul society and the myriads of other initiatives diocesan and local. They all need our support.
The Church’s mission of healing must also reach out to heal the wounds and the divisions within our own Church community. It must reach out to those who have been hurt by and within the community of the Church, especially victims of abuse. It must work towards a new way of interaction between all levels within the Church. In a culture that is in many ways wounded by profound division, all of us within the Church must work to make our Church a model of healing and avoid the language of division.
We face many difficulties as the Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin. We have many signs also of hope and commitment. The Church in the Archdiocese has experienced its moments of darkness, but must never be trapped in the darkness of hopelessness or cynicism. You know and I know that in this Archdiocese we have great priests: men of prayer and care, of generosity dedication. We are here today in a special way to celebrate the ministry of our priests. The priests of this Archdiocese renew their commitment to their calling and the men and women of the Church in which our priests minister show them their support and affection and respect. Some priests here today look back happily over decades of ministry. They have seen many changes in the Church and in society and they have adapted to them because they know that their fundamental commitment is their communion with Christ who is the same yesterday and today and forever in mirroring God’s fidelity to his people. Others are younger and who enthusiastically face a future with many unknowns with the hope-filled zeal. We remember all our priests; we remember those priests who are ill; we remember those who are troubled.
I ask you to pray for your priests. I ask you to support your priests. I ask our priests to support each other. We must all commit ourselves to do everything to enhance that spirit of communion which binds all together.
The upcoming Eucharistic Congress can be a moment in an ongoing process of renewal for this diocese and for the Church in Ireland. I believe that this is what we want and that the Lord is working with us. May Jesus who gave himself out of love for us inspire all of us, priests, religious, lay men and women both in direct pastoral service and in their Christian commitment in family and work and in society, to work towards beguiling up that Communion with Christ and with one another which should be the characteristic of our today and our legacy to the Church of tomorrow.