ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, ARMAGH
HOLY THURSDAY – 12 APRIL 2001
HOMILY BY CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
This is Holy Thursday. The young people here present, from so many parishes in the dioceses are very welcome. Perhaps they will ask why do we have two Masses on this day? The answer is that we have so much to celebrate today. For this is the day on which Jesus took bread and wine and said; “This is my body, which will be given for you. This is the day on which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. This is the day when Jesus said; “Love one another as I have loved you”.
In this Mass we celebrate the fact that Christ said to his disciples; “Do this in memory of me”. He gave them power to take bread and wine and change them into his body and blood. That is why the priests of the Archdiocese of Armagh are gathered here from all the parishes this morning with Cardinal Daly, Bishop Clifford and myself, to give thanks to God for the fact that we have been chosen, in a special way, to carry on this work of Jesus. We come to renew our dedication to Christ as his priests.
We are very happy to see so many people from all over the diocese – religious, lay people – young and old – gathered here with us, because you too share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. You too, by your baptism, carry on the work of Jesus Christ in the world. You too have a part to play in building up the kind of world that Jesus wants – a world where there is fair play, where there is justice, where truth is acknowledged and where the dignity of every human person is respected.
Every Holy Thursday Pope John Paul II writes a letter to the priests of the world. In today’s letter he says that he wants to thank each priest for all that you did during the Jubilee Year to ensure that the people of your parishes might experience the saving presence of the Risen Lord. Then the Pope says he is not just thinking of what you did during the Jubilee Year. He is thinking of the work you do every day, work that is often hidden – work that does not make headlines. Yet it is very important work because it aims to advance God in peoples’ minds and hearts.
The Holy Father says he wants you to know that he admires your work, which is discreet, tenacious and creative. He says he is not surprised if sometimes priests feel a little bit tired and discouraged because of the resistance which their work meets in the world today. But there is only one remedy to that discouragement and tiredness and that is, to deepen our friendship with Jesus Christ.
At the beginning of his public life, Jesus announced that he had been anointed by the Spirit of the Lord, He says, “the Spirit of the Lord has been given to me for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the Good News to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind, new sight”. Of course the Good News remains good news, irrespective of how many people welcome it or how many people reject it, it is still the Good News, it is the only Good News.
Jesus says, “This text is being fulfilled today, even as we listen”. So, today we go back into the Supper Room and we give thanks for the gift of Eucharist, gift of priesthood and for the commandment of love. “Know that you are my disciples” Jesus said, “if you have loved one another”. The Spirit of the Lord has been given to each one of us many times but especially on the day of our ordination. Today we give thanks for Canon Des Campbell of Haggardstown, and Canon Michael Ward of Donaghmore, who 60 years ago today were ordained priests.
The spirit of courage was given to us to bring the Good News in all its fullness and integrity to those who have not heard it. The Spirit of Knowledge was given to us to bring the light of faith. The Spirit of Understanding was given to us to bring freedom to those held captive by sin, to those down-trodden by guilt and shame. For these three elements, preaching, faith and conversion must be present in the celebration of the sacraments.
Today, we renew our resolution to live in deep friendship with Jesus Christ. We certainly cannot give to others what we ourselves do not have. We commit ourselves to a deeper union with Christ – a union that is achieved through prayer, through the reading of the Scriptures, through the celebration of the sacraments.
In a few moments three large jars full of oil will be carried up from the back of the Cathedral here to the front where they will be blessed. After they have been blessed, the oils will be carried into the sacristy. There they will be poured into the various containers – oil stocks we call them – which the priests have and carry with them. The blessed oils will then be brought to every parish in the diocese. There they will be used to anoint the babies’ heads and breasts at Baptism. The bishop anoints with sacred Chrism the forehead of those who are being confirmed at Confirmation.
The sacred Chrism will also be used in the parishes of Errigal Ciaran and Lower Killeavy, later this summer, to anoint the palms of the hands of the two new priests at their ordination. The oil of the sick will be carried to many places, to bedrooms and to hospital wards, to scenes of accidents, to sick calls. You, my dear priests, will be called to carry them there at all hours of the day and night, in summer and winter, and you will do so with your customary patience and generosity. You will go there in order to commend those who are ill, to a suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them. In your prayers you will be exalting those ill people to contribute for the good of the people of God by freely uniting themselves to the passion and death of Christ.
Those are key moment in the lives of people. Thank God the priest is invited to be part of those key moments. Today we give thanks to God for the share we have in the priesthood of Jesus Christ which enables us to be present at those key moments in peoples’ lives, to help them face difficult situations and to bring to them the oil of gladness.
Oil in the Jewish world gave to the body strength, health, joy and beauty. Indeed it continues to do so today through such things as cosmetics, ointments, medicines, dressings. Every Holy Thursday calls all priests to reflect on who we are, and on our journey to holiness. Naturally, as we look upon Christ at the Last Supper becoming for us the bread that is broken, we are bound to feel unworthy. Naturally as we see Jesus stooping down to wash the feet of the apostles, we are going to feel overawed at the gift we have received. Overcome by the miraculous catch of fish, Peter shouts out, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man O Lord”. The Lord did not depart however, instead, in his mercy, he called Peter to leave his nets and put his trust in God’s mercy.
Obviously Christ was not afraid to choose his ministers from among sinners. We who are sinners should not be afraid to put our trust in the power and mercy of God, revealed in Jesus, and symbolised by these holy oils.
Today we give thanks in anticipation for the visit next month to Ireland and to Armagh of the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux. The Little Flower died at the age of 24. She has become one of the most popular saints of our time. She identified her vocation to be ‘love in the heart of the Church’. She constantly prayed for priests and spoke of the necessity of obtaining graces for them. Commenting on the Carmelite vocation to pray for priests, she said that at first she could not understand why there was any need. She said “To pray for sinners attracted me, but to pray for the souls of priests, whom I believed to be pure as crystal, seemed puzzling to me”. Later on, writing to her sister, she said, ‘let us save especially the souls of priests, those souls should be more transparent than crystal. Let us pray. Let us suffer for them and on the last day Jesus will be grateful’.
Holy Thursday reminds us that Christ was not afraid to call sinners to be his ministers. We know that on the night of his betrayal he was burning with desire to sit at table with his disciples. While he gave them Hhs body under the signs of bread and wine, he also instituted a priesthood that would be the permanent custodian of the Blessed Sacrament. This is a heavy responsibility, which calls for our total commitment. On the day of our ordination we were told “practice what you teach”. But we do not sanctify ourselves; Christ does. The more we can give ourselves to him and learn to be still, to adore, to pray, to meditate, to hand over our lives to him, to do his will, to carry his cross, the more he will transform us and make us holy to his fullness.
With this hope I wish you a blessed Easter and I bless you with all my heart.
CHRISM MASS – 2001
· Grace and peace to all of you from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness the first-born from the dead, who loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood.
· Grace and peace to you my brother bishops, Cardinal Daly and Bishop Clifford, and to you, my brother priests of the Archdiocese of Armagh.
· Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ, the Ruler of the kings of the earth, who has made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father.
· Grace and peace to all of you faithful lay witnesses and faithful religious, who have travelled to this Mass of Chrism and with whom we are united by bonds of faith and love.
· Grace and peace to all of you young people, who come here to see the oils being blessed with which you will be confirmed on the day of your Confirmation.
On the first Holy Thursday Jesus gave to the Church the Blessed Eucharist, and the priesthood. We give thanks for this mystery of love without limit of which we have been witnesses and messengers.
Today he also gave the command that we should love one another as he loves us.
To prepare ourselves to offer this Mass, let us acknowledge that we are indeed sinners and that we need forgiveness.