25 MAY, 2003


Distinguished guests, brothers and sisters in Christ from across the Archdiocese, idir cléir is tuath. It is both a privilege and a pleasure for me to welcome all of you to this Rite of Dedication. Welcome also to the City of Armagh where, according to the poet Lynn Doyle, “heaven spills its brightest green on rounded hills and smiles impartial on two peoples …” This splendid cathedral crowns the summit of one of the most beautiful hills in Ulster and overlooks the old City where Patrick, our National Apostle, once preached, and where King Brian Boru now sleeps.

I welcome the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese and her husband, Dr Martin, and thank them most sincerely for honouring us with their presence. I welcome Mr James Grew, Deputy Lieutenant for Co. Armagh, and Mrs Grew. The Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, representative of the Holy Father in Ireland, as always is most welcome. Through the Apostolic Nuncio, I wish to thank the Holy Father for his gracious message of encouragement and good wishes which will be read later. I welcome Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster and Cardinal Desmond Connell of Dublin, both making their first visit to Armagh since being appointed by the Holy Father to the Sacred College of Cardinals. Cardinal Daly sadly cannot be with us today. I gladly pass on today his congratulations and best wishes to the priests and people of the Archdiocese.

I welcome too Mr Paul Murphy, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as well as the Mayor of Armagh City and District, Mrs Anna Brolly. I welcome also Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, and Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool, along with the Rector of St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, Monsignor Eugene Clark.
We are very honoured and grateful for the presence of Bishop Michael Jackson, Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher, along with Dr John Dunlop and Dr Edmund Mawhinney of the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches in Ireland, respectively. We are honoured by the presence of so many colleagues, past and present, of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, coming from the four civil and ecclesiastical provinces.

To one and all – Céad Mile Fáilte

25 MAY, 2003

In his opening commentary, Father Paul Clayton-Lea referred to the story of the deer and the fawn. It is depicted in the great east window of this Cathedral behind me. The fawn is said to have leaped from the bushes on Sally Hill, that is, the other hill where the Church of Ireland Cathedral now stands and where Patrick built his first principal church. That Patrick carried it to this hill, Sandy Hill, to be joined with its mother, is fondly construed as a prophecy of the building of this Cathedral in his honour some 1,400 years later and of the intertwining of these two hills in the history of this island and of the traditions which they represent. In fact the two Cathedrals appear elegantly represented, side by side, in the stained glass window at the top of the western nave.

There is an old saying: “Those who drink the water should remember with gratitude those who dug the well.” Today, we gladly remember and thank God for those who were instrumental in the building of this great Cathedral. We appreciate and applaud the imagination and vision of the architects and artists of the 19th century who designed this sacred place. We remember with gratitude, the engineers, the builders, the craftsmen and women, the workers of stone and of wood, of mosaic and brass, who had the skill to create, carve and shape something beautiful for God. It is difficult for us to imagine and appreciate the generosity, the courage, the determination, the love, the hope and the faith that were poured into these very walls, walls built at a time when this country was on its knees in despair. What marvellous and generous people our ancestors were. How privileged we are to occupy their places and enjoy the fruits of their self-sacrificing labours. For truly, this cathedral of St Patrick, is a monument to the faith of people, past and present.

The work, begun in 1840 when Archbishop William Crolly blessed the foundation stone, lasted until 1904. During the Great Famine, funds were diverted to a more pressing need: the relief of hunger. In 1849 the dreaded disease of cholera claimed the life of the Cathedral’s founder, Archbishop Crolly. He was visiting the town of Drogheda at the southern tip of the diocese during Holy Week of that year when he became ill. Archbishop Crolly is buried right here in a vault under the sanctuary of his then, unfinished Cathedral.

For the next five years very little happened by way of advancing the cathedral project. Then in 1854 Primate Joseph Dixon declared Easter Monday, Resumption Monday, and work was resumed. Generous financial support was secured from Montreal, Quebec, New York, Brooklyn, Halifax, St. John’s and other friendly cities. But of course, the locals contributed too as they always do! In 1865 Armagh’s famous “First Bazaar” was organised. It was famous, not only for its financial success, raising in excess of £7,000 sterling, but also for the unique character of some of the prizes. From the Vatican, Pope Pius IX despatched a carving of Raphael’s “Madonna Di Foligno”. The Emperor of Austria sent a table of rare inlaid work, especially designed for the occasion, while Napoleon III chose two precious vases of Sevrés porcelain.

The solemn dedication took place in August 1873. By that time Daniel McGettigan was Archbishop. His successor, Cardinal Michael Logue, was also a Raphoe man, a native of Donegal, who worked unceasingly over the following years to decorate the interior of the Cathedral. And so it was that, with great pride and with the work of decoration complete, this stately twin-spired Cathedral was solemnly consecrated to God in July 1904.

The Cathedral was, and is, a statement of faith by those who built it in the first place, and now, once again, by the people of the present generation who have restored it. But, it is also a beacon of hope. Visible for miles around, it speaks of a hope based on the promise of the Risen Christ, to be with his followers, until the end of time. At every corner it is crowned with a cross – the cross of Christ – who is our only hope.

But, as well as being a statement of faith and a beacon of hope, I like to see our restored Cathedral as a statement of intent. I view it as a declaration, as Patrick himself declared in his Confession, that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, who will make return to all, according to what they have done.

¨ I see it as a kind of pledge on our part to help build an earthly society based on the values of Christ’s kingdom, the values of truth, justice and freedom;
¨ A pledge to reflect the life of Christ in our own lives, –
¨ A pledge that in and through our relationships, we will show His face to others.

The work of restoration is inspired by the desire to see and reveal the face of the Risen Christ. The contemplation of Christ’s face has to be inspired by all that we are told about Christ in the Scriptures. In the Gospel procession earlier ,the book of God’s word was carried by the deacon, bearing the symbols of the four Gospel writers.

Matthew signified by the man.
Mark signified by the Lion.
Luke signified by the ox.
John signified by the eagle.

These four symbols, representing all that is noble in creation, are beautifully reproduced on the new mosaic that is here at my feet, around the ambo, from where the Word of God is proclaimed and preached.

The new altar, like the ambo, is of Tunisian limestone. It has been inspired by the great high Celtic crosses of the 9th and 10th centuries, of which we proudly have some in our own diocese – Ardboe, Donaghmore Monasterboice and Armagh – to mention but a few. It has imagery of Christ (Crucified, Risen, Returning in Glory), flanked by Apostles, on three sides. The fourth side, visible from the main body of the Church, shows Our Lord with four Irish saints, all with close association with this diocese: Malachy, Brigid, Patrick, and Oliver Plunkett.

The faces of those journeying with Our Lord on our altar are abstract faces. They do not represent a Grecian face, or a Roman face, or an Irish face or a British face, but a human face. They remind us that God does not have favourite faces but that “everyone of whatever nationality, who reveres God and does what is right, is acceptable to God”. (Acts 10: 34-35).

This new altar, in a few minutes time, will be anointed, incensed, clothed. Each day from now on when Mass will be celebrated, it will be approached, bowed to and touched with reverence. All of these gestures make sense only in the light of the symbolic meaning of the altar, for the altar is a symbol of Christ. It is “a sign of Christ…a table of joy…a place of communion and peace”. It is “a source of unity and friendship and the centre of our praise and thanksgiving”. To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognise Him wherever He manifests Himself but, above all, in the living sacrament of His body and blood.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it”.

The sanctuary design is inspired by the notion of pilgrimage. The visitor, whether coming specifically to pray, or perhaps seeing himself or herself simply as a tourist, is called to praise and worship the Lord, and therefore is a pilgrim in the real sense of the word. The new ambulatory invites journey right around the sanctuary which has the altar as its centre and focus. The pilgrim passes the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, on axis with the altar, and pauses to pray in a quiet, separate and beautifully adorned space. The new bronze tabernacle, flanked by two angels, is a representation of the arc of the covenant, while also being inspired by the 9th Century Book of Armagh. The pilgrim continues behind the sanctuary to the Marian Shrine, again separated by a brass screen – in this case incorporating at both ends the two pairs of gates from the original sanctuary in this Cathedral. Here again he or she is invited to stop and reflect and pray a while. The new floor mosaic of the Virgin and Child is based on an original and unexecuted design for this Cathedral of over one hundred years ago.

The pilgrim continues his journey marvelling at the new Spanish marble and Italian porcelain sanctuary floor, the original floor mosaics, and the oil-painted ceiling throughout. At the back of the Cathedral the pilgrim journey ends with a visit to the restored baptistery with its beautiful baptismal mosaics. In the opposite porch a new Evangelarium has been erected, allowing the visitor ready access to the Word of God. The Book of Revelation inspires its design where we read that the clarion call at the end of time will be the sound of trumpets.

My thoughts go back to St Francis of Assisi who, in 1205, in the crumbling ruins of the little Church of San Damiano, while praying before the crucifix there, heard the voice of God charging him to “repair my house”. When Francis had it rebuilt, he discovered that he was being called to rebuild the faith of the Church.

My hope today is that this restored and renovated cathedral will provide the inspiration for a profound renewal of faith for all who come to visit and worship here. For here within these walls there are no distinctions, no discriminations. All find welcome here – welcome at the baptismal font. welcome to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and welcome as they are carried in for the last time. This space is a sacred space where you can be still, know silence and find a space where God can make His home in you. Here in this sanctuary you will find the deepest listening of God.

This cathedral holds forever the secret of God revealed to us in the Child of Bethlehem, born in a lowly stable over 2,000 years ago. The secret is that we are sacred stones, making a most beautiful home for God. We are a cathedral far more magnificent and precious than any building of the finest stone.

“This is the day which the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad!”

Today we rejoice in the faith and fidelity of a previous generation which built this House of God. We also rejoice in the courage and magnificent generosity of the present generation who are making this great gift of the restored cathedral to the people who come after them.

Today we rejoice in the faith and fidelity of a previous generation which built this House of God. We also rejoice in the courage and magnificent generosity of the present generation who are making this great gift of the restored cathedral to the people who come after them. I would like here to express my heartfelt thanks to the priests and people from each of the sixty-one (61) parishes in the diocese whose generosity to our recent capital campaign, Vision for the Future, made possible this work and also makes possible the greater development of lay ministries in the Church and provision for retired priests. We rejoice in the 2,000 plus volunteer helpers who took part in the campaign organisation. We rejoice and are glad in the craftsmanship and skill, tenacity and energy, of those who designed, managed and actually executed the repairs and the renovations.

I have often admired the workers’ patience and their courage as they erected the scaffolding, plank by plank, and bolt by bolt and removed and replaced the slates, tile by tile. In so doing they have enhanced and extended the work of the Creator and provided an extraordinary service to the people of this parish and of this diocese. By their labours they have improved access to this great place of worship, art and architecture. May they always realise the dignity and the worth of their labour.

“You alone are my heart’s desire, I long to worship you”

The words of that beautiful hymn, which I heard sung at a Confirmation ceremony on Friday last, have stayed with me all weekend. The reason probably is that they were inspired by what Jesus said in today’s Gospel: “If you remain united to me in love, my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete”. Jesus rejoiced as his Father revealed himself humbly through him, but Jesus goes to the Father through the Cross and his followers must not be surprised if, at times, they too are called to travel the same road. One side of this altar shows the compassionate face of Christ – the Christ who walks the road of life alongside each one of us, to nurture and to heal, to counsel and console us in our struggles and in our grief.

At the end of the Great Jubilee, Pope John Paul II wrote ‘that the Church’s joy was great that year as she devoted herself to contemplating the face of her bridegroom and Lord’. ‘Gazing on the face of Christ’ he says, ‘the bride contemplates her treasure and her joy for how sweet is the memory of Jesus, the source of the heart’s true joy’. Heartened by this experience the Church today sets out once more on her journey in order to proclaim Christ to the world at the dawn of the third millennium for he is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Heartened by today’s experience the Church of Armagh sets out once more on her journey. But this is not a time for any form of triumphalism. It is a time of celebration – yes – of thanksgiving and of hope and of renewal of trust in God’s constant and abiding presence among His people with the acknowledgement of the need all of us, weak human beings have, of the saving love of God. It is a time to seek forgiveness of God and of each other for the many times we have failed. It is time for reconciliation and repentance and of reaching out again the hand of forgiveness and renewal of friendship as we face the next stage of our pilgrim journey together.

At the end of his Confession, Patrick implored all those who would read his writing, not to attribute to a person like him, any little thing he may have done or any guidance he may have given, according to God’s will, but to consider that it may have been rather the gift of God. I think Patrick would wish us all to know and remember that this Cathedral, built in his honour, is indeed a gift of God. “Not unto us O Lord, Not onto us but to your name be the glory.”

I think Canon Tomas Ó Sabhaois, a retired priest of this diocese, speaks for all of us when he wrote last week the letter regretting his absence today:

Guím grásta Dé, coimirce Mhuire gan smál agus Comaoin na Naomh, go mór mór Naoimh Ardmhacha ar gach duine a bhéas i láthair De Domhnaigh agus gni freastail ar an Ardteampall ins na blianta le teacht.
I translate:

“I pray that God’s grace and the protection of Mary Immaculate and the communion of the saints, especially of the Armagh saints, may be with all those in Armagh on Sunday and with all who will visit the cathedral in the years to come”.

25 MAY, 2003

There are such a great number of people to be thanked so I have decided not to thank people individually. They themselves know who they are. God knows who they are and will reward them and that is what is important. So, my sincerest thanks go to one and all.

The Diocesan Restoration Committee, under the leadership of Canon McGrane, in the administratorship of Fr Richard Naughton, with its many sub-committees, completing the excellent foundational work done by the Armagh Parish Finance Committee, met often and long, and has been outstanding in the planning and execution of this whole enterprise. The Committee was meticulous in its attention to detail and superb in its commitment to the tasks undertaken. At the end of your booklet you will see listed the architects, the contractors, sub-contractors – the Chairman of the Armagh Diocesan Pastoral Council has already spoken of this in his words earlier today. All personnel involved in this project were outstanding in their dedication to their tasks and in their professional excellence.

I thank all those involved in today’s liturgy. I think that the joint choir, from the Cathedral Choir and St Malachy’s Choir, Armagh, was particularly delightful. But, most of all, I thank priests, religious and lay people of the Archdiocese of Armagh. Your faith and confidence has made all of this feasible. Your goodness and generosity are ensuring that it was carried out and is being carried to the highest standard of excellence. I thank those who advised and helped in the capital campaign at diocesan and parish level.

My dearest wish is that people will come here in their thousands, whether to worship or to pray or simply to see and to admire. Whether they read from the Book of the Gospels or visit the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, or meditate at the Marian Shrine, may their minds be drawn to God, the source of our beauty, author of all truth, origin of all goodness. May they be led to know His Son, Jesus Christ. May they remain in His love by keeping His commandments so that His joy may be in them and their joy may be complete. May they go out from here and bear fruit, fruit that will last.