Homily at Mass for Deceased Priests

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Homily Notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Pro-Cathedral, 9th November 2013

“We come to remember in prayer the priests of the Archdiocese of Dublin and priests from religious congregations, who ministered in the Archdiocese, who died during the past year.  We remember them as deceased relatives and friends, as brother priests, and as men and women, through whose ministry in this life we have benefitted.  We pray that they now enjoy the fullness of life with God.

This year our Mass for the deceased priests falls on the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, a feast which has been celebrated in a special way for centuries in the Latin Church.  You might ask why I did not prefer, for this occasion, to choose one of the many Mass formulae that the liturgy contains for the faithful departed.   

There is however a subtle yet real connection between the Feast of the Lateran Basilica and what we are trying to do here this morning as we remember our deceased priests. The Feast of the Lateran Basilica is not simply about a Church building.  The liturgy of Feast of the Lateran Basilica is a reminder of what is deepest in our understanding of the Church.  It is a call to authenticity in worship, a call to live the Christian life authentically as individuals and as a Church community.

Through his presence in the Church, as we hear in the preface of the Mass, God changes our lives and makes them acceptable to his plan of salvation.  The Gospel reading we have heard is a call to all of us to cleanse the Church.  It is a continuous call to cleanse the Church from customs and cultures which grew up over time but which are really no longer consonant with the true idea of the Church.  It is however a call which goes further, a call to all of us to cleanse our own hearts and to live our faith with integrity and authenticity.  We celebrate the memory of priests who lived their lives, day after day, seeking to be authentic followers of Jesus Christ, through their ministry and witness within the Church and through the holiness of their lives.

Each of us will have his or her own personal memories of these priests, but all of them will be remembered for the goodness and the sincerity of their Christian lives and their dedication not just to individual acts of ministry but to a deep sense of the meaning of priestly ministry and of the Church.  Despite the failings of its members and of its leaders, these priests loved the Church that they served.    We can say that whether they died prematurely or reached an advanced age, they died fully conscious of their priestly calling, which meant so much to them and which they strove to live out as authentically as possible.

A priest’s funeral is always a striking and a moving event, as could be witnessed at the funerals of these priests we remember here.  They are moments of real appreciation of what a priest is.  People come to a priest’s funeral from parishes where he may have worked decades earlier but where he is still remembered with affection and gratitude.  Individuals come remembering some act of ministry which perhaps few others – if any – will ever know about.

Despite the many criticisms of the Church, there are very few figures in today’s Ireland for which people show such deep appreciation as they do towards their priest.  This is because there are very few callings which privilege a person to enter so deeply into the souls of others as does the ministry of the priest.  The priest’s interest in people’s lives is not out of curiosity or out of cold professionalism, but rather out of desire to witness to the love, the care and the healing power of Jesus. This is the real satisfaction of priestly ministry, provided that it is the fruit of an authentic personal life as a believer in Jesus Christ.


The Feast of the Lateran Basilica is therefore not just a feast about church buildings.  It is about what is inspired by God’s action in those buildings set apart for prayer and worship.  Our reflection on the Feast leads us on beyond bricks and mortar into reflection on the good life of witness to Jesus Christ.  For their good lives and for the many graces that God worked through these deceased priests, this morning we give thanks.

A Church building and the congregation which gathers in worship there anticipates the New Jerusalem, that place where Christians receive their reward.  The New Jerusalem is the place where those who lived the good life are welcomed “into the light of God’s face”.  What does that mean?  The face whose light they encounter is that of the Trinity, of the communion which exists within God himself.  Our deceased do not simply look at the face of God the Trinity from a distance, they are welcomed and embraced into in the very life of the Trinity; in doing so God brings to fulfilment the good gifts which they first received from him and which they bring with them into the next life where these gifts are now transformed through the grace of resurrection.

 Heaven is a place of communion which is foreshadowed in our communion in the Eucharist, which for each of these priests we remember today was very much the centre of their ministry and of their spirituality.  The God of the Blessed Trinity is a God of communion.  The communion of the saints in heaven constitutes the fulfilment of all togetherness. Our heavenly fulfilment is a fulfilment in communion, a communion with the Trinity which continues to bind our deceased still today in communion with us, a communion of care and remembrance and intercession.

We come to remember.  We come in sadness but also in Christian hope. I would like in a special way to express my appreciation – indeed my admiration – for the dedication and affection which the families of these deceased priests showed them, especially over the final months of their lives. This care was not just the fruit of family obligation, but a true ecclesial service for which the Church must express thanks, as our gratitude goes out also to others – housekeepers, personal friends and fellow priests – who stood by these our deceased brothers in their last moments.

I would also express my sympathy to the Spiritan Fathers, four of whom are among the priests we remember this morning, along with one Dominican and one Marist Father.  As a diocesan community we owe a great debt to these Religious Communities who work with us and among us and I hope that I am correct in saying that these priests found real satisfaction,  after many years ministering elsewhere in the world, to be part of the living Church in this diocese.

We remember these priests whose lives witness to what priesthood means and what the live of the Church means.  May the Lord receive them; may he cleanse them from their sins, and give them part in the communion of the saints with the Trinity in heaven where time no longer exists.   We remain saddened by their death but confident in their continued intercession: for each of us, for their brother priests who miss them and for the life of faith in this diocese as it journeys through time. ” ENDS