Mass for Deceased Priests

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Homily notes of  Most Reverend Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin


Pro-Cathedral, 11th November 2017


At our Mass here this morning, we remember fifteen priests who ministered in the Archdiocese of Dublin and who died over the past year.  I greet their families, friends, and former parishioners who have come to remember them in prayer, together with many of their brother priests.

We give thanks to the Lord for the ministry of these fifteen priests and for the many graces that God shared through their ministry. In this Pro-Cathedral, we remember in particular my predecessor Cardinal Desmond Connell who rests in the vaults beneath the Church.


         Very few people have so much contact with the realities of life and death as does the priest.  A priest’s contact with life and death is not just about the rituals of death and burial. It is about the meaning of life and the meaning of death.  Jesus Christ came to transform the meaning of life though conquering death.  Through his death, Jesus opens for us a new life, a sharing in his own life.

The key to what life and death mean for us is linked with another word: judgement.  Our Gospel reading reminded us that “those who did good in this life will rise again to life and those who did evil, to condemnation”.

However, if we read more closely, Jesus is also giving us also a deeper interpretation of judgement.  Judgement is not something relegated to the end of our lives.  The very presence of Jesus among us is judgement and the beginnings of new life.   “Whoever listens to my words and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life”.  The conflict between good and evil, between life and death, is permanently present in our daily lives.

The readings tell us that Jesus “is appointed supreme judge”.  Why is this?  What does this mean?  It is because Jesus is the source of life.  Those who hear his words have “eternal life without being brought judgement”.  They have already passed from death to life.

Jesus is not a distant and an anonymous judge who sits in justice and impartially and dispassionately imparts a verdict on our lives after physical death.  Jesus has come not to bring death, but rather to sow seeds of new life.

The ministry of the priest around life and death is a ministry that enlightens the meaning of life.  “Our citizenship is already in heaven”, the first reading says.  The ministry of the priest is a ministry of the saving message of Jesus Christ who wishes that we enter into the fulfilment of life with him through a passage of the good life lived here on earth.  Jesus brings our humble and imperfect lives to fulfilment in the vision of God and communion with God.

The ministry of the priest is a ministry of and a witness of faith.    The priest is called to witness within the dynamic and the tensions and the failings of his own life, to the fact “the body of our humiliation can be conformed to the body of [Jesus’] glory.”

In that sense, judgement is not a dreaded moment in the distant future, but a moment of hope today in the knowledge that Jesus can transform our weakness into the hope of glory.  The priest is not just the depository of a message, he must be a living witness to that message and a witness to the hope that faith in Jesus brings.

Witnessing to what faith means in our lives is not a simple thing.  We all now our faults and inadequacies.  We all also know how we struggle with good and evil.  The Christian life is about the hope and purpose to which faith can lead us.  Our life matures in the hands of a God who is merciful.  True human fulfilment can only come to maturity when we allow the mercy and love life of Jesus to heal us.

We celebrate this Mass for the eternal repose of fifteen priests who ministered in this diocese either as diocesan priests or as religious.  We give thanks to God for their ministry.  We thank God for these priests who have followed the challenging path of authentic faith and who taken together gave over 900 hundred years of ministry.

would like this morning to say a special word of thanks to the families and friends of these priests.  You have been rocks of support to these men in their ministry, especially in their illness.  It is something that is said all too rarely.  You know, on the other hand, what friendship with these priests has meant in many and profound ways in your own lives.

This morning we remember fifteen priests who have died over the past year.  On Tuesday next, the Feast of Saint Laurence O’Toole, I will have the privilege to ordain two new priests for the diocese.  Some will immediately say fifteen dead and only two new priests.  Statistic and numbers are important, but they are not the entire picture.

We can speak of 78% of Irish people who registered as Catholic at the recent census.  We can use the same census figures to note a significant increase in the numbers of young men and women who no longer wish to be recognised as Catholics.  Faith is not about numbers.  The Church is not a Church triumphant in this life.  What is vital is the quality of the life of faith that dwells in our hearts.

We pray for the two men who will be ordained on Tuesday next that they will experience in their lives the joy that comes from the saving hope of Jesus Christ and that – through word and deed and prayer –  they will bring that hope and joy to the world around them tomorrow.

Judgement is real.  It is above all a call to allow the healing mercy of God to change our hearts and open a new vision of life where the love of God reaches out and heals.   True faith leads believers in Jesus Christ to form a community where the boundless love of Jesus becomes present especially through the Eucharist, that same Eucharist that these fifteen deceased priests celebrated with conviction and love as a pledge of life eternal.  May God grant them eternal peace.