Mass for the Priests of the Archdiocese deceased since November 2021
St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, 12th November 2022
Every year we gather during the month of November to pray for the priests and bishops of the diocese—our brothers in the service of the one Lord, whom the Father has called from this life to himself. In particular, we pray for those who have died during the past year, the pain of whose loss is more intense for family members and colleagues. For the fullness of time we depend ultimately on the mercy of God from whom all life comes, and who draws all life to himself. Is that not the ultimate meaning of salvation—to welcome the road to life our Father offers us in his Son, to embrace the ever deepening life that God offers to all his creatures? To celebrate this Mass for their eternal rest is to be consoled in the knowledge that our care for them can stretch even beyond the grave, it is to live out what Saint Paul put famously before the Corinthians: “three things endure: faith, hope, and love … and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:8) If there is not love for our departed brothers, then what we do here is not only emptied of its significance, but, even more, it is robbed of its power, its power to save.
This salvific dimension of what we do here now lies at the core of today’s First Reading from the Second Book of Maccabees: it underlines that it is a good thing to offer prayer for our departed loved ones so that they may come to the fullness of life in God. Even more to the point, it proclaims our foundational hope in the resurrection. This hope, which slowly came to expression in the Judaism out of which Christianity was born, became the cornerstone of Christian belief. Down through the centuries, Christians have given continual witness to the truth that the fullness of human life is not found in this present life which will pass, but in—as we pray in the Nicene Creed—“the life of the world to come.”
Judas Maccabaeus believes that the community to which he belongs, and to whose traditions he remained faithful, reaches beyond the grave. It is that same conviction that brings us to this Eucharist today. However, while the Maccabees saw their faith in terms of insiders and outsiders, the broader biblical witness is more embracing. The witness of the Scriptures is complex and multi-layered. We have to discern the Word within the word. The God of the Bible is an inclusive God, the Father of all who carries all, who shows mercy to all that he has created (see Jonah 4:10–11).
In this spirit, we can see how the Scriptures bear constant witness to God’s radical and unending quest for justice for all, and to God’s call for us to stand for it, too. Jesus says, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness”—who hunger for justice. (Matt 5:6) These are words that have inspired the priests and bishops whose lives and ministries were a bridge for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ (see Pastores dabo vobis, 43). Doing what God wanted was their business. No doubt, it was not always easy, but they made it their business. Commitment and work for the good of others opens the gates of eternity. St Augustine put it succinctly: “If you see charity, you see the Trinity” (De Trinitate, VIII, 8, 12; Corpus Christianorum Latina 50, 287). To bow down before those entrusted to our pastoral care, especially the sick and those on the margins of society, in order to serve them is to be on the path to heaven. Indeed, it is more: it is already to taste eternal life. Like the Eucharist itself, praestet fides supplementum, sensuum defectui. “By loving your neighbour you purify our eyes so that someday you will be able to see God”—said St Augustine (Commentary on the Epistle St John, 17,8). Love, then, is itself the bridge linking earth to heaven. To question how we love is to question how we live, it is to ask about the resurrection in our lives. Am I capable of being touched by the situation of a person in need? Can I be moved with those who are suffering? Do I pray for those whom no one thinks about? Do I help someone who has nothing to give back to me? At stake here is much more than little acts of charity; these are questions of life, questions of resurrection, resurrection lived out in us, day in day out.
In the Gospel passage we have just heard (John 11:17–27), Jesus says solemnly of himself: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (11:25-26). The radiance of these words dispels the darkness of the profound grief caused by the death of Lazarus. Jesus’ words transform the situation of Martha and Mary. Martha trusts in Jesus and in his words and declares: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (11:27). Jesus’ words make Martha’s hope pass from the distant future into the present: the resurrection is already close to her, present in the person of Christ. This is not to deny that there is yet a journey that Jesus, Martha and Mary—and even Lazarus yet have to travel. The road to the fullness of resurrection must pass through Jerusalem: there is no enduring Easter without the reality of Good Friday. “They have taken my Lord from the tomb, and I do not know where they have put him.” Martha will declare to the Risen Lord whom she does not yet recognize (John 20:16). Death disorientates. It is not until Jesus calls Mary by her name that she begins to regain her orientation in the world. She needs Jesus her friend, and the living friend of her family, to bring her to recognize her transformed world. This is the very mystery we celebrate in this Eucharist. Jesus speaks to us; he calls us by name; he points us in the direction of the life that endures.
Rising from the dead, Christ becomes the light that illuminates all peoples, that lightens and saves the path of humanity and allows us to glimpse the face of God beyond the tunnel of death. All who have been marked by the seal of the Holy Spirit, are offered the promise of this light. Dying with Christ they rise again with him in the radiant light of the Lord’s Day and the new creation. Dying with Christ, dying to self, “handing one’s whole self over to God, in prayer and in practice, is the key not just to some future post-death ‘salvation’ but to an essential happiness and well-being now.” (Sara Maitland, A Book Of Silence) While living for this life only (see 1 Cor 15:19) is less than the life God offers us, living as if our lives here did not exist, is as much a flight from the true life God offers to every person.
Let us pray, then, for our brothers in the service of the one Lord, whom the Father has called from this life unto himself. May these servants of his—our brothers—now savour the joy of the gospel’s invitation: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt 25:34). May they rest in peace.
Archbishop of Dublin