Feast of Corpus Christi 2019
GOLDEN JUBILEE OF THE CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF VICTORIES
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Church of Our Lady of Victories, 23 June 2019
We gather to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of this Church of Our Lady of Victories. We reflect on a Church building and on a Church community. This building has formed a community of faith, a community of prayer and worship, a community of care and service. As we reflect on this building, we reflect also on what Church is.
The ceremony of the blessing and dedication of a Church is one of the most complex in the entire liturgy of the Church. The popular photo image of the dedication of a Church is that of the Bishop sprinkling the walls of the building, both inside and outside.
The blessing of this Church in 1969 was somewhat different as it took place under a fierce snowstorm and I think that the blessing of the outside was somewhat curtailed in its dimension.
However, when you look at the Liturgical Rite of the Blessing and consecration of a Church the central moment of that ceremony is not the blessing of the walls, but the blessing and consecration of the altar.
The altar is the central feature of a Church. The blessing of an altar helps us understand what the Church is, both as a building and as a living organism. The altar is anointed with Chrism to prepare it to be a place of sacrifice; incense is placed on the altar as a symbol of prayer rising to God and candles are the placed on the altar to signify that the light of Christ reaches out from the altar.
The central part of the entire ceremony is then the solemn prayer of consecration. That prayer reminds us that the altar is not simply a piece of Church furniture. Its consecration sets it apart for worship and makes it an “ever holy place”. The altar, we are told, is “dedicated to the lasting service of God”, making the Church “a house of prayer, a temple of worship and the place where we are nourished by God’s word and holy sacraments”.
The altar is not simply a piece of Church furniture. It is the centre of the Church building. If we do not understand what the altar signifies, we fail to understand the Church.
That is what we celebrate here as we look back over fifty years of worship in the Church. The Church is not just an organisation; it is fundamentally the place where the Eucharist gives new life to us and forms us into a special unity and community.
The prayer of consecration stresses the spiritual dimension of the Church building but it also speaks of the building as a place from which we are sent out in mission: the Church it says is “where the poor find justice and the victims of oppression true freedom”.
The Gospel reading on this the Feast of Corpus Christi is the Gospel of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It is a Gospel about the Eucharist and how despite our poor efforts the Lord provides a spiritual nourishment for us that changes us and build us into a new humanity and new community that on our own we could never construct.
Jesus could easily have carried out the miracle of the loaves and fishes without any outside cooperation. He had no need of the loaves and fishes, but he wishes to show us that he really wants our cooperation in his work and mission. It is not that we begin to think that alone we can carry out that mission. He is reminding us that when we offer our humble service, Jesus changes our modest effort into something that goes beyond us. We do not create or construct the Church on our own. We receive the Church as gift of the Lord that in its turn changes our human efforts.
What are the elements that make up a Church community? When we look at the description of the early Church that we find in the Acts of the Apostles, we learn some elements that must belong to being the Church at any time in history, right up into our own time.
The description begins with the words “they gathered”. Being a Christian is never just a matter of personal choice or a favoured philosophy. You cannot be an isolated Christian. Being a Christian involves being a member of a community, of a special community that through the celebration of the Eucharist is turned into communion.
They early Christian gathered to pray, to listen to the word of God and the teaching of the Apostles. As a Church, we do not provide the principle framework of our gathering, but we allow the power of God to inspire us, change us and challenge us.
Then the Acts of the Apostles indicate that through the breaking of bread a new community emerges in which they all shared what they had and no one was left abandoned. The Eucharist establishes communion Christ and a communion with each other. A church community that becomes simply an inward looking comfort zone without reaching out to those in need, no matter how holy it may seem, is a defective Eucharistic community. It is a community that fails to understand what communion with Christ involves.
Finally, the Acts of the Apostles notes that all looked on the disciples with great esteem. The Church is the community where belief in Jesus Christ should lead to an integrity of life that strikes those around us and attracts others towards the message of Jesus.
We look back over fifty years since this Church was blessed. We give thanks to God for the manner in which people of different generations were introduced to the person of Jesus and his teaching. We remember moments of joy and sorrow. We think of the quiet moments when people came here to thank God for favours received or to seek support in moments of distress. If these walls could speak, they would reveal the secrets of many hearts.
We think of those who have passed into eternal life and who from above keep us in their protective care. I think in a particular way of the untimely death of Father Colm Kenny.
We thank God for the community of that has been built up, through the faith and generosity of people young and old. We remember the priests who ministered here, and the laypersons who participated through worship and works of service and education.
A Jubilee is a moment in which we look back with thankfulness but even more a Jubilee is a moment in which look to the future and to the challenge of bringing new generations to know Jesus as one who can bring hope and meaning and purpose into their lives. I thank Father Fintan Gavin in a special way for his work with young people as we wish him God’s blessing for his new mission as Bishop of Cork and Ross.
The future is full of challenge, but we look towards that future with confidence, knowing that it is often when the Church feels challenged that it recognises that our humble loaves and fishes can become the seeds for a transformation that goes beyond us. We give thanks for what has been attained over these last fifty years and we entrust our future to the Lord