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Bishop Denis’ Homily from the Chrism Mass 2023

Chrism Mass: 03.04.23
Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow @ 7.30pm


I echo Margarita’s words of greetings to all of you. All of you are most welcome. This is the night when the Kildare & Leighlin diocesan family gathers as one for our Chrism Mass. Every diocese celebrates their Chrism Mass over the coming days; we gather as is now customary on this the Monday of Holy Week.

It is the night of our oils. The Oil of Catechumens which will anoint the many baptized across our 56 parishes. The Oil of Chrism used at baptism, confirmation and ordination. And the Oil of the Sick used for moments of healing and consolation.

It is the night of the Renewal of Priestly Promises as we welcome the many priests who gather with their families, parishioners and friends. The renewal of service not just by the priests and religious, but by the permanent deacons and all present including myself – a promise to build up the Church that is Kildare & Leighlin, a promise that is rooted in all of us being co-responsible.

And so as we gather on this holiest of weeks, on this sacred night let us acknowledge our sins, and so, prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries …


“He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down” . It’s perhaps not the most obvious line that might speak to us from tonight’s gospel, coming from St. Luke; a gospel that promises new life to the poor, the captives, the blind and the downtrodden. Jesus had returned to Nazara, it was where He was from. He said His piece and then He sat down. In the coming days we will commemorate His sitting down again, this time at the Last Supper table and sharing that intimate moment with the closest of His companions.

Sitting down. Jesus sat down. There are empty seats around the sanctuary tonight. I speak of course metaphorically, because it is great to see so many of our clergy and religious have gathered for our Annual Chrism Mass.. This is my tenth Chrism Mass. In those ten years I have buried twenty diocesan priests. The first death over those ten years was Fr. Eddie Kelly, PE Rhode and last month Fr. Paddy Daly formerly PP of Cooleragh/Staplestown who had retired to Braganza. And of course Fr. Denis Murphy PP of Doonane/Mayo in the days before Christmas. And you may have noticed Bishop Jim’s tombstone completed just in time for his first anniversary a week ago.

Twenty deaths in ten years. Every diocese is pinched by the older demographic of its clergy; Kildare & Leighlin is no different. There are men in their late seventies and some well into their eighties who are very generously administering parishes. I am very aware of the love and affection they are held in by their parishioners.

I am also conscious that there are empty seats in our churches where parishioners have been slow to return to public worship. I accept for some there is still a health fear or legitimate concern that has kept them away, but for many it is simply the loss of a habit where other activities are instead given priority over the weekend.

We all know the convenience of the webcam; the breaking of a regular routine during the Covid lockdowns; Amárach Research last week found that while the numbers returning to Mass continue to increase, they are not yet anywhere near back to pre-Covid levels. As a diocese we, like others have a lot of work to do.

So Jesus sat down and allowed the words He spoke to filter through. Recently filtering throughout our diocese has been the beginnings of renewal in our parishes as we prepare our diocese for the future, a very different future. On my invitation an experienced facilitator Jim Deeds has been working with our Diocesan Pastoral Council and our Council of Priests to help tease out what our future might look like. We have named this process: ‘Put out into Deep Water’ . All of us have been anointed at baptism and this is the sacrament that unites us all this Chrism night; it is asking us how well are we living out our baptismal calling?

In ten years’ time we will be marking the bicentenary of this Cathedral. In the homily delivered by Fr. Foynes on the occasion of its centenary in 1933, he reminded us “a hundred years may seem a long time to the eye of the individual; yet in the life of a nation or a people it is a comparatively short period. Thus it is that the Catholic Faith of this diocese – of which this Cathedral is the external manifestation and symbol – is not one but very many centuries old” . Faith has to be seen through a lens that goes much further than our lifetime and our memory. However it still is essential that we do our bit, contribute our piece, voice our contribution to deepen the story of faith in our lifetime. It would be foolhardy to do anything less.

Part of this renewal has been to assign parishes into cluster areas. The fifty-six parishes are now grouped into parish clusters within seven Pastoral Areas. In recent months there have been initial meetings of priests and deacons and the Faith Development Services team, with Jim Deeds. It is critically important that we all have confidence in the forward journey. Later this month and throughout May there will be meetings of clergy and laity in each of the seven Pastoral Areas. I look forward to these meetings where together we will agree on the next steps of shaping our parishes for future mission, exploring how best to respond to the needs of our time. Tweaking a few Mass times is very much staying in the shallow water; our conversation must go much deeper. Change isn’t easy. The synodal journey which Pope Francis so beautifully invites us on and models every day is pivoted on a praying, listening and discerning Church where every voice matters, every voice counts. As we walk together we will begin to determine road-markings that allow us to shape our onward journey. A journey which we share because of our anointing at baptism.

Over recent Confirmations I invited the young confirmandi to reflect on the kind of Church they would like to be part of into the future. The words that emerged strongest were: ‘Welcoming’, ‘Inclusive’ and ‘Safe’. Darragh wrote: “The diocese could make young people more involved by having youth representation on Parish committees. Young people would then feel part of the decisions that are made and would be more likely to stay involved”. Caitlin wrote: “I would like a Church where you can always be welcomed even if you did something wrong in life, Jesus will forgive you”, while another wrote: the church of the future needs to be more “universal to disabled people, older people and people from different religions by having wider pews for people with wheelchairs, higher and softer chairs for old people, having an interpreter for deaf people …” Plenty of food for thought there. There has been a universal call from the young people for the resumption of altar serving in our parishes. Where it has returned it has been welcomed, where it hasn’t, consideration might be given to re-establish it. For many young people this is a great connection with parish and church and in my opinion, it would be a huge pity to lose it.

What brings us here tonight are the oils that keep the sacramental engine of our diocese ticking during the year. My prayer is that we will use these oils lavishly but also, that all of us anointed by them, will live up to our shared responsibility. A co-responsibility that bolsters our diocese for the future.

Blessings tonight on those celebrating significant jubilees this year: Fr. Denis O’Sullivan who celebrates 70 years of priesthood; Fr’s Seán Conlon, Ger O’Byrne, Phil O’Shea, Eddie Moore and Eddie Aughney celebrate 60 years of priesthood; Fr’s John Stapleton and Declan Thompson celebrate 50 years a priesthood; Fr. Mícheál Murphy celebrates 40 years of priesthood; Fr’s Bill Kemmy, Padraig Shelley and Bernard Reyhart celebrate 30 years of priesthood; Fr’s Ruairí Ó’Domhnaill and Joe O’Neill celebrate 25 years of priesthood; Fr. Eddie Kavanagh celebrates 20 years of priesthood; Fr. Terence McGovern ten years a priest this year.

And to our Permanent Deacons John Dunleavy, Fergal O’Neill, Jim Stowe, David O’Flaherty, Pat Roche, Joe O’Rourke and Gary Moore all celebrating their tenth anniversary.

To each ad multos annos.

Let us pray for all our priests as we move now to the Renewal of Priestly Promises …