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Bishop Denis’s Homily at Mass promoting the Legion of Mary, 6.11.22

Mass @ 10.30am: Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow


Seven is seen as a sacred number … seven sacraments … seven days in the week … and on the seventh, we rest … the readings this morning (Maccabees and Luke) talk about seven brothers, in different contexts … traditionally we associate the seventh son as one who has special healing powers.

In this month of November we take time this morning to remember and pray for those gone before us. We pause to pray for our own journey from life into death as we call to mind our sins …


“Stay awake, praying at all times

for the strength to stand with confidence

before the Son of Man”.

It’s not often the gospel acclamation of the day offers us such clarity, such conviction, such certainty. And in death, certainty is one thing we all long for. The seven brothers in turn face the cruelty of the pagan King; all over the eating of flesh coming from an animal with a cloven hoof. This time it was pork, it could easily have been elephant meat; but let’s not worry about the flesh of the animal, think of the flesh of the seven martyred in the Book of Maccabees.

The Second Book of Maccabees also reminds us “it is a holy and pious thought to pray for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin[1]. It is for this reason we have the tradition of offering Mass for our departed loved ones, usually on or around the anniversary of their death. I am very conscious the Cathedral parish will celebrate its annual Mass for the Bereaved next Wednesday. On Thursday I will celebrate a Mass for the Accord Marriage Care agency and stream it live top Centres across the country from this Cathedral. And on Friday I will join with the staff and friends of Teagasc for their Annual Remembrance Mass.

Parishes offer ‘Lists of the Dead’ books, I saw one yesterday in the splendid St. Mary’s Church on Haddington Road as I competed with rugby enthusiasts for the last remaining parking space. Other churches have Memory Trees, where the name of the loved one is written on a tag and tied onto a branch. Every church has candles, some have designated prayer spaces where candles are perpetually lit in November remembering loved ones. All have envelopes offering you the opportunity of adding your deceased friends name to the list. The words of Maccabees ring true, it is indeed a wholesome thought to pray for the dead. And November gives us a space for doing just that.

This Mass is being used as a moment, an opportunity to applaud the quiet apostolate of the Legion of Mary and more importantly promote its work and mission in the wider Carlow area. Their centenary was last year but the pandemic restricting honouring it, so this morning for a moment I want to pay tribute to the Legion and its members.

I mentioned in my introduction to this Mass that seven was seen as a sacred number. Well Frank Duff was born on June 7th 1889; he founded the Legion of Mary on September 7th, 1921, dying on November 7th 1980. In Frank’s life seven was also a sacred number. In a prophetic letter to Fr. Aedan McGrath in 1948 he held the firm viewpoint that where the laity did not fulfil its role, the Church would fail. He wrote: “an inert laity is only two generations removed from non-practice. Non-practice is only two generations away from non-belief[2]. We might reasonably ask ourselves how applicable his observations were to today’s Ireland, and yet I never despair, there is still a huge hunger, as called for in our Synodal Synthesis for evangelisation, for faith development. I believe the Legion can have a pivotal role in responding to that need. 

The challenge facing all legionaries, auxiliaries and friends in Carlow and indeed in the Diocese is how you and all of us as church can constructively engage with those who no longer practice and those who no longer believe? The greatest gift the Legion can offer today’s world is that of being present; you are probably one of the few Church groups who continue to go out, to reach out beyond the comfort zones. When you go on visitation to a housing estate, to a prison, to a detox centre, you are being present, sometimes simply sitting with those who feel most ostracized in today’s society. If you don’t visit, who will? If you don’t bring the Statue on visitation, who will? If you don’t knock, who will? And I’m intrigued today is Prisoner’s Sunday and I am so conscious of the work the Legion do in prison visitation.

I had my introduction to the commitment and dedication of the legionaries in my former parish of St. Mary’s, Drogheda. I still recall the Legion Prayers recited around the grave of the late Sheila Murray, James Street, Drogheda who died on January 29th, 2001. Celebrating Sheila’s funeral on that crisp January day I was reminded that the Legion of Mary had been the teaching tool, an evangelizing tool, a catechetical tool in her life. She, like many in her generation, didn’t get to complete her formal education due to the usual generational stuff of caring for her parents. It was the Legion which filled in the gaps and much more.

The Legion of Mary through Edel Quinn and Alfie Lambe has offered exemplary figures who are proposed today as models of holiness for the twenty-first century. I think of the late Fr. Daniel Deady, a former curate who served in the parish of Arles and Knockbeg. He volunteered as a Diocesan on the Missions, working in Kenya. He was killed on the way to a retreat with three Holy Ghost missionaries on December 8th, 1986, and is buried in the same graveyard as Edel Quinn.

This evening I begin a seminary visitation of Maynooth. The fear I would have is that if Frank Duff were around today, demonstrating all the charisms and gifts he did then, he would be encouraged to enter the seminary and be a priest – it would be a huge mistake. The church needs articulate lay people who love their faith and express it in the way they live their lives. The church needs committed lay people who will reach out to those on the margins of society today. The church needs courageous lay people who take seriously their baptismal calling of following Christ.

Even if our seminaries were overflowing with vocations, the particular contribution of lay people imbued with the spirit of Frank Duff, Edel Quinn and Alfie Lambe, and actively immersed in every detail of church life, is an essential element in witnessing to Gospel values in today’s society.

[1] 2 Macc12:45

[2] Letter of Frank Duff to Fr. Aedan McGrath: 13.03.48