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Homily of Bishop Denis at Mass at the Shrine of St Valentine 2023

Mass on Monday – Sixth Week in Ordinary Time – Year A:                   13.02.23

Carmelite Church, Whitefriar Street, Dublin @ 11.30am


It’s a great joy for me to celebrate Mass once again in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel here on Whitefriar Street in Dublin. I thank Fr. Seán and his team for the warm welcome.

This is the church of the relics of St. Valentine, but more importantly it is the church just off one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city, where people have been calling over the years to say a quite prayer, to light a candle, to go to Confession or simply to attend Mass.

Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day, and immediately after today’s Mass I will bless the rings of two engaged couples – Ilona and Patrick; Orla and PJ – over at the Shrine of St. Valentine where the relics have been venerated since the 1950’s. The two couples represent the many couples who will celebrate the sacrament of marriage across this island over the coming year. In this Mass we pray for all of them. But we also pray for couples who have come here today especially to renew their own vows, their own love, their own commitment to one another.

In the scripture readings we continue to reflect on the relationship of Adam and Eve. The particular lens this day is through their offspring, their older sons Cain and Abel and later the birth of their daughter Seth. The jealousy that Cain brooded over his brother is sadly not exceptional. There are too many stories on this island where sibling rivalry goes too far, far too far. The Book of Genesis speaks of sin as “a crouching beast hungering for you, which you must master[1]. Awareness of God’s mercy allows us to master sin and so in a moment of tenderness and gratitude for that mercy we pray …


Two dates stand out for me over the past year – September 24th and November 18th. They were the dates I was privileged to officiate at the sacramental marriages of Catherine and Bernd on September 24th & Roisín and Mark on November 18th. Catherine and Roisín are two of my nieces. Being a part of their celebration, being a part of any sacramental celebration is such a privilege for all of us guests. On those days I was a witness to the wedding ceremonies as each of them conferred the sacrament on the other. A sacrament that promises God will always be by their side.

Pope Francis is very anxious that, like God, we too are by the sides of these young couples. He calls it accompaniment, walking alongside the couple, at their pace, at their step. There are many ways we can support couples in their early years of marriage, some of them will appeal to some couples, others may need a very different form of accompaniment. The key message is don’t presume to leave couples on their own, don’t assume your unobtrusive support, your quiet prayers, your occasional small chat will go unnoticed. They are deeply appreciated and very much necessary.

I know that September 24th and November 18th are now circled in my 2023 diary to prompt me to send a card, a text, a message of support on their first and subsequent anniversaries. These are small gestures of encouragement on this lifelong journey we call marriage. It’s a reminder to us that the sacrament of marriage isn’t just between the couple and in the family, but as with all sacraments, it impacts on all of us.

The couples whose rings I will bless later at the shrine have freely chosen to get married in the church. Ilona and Patrick in St. Mary’s, Keadue in the Diocese of Ardagh & Clonmacnoise, Orla and PJ in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar in the Diocese of Meath.

Any couple who choose to marry in the church don’t so much receive the sacrament, they become that sacrament for their life. Being that sacrament to each other involves a conscious decision to always love the other. The quality of their love, their tenderness, their romance grows so that their marriage becomes an even greater source of joy for them, their families and the parish community where they live.

It would be good for parishes to reflect on how they might welcome young couples, newlyweds into their community. Perhaps a ‘Sunday of Welcome’ at one of the regular Masses with simple refreshments in the local centre or hall. Accord, the Church agency which supports marriages and relationships is anxious to do everything it can, through its three autonomous companies, to walk with young couples in their early years of marriage. The numbers attending our Preparation Programmes continues to increase, returning now to pre-pandemic levels. The hope is to develop Marriage Enrichment programmes to support couples in the early years where huge pressure can come from many quarters. It is incumbent on all society to support these couples as they strive to live out their sacrament.    

The pandemic deeply impacted the marriage plans of young couples. We are glad to be at the other end of that pandemic but the silent pandemic of domestic violence continues unabated. Be assured Accord are there, trained and specialised, to accompany those who silently suffer. Abel’s plight at the hand of Cain is too familiar a story in relationships today, for it to happen once, is once too much. Know there is support out there.

There are those of you gathered here who wish to renew your own marriage vows, your own commitment, your own love for one another. I want to remind you, that each of you have that wonderful gift of being a further support to the newly-weds, to the young couples. You do this by your honesty, your example and your fidelity to one another. Your renewal today show it’s possible to live the sacrament, to be that sacrament to one another. And for this we are all grateful. I invite each of the couples to stand now, to gently hold hands as you renew the promises you made on this the eve of St. Valentine …     

[1] Gen.4:7