Fourth Sunday of Lent – Year C: 27.03.22
Mass at 5.30pm – St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny
We gather on this Sunday evening, in this the Mother Church of Ossory, St. Mary’s Cathedral, to solemnly bless the ambo and consecrate the altar. I acknowledge the work of so many that has led to this ceremony on this the Fourth Sunday of Lent – Laetare Sunday.
I very much include the architect Paul O’Daly, the sculptor Thomas Glendon, and locally the architect Brian Dunlop, the Cathedral Administrator Fr. Richard Scriven and many others who have contributed in no small way to bringing new life into the heart of the Cathedral.
It was a joy for me to walk into the Cathedral last evening and see the finished sanctuary. I welcome warmly all of you, priests, religious and people, friends of St. Mary’s who join us in person or on webcam for this evenings Mass.
St Paul in our second reading urges us to be “ambassadors for Christ” . It is a call that Pope Francis has been making to us since the beginning of his pontificate – to be ambassadors, missionaries for Christ, bringers of the joy of the gospel to a world that needs it so much. A Cathedral must be a place of welcome for all who visit, a place where the joy of the gospel is proclaimed from the rooftops, a place where the Prodigal is always welcomed home.
Laetare Sunday offers us a short reprise from the starkness and austerity of Lent. A moment to rejoice, to celebrate, to savour. “Laetare” means rejoice. Just like on our journey through Advent, this is the moment when the Church expresses hope and joy in the midst of fasts and penances. The rose coloured vestments are simply a glimpse of the joy Easter brings.
No greater rejoicing than in the return of the Prodigal into the arms of his loving father. No matter how often you listen to Luke’s text a different line, a different aspect of that return journey speaks. For me, this evening, it’s the line “all I have is yours” . And it’s in words addressed not the prodigal but to the older son.
This Sunday evening, we rejoice as we near the completion of the works, commenced by Archbishop Dermot, on the sanctuary area here in our Cathedral. Enormous credit is due to Paul O’Daly for very sensitively creating a sacred space where we can all as prodigals be embraced by a loving and welcoming father.
Thomas Glendon’s choice of the natural Combe Brune limestone quarried in France is significant in that the Altar and Ambo reflect the curves of the limestone columns that frame the sanctuary. While those splendid columns were carved here on site in the late 1840’s; the altar and ambo were carved and sculpted in Loughrea. I think that Loughrea was Tom Glendon’s sanctuary during lockdown!
St. Paul in our second reading re-echoes the message of Ash Wednesday, reminding us how we are ambassadors for Christ. I love the state ceremony where an accredited ambassador presents their credentials to our President. We can only be His ambassadors if we have met Christ, if we have come to know and love him, and if we believe that Christ walks with us as we reach out to others with the joy of our faith.
And that is why what we are celebrating this evening is so important in our blessing of the ambo and consecration of the altar. And it is here, gathered together around the table of the word and the table of the altar that you and generations after you, will continue to encounter and be nourished by Christ – by his Word and by his Body and Blood.
From here, we listen to the loving words of God speaking directly to us whenever the scriptures are proclaimed. It is from here that we receive God’s words of encouragement and support, of challenge and invitation – words that reveal for us the person of Christ. Words of mercy, Words of embrace, Words of healing. It is here we are reminded every time through His word that “all I have is yours” .
So, too, we are fed and nourished from the altar of Christ’s sacrifice. Like the ambo, the altar is a place set apart, exclusively for the worship of God and the sacrifice of the Mass. That is why we will bless and anoint and incense the altar. Carved out of Combe Brune, this altar is a clear symbol of Christ the Living Stone, the stone which the builders rejected who has become for us our cornerstone. It’s around the altar we gather to give thanks and to be nourished. During the more severe pandemic lockdowns we missed this sense of gathering and nourishment.
It is appropriate that this day is also Mother’s Day, and we gather in the Mother church of Ossory to bless the ambo and consecrate the altar. We realise that while sacred elements will speak, the greatest voice will be the presence of mothers, fathers, children, young people, older people – all who by coming here, leave as ambassadors for Christ.
The Prodigal returned to the father and I use this opportunity to encourage all of you, who perhaps are with us on webcam and have become comfortable in that space, to return to public worship in your parish. At the heart of the life of our parish communities is the Sunday Mass. When we gather, our communal celebration with our brothers and sisters shapes us into the community we become.
Those who are in any way anxious or vulnerable are not under any compulsion to attend, but for the vast majority of us returning to worship is a powerful expression of our faith. A faith that will endure long after us as others in their day will gather around this sanctuary and other sanctuaries to be nourished by His word and by His body and blood.