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Homily of Bishop Denis at the Vigil Mass for Pentecost Sunday

Vigil of Pentecost – Conclusion of Diocesan Triduum:         30.05.20
Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow @ 6.15pm


We have been on a virtual diocesan journey for the past three evenings. Beginning in Naas – Our Lady & St. David’s Church – on Wednesday night, as we reflected on ‘Faith’; continuing in Portlaoise – St. Peter & Paul’s Church – on Thursday night, reflecting on ‘Hope’ and concluding last night in Graiguecullen – St. Clare’s Church – as we reflected on ‘Love’.

We gather this Pentecost Vigil, the birthday of our Church, the birthday of how we are one unified community of faith. Our being apart this pandemic time provides a greater sign of our unity than ever before, as our faith strengthens us, our hope sustains us and our love has to be real for all to see.

I welcome all of you who gather with us in the Cathedral through its webcam facility. A special welcome to the Confirmation groups from right across the diocese, from the seventeen parishes who were confirmed before the ‘lockdown’ and the thirty-nine parishes who await the anointing until the time is right and it is deemed safe by all authorities and experts to gather.

Then like now we will gather, but first we must continue our preparation, and we prepare by being present to one another and to Our Lord, let us pray for His love and mercy …


John’s gospel situates Pentecost powerfully. In the opening verse of the gospel he tells us “the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were[1]. It was into that room Jesus entered, stood among them and spoke.

For most of Lent and all of Easter into Pentecost our church buildings have been closed. Reopened in recent weeks for periods of personal private prayer, but no public celebration of Mass. Through all this time you in your homes in huge numbers have engaged with parish webcams, Facebook Live posts and parish radio to keep connected with your faith, to keep in touch with your local church and parish. The Domestic Church has come into its own during this pandemic time.

One of the nicest things I enjoy as Bishop is reading letters from young people before their Confirmation. It’s a practice I started seven years ago. In recent days I invited them to let me know how they were experiencing this ‘lockdown’ period. Those letters tell me how much this Domestic Church means to them. Conor from Borris said “I miss serving Mass. I still participate via the webcam”. Leona from Kildavin tells me she has been looking at Mass with her mammy on the webcam. They have “prayed and clapped and lit candles for all the doctors and nurses, they are doing a great job”. Barry from Kildangan reminded me his twin Noah was three minutes older than him, and he went on to say “Bishop, it must be strange to be saying Mass to an empty Cathedral but I suppose it makes you think you don’t have to be in a big fancy building to say Mass, it’s the people who make Mass and us all being together”. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

We long to be together. We miss being together. We miss community. The Church is a people of faith not an ornate building of frescoes, mosaics and statues. It’s the people who animate the artifacts. Bishop, priests, religious and people miss one another. And young people, more than most are acutely aware that the virtual is no substitute for the real. Katie-Rose from Daingean tells me “I miss having school chats before class … I miss how we got into silly fights and made up the next day … I miss teachers and friends, but definitely not school”. Josh from Walsh Island put it bluntly when he said: “At the start of lockdown it seemed like a great idea being out of school but as lockdown continues, I want to go back. I miss being with my friends and my teacher … I look forward to getting to hug my nana and grandad”.

Each of our past triduum evenings had different Presiders and Preachers. Fr. Alex as he opened the evening in Nass reminded us of that quote from St. Oscar Romero: “the Spirit is never old; the Spirit is always young”. He invited us to let this be our prayer over the three evenings. Fr. Seán spoke about the breathlessness of the pandemic and those final moving words from the Jesuit priest’s dying dad over the phone to his son: “Breathe for me”. Pentecost is our gift of new breath that includes within it the call to listen to the voice of the Lord. Msgr. John in Portlaoise called for generosity on our part to accept and work with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Fr. David reflected on moments of hope in small acts of kindness, in the work of Sr. Marie Therese Healy in caring for the older, the more vulnerable and the ‘Do it for Dan’ campaign. Our young people joining us on webcam will know very well these small acts of kindness. And then last night in Graiguecullen Fr. John reminded us in the first Ascension lockdown, God asked Jesus to work from home, assuring us He is always with us, physically absent but spiritually present. “Putting others first is what Christians do” and the refrain from the older St. John at the end of his life remains with me: “little children, love one another”.

It is St. John who speaks to us in this Pentecost Vigil gospel, while St. Luke offers us his account of Pentecost from the Acts of the Apostles. Each one “filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech[2], empowering them to speak in a new language. What language will we speak post the coronavirus pandemic? How will we worship? When will we begin to gather in His presence and with one another? Our schools, our churches, our parish centres?

I’ve heard people often refer to “getting back”, “returning” “having once again” with reference to public worship. Language like this suggests to me going backwards rather than going forwards, as if there was some magic switch that we could switch everything to “normal” again. No such switch exists. I fully support the desire so many feel to return, but it’s incumbent on us all to make sure the time is right. The coronavirus pandemic is a virulent virus that is still with us and we must learn a language that allow us to live alongside it. We owe it to those who have buried loved ones over these past weeks and months and those still in hospital or in recuperation from the virus to ensure anything we do is done correctly in keeping with current public health authority advice.

And that is why in early June I will be sending out to every parish a detailed checklist to ensure specific preparations are met so that when the time is right our churches and places of worship can be opened safely and securely. There will be a serious piece of work to be done; work for Parish Councils, for volunteers, for parishioners alongside their priest. I know Church buildings and parish communities differ from one to the other, but we must ensure the same standards apply for all across the board. And we move on this together when the time is right. Pentecost celebrates this unity of purpose and this exercise demands of all of us a united voice and a unified response for the common good.

Sam from Mountmellick put it well when he said; “Covid-19 has affected everything I usually do. But I am enjoying doing things differently. My mam is now my teacher, my dad’s office is at home, my brother’s college lectures are in his room, my other brothers junior cert was cancelled and my guitar lessons are over the internet … I can only see my grandparents on video calls and I miss them. But I have faith in the doctors and the people in charge to keep us safe and I’m grateful to have my family. I look forward to making my confirmation whenever that may be and in the meantime I’m learning about the gifts of the Holy Spirit from my family each day”.  Caoimhe from Timahoe wrote to remind me what we are all witnessing “it seems that the lockdown is improving the environment and ozone layer … the lockdown is not forever so embrace it”.

Over recent nights nine candles were lit by Adam from Sallins; Michelle, Fr. Ciprian and Sr. Sybil from Portlaoise and Katie from Graiguecullen. And tonight, Fr. Brian has lit our tenth and final candle. The Spirit is that flickering flame that allows us all to make its gifts and fruits our own so that we can safely come together and be a post Covid congregation that has peace and mercy at its core.

1] Jn. 20:19

[2] Acts 2:4