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Words of Bishop Denis as he blesses the Pectoral Cross, Ring, Mitre & Crozier of Bishop Elect Niall Coll, Diocese of Ossory.

Blessing of Pectoral Cross, Ring, Mitre & Crozier:                                           20.01.23

St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny @ 7.30pm

A gift I received this Christmas was a 500 piece jig-saw. I can’t remember when I last completed a jig-saw, and this one is still far from complete! I was advised you start from the edges, “get the edges done first” and work inwards. I did well but was short one piece, one vital piece that at last would complete those edges! And suddenly one evening there it was all along, staring me in the face!

Niall, you come among us as Bishop Elect of Ossory, less than 44 hours from your Episcopal Ordination this Sunday. This evening is low-key compared to Sunday’s liturgy; an evening when the family of Ossory gather with you as the bits and pieces that identify a Bishop’s life and ministry are blessed: the Pectoral Cross, the Ring, the Mitre and the Crozier.

It’s so lovely that your parents Willie and Kathleen are here, let’s give them a warm Kilkenny welcome! It’s great that your sisters Anne Marie and Cathriona and Anne Marie’s husband Colm are present. Your sisters mentioned to me they had helped you already move eight times, be assured they can now retire from that occupation!

Niall, the family of Ossory are here this evening: it’s priests and people from the thirteen Pastoral Areas, the forty-two parishes, the staff from the Diocesan Office, the many religious houses and schools, all that makes up the landscape of Ossory. A landscape that is now yours.

Like the jig-saw there is something about starting from the edges as you become familiar with priests, parishes and people. On other occasions this ceremony might have taken place on the island parish of Seir Kieran, very much the edge and yet the centre of Ossory, but unpredictable seasonal weather conditions put paid to that plan. Of course Donegal people are well used to such weather conditions! 

When we go to the edges, to the margins as Pope Francis so often reminds us, it’s always about bringing people into the centre. That centre is the heart of our faith, a faith embodied in the splendid stone, marble, mosaic and stained glass of St. Mary’s Cathedral.

When you were announced as Bishop of Ossory on October 28th last, the gospel that day was Luke’s account of the calling of the twelve; today’s gospel, which we are using again this evening, offers us Mark’s account of that same calling, that same mandate, that same sending out. The late Pope Emeritus Benedict, the great teaching Pope, in his very first papal homily explained in catechetical detail the symbols of the Petrine office.

And so to the elements that identify you as Bishop among us. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of the new covenant, written on their hearts that “I will be their God and they shall be my people[1]. The Pectoral Cross will rest over your heart; it is there you will hold the people of Ossory, it is there you will carry them. The Cross itself, like every Cross is a reminder of who is actually doing the carrying, the bearing, the wearing – Christ who walks with us, as Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded us in that first homily: “I am not alone. I do not have to carry alone what in truth I could never carry alone[2].

The Episcopal Ring is like every ring, a statement of commitment but much more. It’s a visible sign, it’s important to wear it. The round shape is to restrain the tension like the pillars of this majestic Cathedral. And a piece of advice, it’s always good to have a second one for the early days, when if you were like me, who never wore a ring before Episcopal Ordination, you leave without it, have a spare one in the car!  

The Mitre captures that moment on Sunday afternoon when two priests will hold the Book of the Gospels over your head. It is submitting to God’s Word, not your words, God’s. You will be ordained Bishop on the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, designated by Pope Francis as ‘Sunday of the Word of God’.

The Crozier or Staff reminds us of how our life as Bishop is modelled on that of Christ, the Shepherd. A Crozier to bring those in from the edges, a Crozier to give a sense of stability and a Crozier to offer direction and a sense of purpose to our priests, our people, our parishes, our pastoral areas. The Bishop is the episcopus, the one who literally is expected to oversee, to always be on the look out..

This Sunday you are that jig-saw piece that has been missing for two years since Archbishop Dermot’s translation to Dublin, you are that piece that allows the faith life in Ossory to be once again complete. Mark in the gospel speaks of the twelve as “his companions[3], it’s a phrase only used by Mark and it’s a powerful word for an evening like this evening. Niall, be assured of our companionship, our prayers and our support as on Sunday you are ordained the 96th Bishop of Ossory.

[1] Heb.8:10

[2] Pope Benedict, Homily, St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, 24 April 2005

[3] Mk.3:14