St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302
There are two major celebrations on Holy Thursday with two different emphases. This evening underlines the Last Supper and Jesus' clear connection between his sacrificial death and the institution of the Eucharist. This morning's Mass invites us to look together at the broad mission of the whole church to bring Good News to the poor – and at the role of the ordained ministries in the context of the missionary People of God.
For nearly two hundred years, the Church in Ireland has had a special link with the celebration of daily and weekly Mass. For nearly two hundred years before that, people had died for daring to attend Mass – and that was only occasionally. And the predictable ritual of Mass in Latin was accompanied by a culture where, for many, the challenging obligation was to 'get to Mass'.
We live in a very different environment now and, as a diocese, we have to face the reality that – with 205 Masses each Saturday evening and Sunday in the diocese – there is definitely no shortage of opportunity for those who want to join in the weekly or even daily, celebration of the Eucharist.
But it is clear that in our modern missionary Church, it is an error to see the Eucharist merely as a 'thing' that you have to get to get to in order to fulfil an obligation. The events that we celebrate three days make it clear that the Mass is the place and event where Christ gathers his people
-To offer worship and prayer to God
-To nourish them with Word and Sacrament
-To bind them closer to Himself
-To prepare them for being and bringing Good News to people who most need it.
'Getting to' Sunday Mass is a very inadequate way of approaching both our own spiritual lives and planning the parish provision of the weekend Liturgy.
There was a powerful phrase at the end of the old Latin Mass 'ite missa est'. As Pope Benedict wrote, The word 'phrase' has come to imply a 'mission'. These few words succinctly express the missionary nature of the Church" The mass is over, you are sent.
Thus the weekly Mass is not just something many people try to get to. The weekly gathering has a divine purpose. That divine purpose matches quite well with the three elements of the Diocesan Plan. Our simple document invites us to use the times when we are called together by Christ as the uniquely important opportunity to
-Build communities in an age of loneliness and exclusion
-Grow in faith together in a age of doubt
-Be equipped to make Jesus known and loved
Now in the diocese, the question is sometimes raised about how we can ensure that people have access to convenient Masses at times that suit their busy schedules and fit around football training. But this Holy Thursday, I suggest that the real focus has to be on:
-How we gather to offer worthy worship to God
-How we allow Christ to nourish us with Word and Sacrament
-How we are prepared for our shared mission as members of God's baptised people.
Furthermore, beyond the timing of Masses, any discussion about 'good liturgy' is not about
-how well we do things
-how entertaining our Mass is.
Rather the focus for every community gathering around the Eucharistic Christ has to be about helping the whole person, through all our senses, to experience the mystery of us joining the choirs of angels and saints in their unending hymn of praise. It is about doing our poor best through beauty, music and dignity to help the whole community know that we stand on holy ground. Its focus is not on showing off our talents but on helping us celebrate, not how well we do things for God, but what God has done for us in Jesus, by his teaching and death on the Cross
Unlike some religious acts of worships, the Liturgy is not 'ours' to own. There may be various ways of entering into the mystery. Each weekend we have Mass in Derry in Diocese in English, Irish, Latin, Polish and Malayalam. We will have silence and folk music or more traditional music. In some places we will have a solemn use of incense or simpler ways of celebrating Christ's presence among us. But we celebrate the one mystery of the Word made flesh that dwells among us. God has done the work in Jesus. We are invited to enter into that mystery. But it is God's glory that we celebrate, not our expertise.
Thus the challenge for parish communities is not just to make Mass available at convenient times – important though that is. In parish planning, local communities have to ask how – at what for most people is their only time together in church each week –
-how we give priority to worshipping the mystery of God's mercy together
-how we enable all to enter into the mystery of God's love
-young and older
-those for whom faith is central and those on the edges
-those who are happy and those who are sad
-the healthy and those with illnesses or disabilities
-how the People of God in each parish are enabled to grow in an understanding of their faith;
-how the active, healing presence of Jesus is celebrated so that it can be shared.
If the Sunday Mass is not the high point of a praying, learning, missionary community, we have missed the point of today's scripture readings. Through Baptism and Confirmation, the Eucharistic people of God have been anointed for mission and witness. The task of the parish leadership team is to enable that holy people of God to recognise their identity, to recognise the identity of Jesus present in our midst – and to be a people who bring good news to the poor, the despondent and the searching. If Sunday Mass becomes a place where the holy hide away from the world or feel superior to those outside, we have missed the point. We are gathered by the Lord so that we will be emboldened to share the Good news that we have heard in the fragments of our own lives.
The language of 'saying Mass' and 'getting to Mass' belongs to a bygone age – perhaps to the age before Jesus spoke those powerful words from 2,000 years ago that we have heard in today's Gospel. We have a deep need for parish communities that will gather each week to be nourished for their mission – and we have a great deed for those will dedicate their lives to leading these Eucharistic missionary communities.
Bishop of Derry
St Eugene's Cathedral, Derry
Chrism Mass - 18th April 2019
 Pope Benedict XVI, 2007, Sacramentum caritatis, 51