My Dear Brothers and Sisters,
‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near!’ (Philippians 4:4-5).
The entrance antiphon at Mass on this ‘Gaudete or ‘rejoicing’ Sunday reminds us that God is very near. The promised Saviour is close, God’s kingdom of light and peace, of love and mercy, is at hand. In that spirit, I wish you every blessing from God for this Advent and Christmas. May our celebration of this blessed and joyous time be an occasion for the celebration of God’s unending love for us in Jesus Christ, the light of the world.
The story of Christmas reminds us that in his coming, God involved very humble people – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds on the hillside. Together with the animals and the stars, all of creation joined the angels in proclaiming God’s glory and his peace to all of goodwill. Heaven and earth came together just in the same way that it does every time we celebrate the Mass – the church of heaven unites with the church of earth in the Eucharist.
Our response to the First Reading today is a little bit different from other Sundays in that it is not a psalm but a canticle or ancient hymn known as the Magnificat and taken from the Gospel of St Luke. St Luke has Mary speak these words of delight and humility on the occasion of her visit to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is an example of how her own plans for life were forcibly changed by the news that she was to bear Jesus into the world. Mary not only gave birth to Jesus and, along with ever-faithful St Joseph, brought him up, but she handed Jesus over to us. She provided Jesus for others. Mary’s ‘Yes’ was a ‘Yes’ to service to us all. Mary is the model of service and ministry.
Baptism and Eucharist draw us into the Lord’s presence in our lives and into the service of God and one another. Today, I say thanks to the many people who serve the church in this diocese through various ministries in our parishes, on school boards of management (Boards of Governors) and on parish committees and pastoral councils, as well as those who help the parish in so many other ways, including financially. Your work is a great example of a synodal church in action.
Over the past sixty years or so we have witnessed a great growth in lay participation in the ministerial life of the church. In the 1960s we had lay readers or Ministers of the Word introduced. In the 1980s we saw the introduction of Ministers of the Eucharist. And we have also had great developments in the ministry of church music over all these years too.
Now we have a new ministry to add to all these – Funeral Ministry. Over the past few months, over 40 people from 12 parishes across the diocese have taken part in a formation course to enable them accompany people and families at the time of bereavement. They will be able to lead the liturgy of reception of the body at the church and the Rite of Committal at the graveside. Over the coming months they will continue their training and formation and be commissioned in their respective parishes to assist at funerals as outlined above. Other parishes have indicated a willingness to nominate people for a similar course in the Spring of next year. We are very grateful to all those who have come forward for the formation and training and to the priests of those parishes for their involvement.
I ask people in those parishes which will experience this new ministry over the coming months to welcome the new lay funeral ministers and to prayerfully support them in their service. These ministers will be commissioned publicly to act in the name of the church within the parish community. Therefore, this is not a lessening of service to families and loved ones at the time of a death but, rather, a strengthening of the local parish commitment to accompany people at such a difficult and sensitive time.
Through his public ministry, Jesus called people from various walks of life to follow him. Today, he continues to do so – often in very unexpected ways. Just like Mary’s quiet acceptance of God’s will and her quiet waiting for the arrival of the Child Jesus through the days of Advent, may we too rejoice in the light and glory of Christ’s coming.
Christmas calls us to welcome the Light of World into our homes, our families and our communities. May we welcome him especially into our hearts so that strengthened by his grace, we may continue to build the kingdom of God’s love in our midst.
‘He looks on his servant in her lowliness; henceforth all ages will call me blessed’ (Luke 1: 48).
Yours, in Christ,
+ Larry Duffy
Bishop of Clogher