Delivering his homily at a Mass for clergy who died during the pandemic, the Archbishop of Westminster has said that: “every one was a unique and remarkable person, gifted, generous and special.”
Cardinal Vincent Nichols said the service at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday was a moment that was “both poignant and powerful”.
“Memories of strong personalities come into my mind as I recall their faces and their characteristics”, said the cardinal.
“Each has a story to tell, a journey of life centred on a call from the Lord to the priesthood.”
His Eminence also noted the “awful” impact that the pandemic has had on all funeral services, with at times only a few being able to gather to pray for, and say farewell to, their loved ones.
“Today we try to remedy that incompleteness, by doing those same things: praying together, remembering, and offering to each other the assurances of faith, the hope of its promises, the consolation of its truths, commending again to God, the souls of these priests, our brothers in the Lord.” the cardinal said.
FULL TEXT OF CARDINAL’S HOMILY:
Given at the Requiem Mass for clergy who died during the Covid-19 pandemic at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday 28th May 2022
This is a moment that is both poignant and prayerful. Today we remember and pray for the priests of this Diocese who died during the Covid-19 pandemic, in the years 2020 and 2021. We remember them afresh and together commend them to our Blessed Lord.
Every one was a unique and remarkable person, gifted, generous and special. No two were alike. Memories of strong personalities come into my mind as I recall their faces and their characteristics. Each has a story to tell, a journey of life centred on a call from the Lord to the priesthood.
Every one of them has been for some a focus of esteem, reverence and love. Yet every one of them was a person also marked by sin and failure, as is the lot of every human being.
Today we pray to our heavenly Father that they are with him, and able to whisper into the ear of their loving Father the story of their life, with its joys and darkness, as they enter into the embrace of his loving mercy. Only in the mercy of God do we find healing and happiness.
These are the sentiments of the first two readings we have heard proclaimed at this Mass: ‘Happy are those who die in the Lord! Happy indeed, the Spirit ways, for now they can rest for ever’, words from the Book of the Apocalypse. And, before that, the wonderful image from Isaiah of the heavenly banquet and the wiping away of every tear from every cheek.
It is providential that we come to celebrate this Requiem Mass in Eastertide, indeed just after the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord. At Easter we immerse ourselves in the victory of the Lord over death, his bursting open the tomb of our sadness and mourning. In the Ascension we recall the promise of heaven, so eloquently expressed in the prayer of the Feast: that where he, our Head, has already gone, may we, his body, most surely follow. This indeed is our prayer for the priests we remember today.
This promise is also clearly, vividly, spelt out in the words of the Gospel we take to heart today. This promise we celebrate again in this Mass, as indeed in the offering of every Mass, in every Eucharist.
In the Gospel we heard that ‘anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world.’ And, again: ‘This is the bread come down from heaven…anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’
It is the great privilege of the ordained priesthood to be the instrumental cause of the gift of this bread among us. Every priest knows that Christ uses his voice, his hands, his mind, to make present again the bread of his Body and Blood so that we may be drawn into Christ, united in his Body and nurtured for our journey to life. That each of these priests gave themselves to be instruments of the Lord, and celebrated Mass regularly, faithfully is a cause of our great thanksgiving today. Without the presence of priests, it is hard for us to fulfil the command of the Lord that we heard again just now: ‘Everyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in them.’ And just as Jesus describes himself as being ‘sent by the Father’ so that we may ‘draw life from him’ so we thank God that the Father also sent these priests into our lives, with all their faults, so that we could indeed fulfil that command and, in thanksgiving, receive the Body and Blood of Christ, the food of our souls.
This pandemic has been a time of great stress and suffering, in so many ways, especially in the ways in which it had such an awful impact on our funeral ceremonies. Only a few, and at first a very few, were able to gather, to pray, to remember, and to exchange ‘the assurances of faith’ in encouragement of one another at the death of each of these priests. Today we try to remedy that incompleteness, by doing those same things: praying together, remembering, and offering to each other the assurances of faith, the hope of its promises, the consolation of its truths, commending again to God, the souls of these priests, our brothers in the Lord.
Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.
✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster