More than 1, 500 people gathered Friday on the eve of the Solemnity of the Assumption to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Galway’s Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St. Nicholas.
The chief celebrant of the Jubilee Mass was Cardinal Seán O’Malley, archbishop of Boston. He followed in the footsteps of his Boston predecessor, Cardinal Richard Cushing, who represented Pope Paul Vl at the dedication of the Cathedral in 1965. The cardinal was joined by Bishop Martin Drennan, by the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown, by Bishop Brendan Kelly of Achonry who is a native of this diocese and by a very large number of active and retired clergy. The leaders of the main Christian Churches in the city were present as were the leaders of Galway’s Muslim communities. Cllr Niall Nelis, the Deputy Mayor, officially represented the civic authorities, accompanied by members of Galway City Council.
In his homily Cardinal O’Malley spoke of the deep historic links between the United States of America and Ireland and particularly between his city of Boston and Galway. Referring to the Cathedral he spoke of the ‘glorious temple’ on the banks of the Corrib which is a testament to the enduring faith of the Irish. The Cardinal drew attention to the fact that this great church rose from dust of the old Galway Jail and, in dedicating it to Our Lady, assumed into heaven, the people of the city and the diocese again put their faith and their hope in the Mother of God who has never left unaided anyone who seeks her intersession.
Many of those who worked on the building, and who were altar servers, choir members, ushers and volunteers on the opening day were present. A large-scale model of the Cathedral was displayed and the Cathedral Jubilee Choir, under the direction of Mr. Ray O’Donnell, saing. Also participating in the liturgy were three young deacons who will be ordained as priests for the Diocese of Galway over the coming months – John O’Halloran from Kilannin, Michael King from Renmore and Daniel Gallagher from Bohermore.
Speaking afterwards, Fr. Martin Whelan, who works in the Cathedral, said “the Jubilee Mass was a deeply moving experience and we are delighted that so many people joined us for this very special celebration. We deeply appreciate the goodwill and the generosity of spirit shown by so many people in recent days that made the event such a fitting commemoration of this fine building.”
On Saturday, 15 August Cardinal O’Malley offered Mass in the Crypt Chapel for Bishop Michael Brown who is buried there. Bishop Brown was the prime instigator, organizer and motivator of the Cathedral project. During Mass the Cardinal reflected on the energy, enthusiasm, passion and vision of Bishop Brown who “did all things well.” The building, he said, is “a fitting testimony to his undoubted abilities”. Cardinal O’Malley also spoke of Galway City as being the “jewel of the Wild Atlantic Way’ and the Cathedral as ‘the jewel of Galway City.”
The Jubilee celebrations will continue in the months ahead. The Classical performers ‘The Priests’ sang a two-hour repertoire on Sunday evening, 16 August, to a large audience. Many more events are planned. In his closing words on Friday evening, the Parish Priest of the Cathedral parish, Canon Peter Rabbitte, made a particular point of encouraging the people of Galway and beyond to come in and explore the Cathedral, their Cathedral, to experience its magnificence, its artistry, and most of all, to experience its capacity to accept, to sooth and to heal.
Here is the text of Cardinal O’Malley’s homily:
Ironically, Massachusetts was a Puritan colony where historically, hostile to Catholicism, Catholics were forbidden residence, priests imprisoned, the Pope was burnt in effigy each November on the Boston Common.
All of this has drastically changed. Today, almost half the population is Catholic. This stunning change can be traced to a tragic event in 19thcentury Ireland, An Gorta Mor-The Great Hunger, that sent millions of Irish across the sea, to start a new life and to send help back to those who stayed behind.
In the first year of the famine, so many Irish went to Boston, that one third of the population in the Puritan stronghold suddenly were Irish. Even today, the Irish are the largest ethnic group in the city, about ¼ of the population and comprise 20% of the population of Massachusetts, the highest statewide percentage in America. We even can boast of a Mayor, Marty Walsh, whose first language was Irish and learned English when he became enrolled in the parish school.
One of the panels at the Irish Famine Memorial in Boston reads, “In a frantic attempt to outwit death, nearly two million people fled Ireland. “Many thousands of peasants who could still scrape up the means, fled to the sea as if pursued by wild beasts, and betook themselves to America”, wrote Irish patriot John Mitchell. The emigrants boarded vessels so unseaworthy they were called coffin ships. So many passengers died at sea that poet, John Boyle O’Reilly, called the Atlantic Ocean upon which they journeyed, a “bowl of tears.”
My own family came, some through Montreal and some through Boston. We still treasure their most prized possessions that the O’Malleys brought with them from County Mayo, a statue of the Sacred Heart and a beautifully bound two volume history of Ireland.
In Boston, we are very proud of our Irish heritage. As a young seminarian, I was here in Ireland when John F. Kennedy, the first Irish Catholic President of the United States, came to visit the land of his ancestors. He received the céad mile fáilte, the 100,000 welcomes of the Irish people. Another great descendent of the famine generation was Richard Cardinal Cushing. I often tell people my whole life could be going around the world to celebrate anniversaries of the many good works of Cardinal Cushing. He was responsible for founding churches, hospitals and schools all over the world.
Cardinal Cushing was the Papal Legate at the dedication of this Cathedral. It is a joy and privilege for me as Archbishop of Boston to be here today to mark the 50th anniversary of the solemn dedication of this magnificent temple which betokens the presence of God in the midst of the city. I bring you the congratulations and best wishes of the Catholics of Boston, who hold your people and your country in our hearts with great affection, esteem and solidarity.
I was intrigued to learn that this magnificent Cathedral is built on the site of the city prison. You see, as a young friar, my first assignment was as a prison chaplain and it was there that I had to preach my first sermon. Needless to say, I was very nervous. I went to the monastery library and took out a book on how to write a sermon. The first rule given was to speak into the horizons of your congregation. I had an inspiration. I decided I would talk about great escapes in the Bible. I talked to them about Daniel in the Lion’s Den, the three young men in the fiery furnace, St. Peter in the chains and St. Paul escaping over the walls of Damascus in a laundry basket. I can share with you that I had the inmates’ rapt attention. However, there was a problem, that night six prisoners escaped. I thought my first sermon would be my last.
It is fitting that our celebration falls on a Marian feast because Our Lady is the first disciple of Jesus and theologically personifies the Church. A tender devotion to Mary characterizes Catholic piety and religious sense.
Today’s Gospel already hints at the Church’s unfailing love for the Mother of Christ.
Two thousand years ago at Elizabeth’s house, Mary prayed the beautiful prayer: the Magnificat. Now prayed every day at vespers it contains a prophesy: “All generations shall call me Blessed.” Today, two thousand years later, we still acknowledge: “The Blessed Virgin Mary.”
The Blessed Virgin is part of our history. I was delighted to learn recently that despite the secularist bent of the European Union, an article appeared where the artist who designed the flag for the EU spoke about the inspiration of the flag. He received his inspiration from the first reading for today’s Mass of the Assumption, where in the Book of the Apocalypse St. John says: “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”
I am sure you have all seen the European Union’s blue flag with the 12 stars. It really is a stealth tribute to the Christian origins of Europe.
Today we celebrate Mary’s Assumption. If we think of Mary’s Immaculate Conception as her Baptism, or preservation from sin from the first moment of her existence, we can see Mary’s Assumption as a consequence of her sinlessness; being full of grace means that the corruption of sin never touched her. Mary’s Assumption is her Resurrection and Ascension.
This feast day contains so much theology; the theology of grace and baptism and the theology of resurrection. Mary’s Assumption is meant to be a sign of hope to all believers that, as the Preface of the Requiem Mass says, “For those who die in Christ, life is not ended, but rather changed.”
Mary is a sign to us that we are called to live a life of Resurrection that begins with our baptism and continues for ever in the light of the Resurrection.
Today’s first reading opens with St. John the Apostle’s vision: “God’s Temple was opened and the Ark of the Covenant could be seen in the Temple.”
Some of you no doubt saw the movie Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which Harrison Ford is in hot pursuit of the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark was Israel’s most precious religious symbol. Moses had it built at God’s instruction given on Mt. Sinai. It was a chest in which Moses placed the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, the staff of Aaron, and a jar of manna, the miraculous bread from heaven, and the first Torah scroll written by Moses himself. When the Levites carried the Ark into the Jordan River, the waters were parted so that all the Israelites could cross over.
In the 40 years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites carried with them the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark accompanied God’s people into battle and when it was carried around the walls of Jericho, the walls fell down.
For us Catholics, the Ark of the Covenant is a symbol of Mary, it is one of her titles in the Litany of the Blessed Mother. Mary is our Ark of the Covenant who carried our treasure which is Jesus Christ. She accompanies us in our earthly pilgrimage and helps us to be faithful disciples. Pope Francis often speaks of the culture of encounter and the art of accompaniment, as modelled by Mary.
Many scholars commenting on today’s Gospel say that at the Visitation, St. Luke is trying to portray Mary as the Ark of the Covenant. St. Elizabeth reports that John the Baptist in her womb leapt for joy, like King David dancing before the Ark.
Today’s Gospel also tells us that Mary travelled in haste to a town of Judah to help Elizabeth, her cousin who as an elderly woman was with child and whose feckless husband was struck mute for his disbelief that this could be possible. The Gospel gives us a glimpse of Mary’s personality, she was always helping people. When she heard about Elizabeth’s situation, she went immediately. At the wedding feast of Cana, Mary is the first to realize that the family has run out of wine and she hastens to intervene.
When we say ‘yes’ to God, we are also saying ‘yes’ to the people around us who have a claim on our love and mercy. As Pope Francis is always reminding us, we must take care of each other and have a special care and sense of responsibility for those on the periphery.
Saint Luke, the inspired evangelist, gives us glimpses of Mary in His Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles. The tradition is that St. Luke also painted icons of Mary, like the one in the Basilica of Mary Maggiore. The Lukan Gospel gives us a picture of Mary. She is the woman of very few words.
I have always loved the phrase from today’s Gospel where Elizabeth relates how John the Baptist leapt for joy in her womb when he heard Mary’s greeting, when he heard Mary’s voice.
Her words of greeting would have been Shalom Aleichem, peace be with you. Mary’s first word in the Gospel is: Fiat, yes, and her last words in the New Testament are: “Do whatever He tells you.” This is her appeal to us to say yes to God, to give God permission, as Mother Teresa used to say.
Today’s Gospel is the longest word of Mary, The Magnificat, a prayer of praise, is her heart’s cry at the wonder of all that God was going to do through the child she would bear. He would come to reconcile us to God and institute a revolution of radical love that exalts the humble and the downtrodden.
When God sent His Son into the world He picked the most unlikely girl from the most unlikely nation. God moves against the false, humanistic values of the world. God surprises everybody. Among the many appealing qualities of Pope Francis is that he is the Pope of surprises. Our God is always surprising us with His love, His mercy, His gratuitous goodness.
He sends Jesus, the Suffering Servant, to start a revolution of love, reconciliation and forgiveness. He is calling us to be part of this revolution that turns the values of the world upside down; the arrogant mighty will be put down from their thrones, the humble lowly will be exalted, those who hunger will be filled with good things, and the rich who care only for themselves will be sent empty away.
Mary’s prayer speaks of God’s mercy on those who fear Him. She speaks of God’s promise of mercy, a promise made to Abraham and to us.
Today’s feast is about the triumph of the revolution of love and mercy. Mary full of grace is leading us home, pointing us to a meaning for life beyond the material things that can absorb all of our time and attention.
When we lose sight of the transcendent, we lose the vision we need to sustain us. When God was knocking on the door of humanity, it was Mary who in our name opened the door. We too can open that door, by saying “yes” to God.
On the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts, there is a beautiful church with stained glass windows representing the Seven Sacraments. As you enter the church, the first window you see is the one representing the Sacrament of Confession, with the symbols of the crossed keys and a priest’s stole. The window is inscribed with the words: “Go and sin no more.” The church is not air conditioned, so when it is hot in the summer they open all the windows. On that particular window, the only pane that opens is precisely the one where the word “no” is written, hence the people coming into the church look to the window and read: “Go and sin more”. In my ten years as the Bishop of the Diocese of Fall River I never received any complaints from the many tourists who frequent Martha’s Vineyard.
The great irony is that people often think we Catholics are people of ‘no’ – don’t do this, don’t do that. In fact, we are people of “yes!” Like Mary we are called to say ‘yes’ to God, to love, to community, to life, and also to the Cross and the Resurrection. Mary is always urging us, as she did the apostles at the wedding feast of Cana, “Do whatever He tells you.”
May our lives, like Mary’s, be a resounding ‘yes’ to Christ’s invitation to follow Him in love and fidelity spreading the joy of the Gospel. Mary is assumed into Heaven, but she is still the Ark of the Covenant accompanying us in the joys and sufferings of our earthly pilgrimage, ever urging us to make haste to care for each other and celebrate God’s unfailing mercy.