Dublin Diocesan Liturgical Resource Centre
SPRING SEMINAR 2011
Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Holy Cross College, Clonliffe 5th February 2011
On the basis of annual head-counts in the Churches of the Archdiocese, it would appear that on any normal Sunday about 20% of the Catholic population of the Archdiocese of Dublin is present at Mass. That is significantly lower than in any other diocese in Ireland. In more than one parish the Sunday practice rate is about 3%. The very low level of practice is not primarily, as some have said, in the somewhat depopulated areas of the inner city but in poorer parishes on the outskirts of the city. Attendance is highest in middle class parishes.
Saying that does not mean that only 20% of Catholics practice regularly. Some may attend on one or more occasion each month. Some may wish to attend weekly but for various reasons do not manage to do so. Taken all in all, however, these statistics are to say the least a cause of great concern.
Even more alarming is the fact that these statistics take no account of the age profile of those who attend Mass regularly. The presence of young people is clearly much lower, despite the fact that family Masses account for a not insignificant proportion of Mass attendance in some parishes.
More and more we encounter people who say that they are Catholic but that going to Mass is not very high on their agenda. There is a feeling that going to Church is not a significant dimension of being a Christian.
What does it mean when someone says that they wish to be Catholics and do not want to go to Mass? I think that we should begin with that phrase “go to Mass”. One goes to the cinema; one goes to a football match; one goes to a restaurant. And if the film is boring or the match is mediocre or the food of poor quality, then we can get up and leave and certainly we can do something else next week.
Is going to Mass any different? The law of the Church prescribes that Catholics should attend Mass on Sundays and Feast Days. Knowing human nature as it is, it is not a bad thing that there exist laws and norms which indicate for us some basic minimum requirements concerning the way we live the Christian life and participate in the Christian community.
But neither faith nor life can be determined simply in terms of laws. If we approach Sunday Mass only on the basis of obligation then we are never going to really understand what Sunday means to the Christian and what liturgy and especially Eucharist are really about.
The Eucharist is irreplaceable nourishment given to us to accompany us on our life’s journey. Every Christian needs that nourishment.
The celebration of the Eucharist begins with the nourishment of the word. Week by week the word of God is proclaimed, and broken and indeed prayed. Our psalmody, which is an essential part of the liturgy, reflects the prayer of God’s people along the history of salvation. It is a prayer uniquely related with the fundamental anxieties, hopes and aspirations of God’s people, as they recalled how God had remained faithful to them over generations. The communal proclamation and prayerful interiorization of the scriptures incorporates us in a special way into the reality of that history of God’s people and helps put into focus what our real hopes should be.
I might say here that there has been a tendency in our celebration of the Eucharist perhaps too easily to substitute other texts for the psalms. The responsorial psalm is now one of the few occasions for many people to experience the unique prayerfulness of the psalms and in general the psalm should not be replaced by any other musical piece,
You do not simply go to Mass. The liturgy is not a performance but an action in which God’s people actively participate. The liturgy is however in the first place the action of God. Active participation is not just about us saying and doing things. There is an active participation which is fostered through silence and reflection and interiorly identifying ourselves with what is taking place. In today’s world there is anyway a superabundance of words and a fear of silence. The liturgy must always lead people beyond the superficial and fleeting character of much of contemporary culture.
Where the liturgy becomes performance we can very easily end up with banalities and with what some have called the “disneyisation” of the liturgy. Such banality is often linked also with a sense of personal protagonism, at times by the priest or of a musical group or even of guest speakers. Our reading this morning reminds us that “we have nothing to boast about to God”. The liturgy is not our work.
I am very pleased that the Dublin Diocesan Liturgy Resource Centre organises these seminars to help prepare those who have responsibility for the liturgical activity of our parishes.
Our society today has its many hungers. Eucharist is nourishment on the path of our journey which helps us to encounter something that cannot be encountered in any other way. It is in the Eucharist that we encounter Jesus Christ, who reveals to us who God is. In the Eucharist we encounter Jesus who paradoxically in becoming one of us revealed the total otherness of God from us. Our encounter in the liturgy with transcendence, with that total otherness of God, radically transforms our hungers and our sense of community.
The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity. We encounter Jesus in the Eucharist always together with others. There is no communion with the Lord which does not involve communion with others. The communion which is generated through the Eucharist is not a sociological phenomenon. It is in sharing the one body we becoming one body. Eucharistic community fosters and shapes a totally new life-style of communion, which we then take with us back into our every day life, in family, in community, at work and in society.
We are never Christians just on our own. The Mass is not a simply an obligation that I fulfil just on my own. My hope is that Seminars like this will help form a true Eucharistic culture which will stress the significance of our participation in the same bread and the same wine. That bread and wine is Christ himself, who gives himself in sacrifice and offers us a model of gratuitous love which freely accepted self-giving even until death.
There is no other source of such nourishment and contact with Christ. There is no way in which we can live the fullness of the Christian life without such communion with Christ. May your work generate a renewed Eucharistic devotion, and make our Eucharistic celebrations a space where people will be elevated prayerfully and mystically and where they will we receive that new life which only comes when we loose our lives for Jesus sake.