Given at Westminster Cathedral at the Deceased Clergy Requiem Mass on Wednesday 10th November 2021.
St Paul, writing to Timothy and as we have just heard, gives what must be the shortest summary of our Faith:
‘He (the eternal Word) was made visible in the flesh, attested by the Spirit (in his victory over death), seen by the angels (at his birth and at his resurrection) proclaimed to the pagans (above all in the blood of martyrs), believed in by the world (in the life of the Church), taken up into glory' (Timothy 3:16).
Here, in this Mass, every aspect of that synopsis is made clear. Here the full mystery of our Faith is laid open to us all: the visible presence of the Lord continued in this Sacrament; the attestation of the Holy Spirit experienced in the sacred action of this Liturgy; the presence of the angels signalled in the proclamation of the triple Sanctus; the proclamation of the living words of the Gospel made in our hearing; our participation, in the Mass, in the world-wide prayer of the Church, and, most pertinently, the promise of future glory which we here receive.
Today we have in our hearts our brother priests who have gone to the Lord in this last year:
Fr David Palmer and Fr Jim Duffy, who died last December.
Bishop Pat O’Donoghue, Mgr Mark Langham, Fr Bernard McCumiskey and Fr Kildane Lebasi, who died last January.
Fr Vincent Crewe, who died in March.
Fr Colin Whatling, who died in August.
Fr Stephen Delany and Deacon Robert Levett who died in September.
And Fr David Irwin who died so recently in late October.
For them we pray in confidence, remembering the promise of the Lord, proclaimed in the Gospel we have just heard:
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father's house; if there were not, I should have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place I shall return to take you with me, so that where I am going you may be too.'
Jesus then proclaims that he, himself, is the way to the Father. And this is what is made so clear in the action and words of the Mass.
I was very struck by the words from the Letter to the Hebrews we heard on Sunday, telling us that in his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus was not contained by the time-capsule of this life. As the Letter proclaims, 'It was not as though Christ had entered a man-made sanctuary which is only modelled on the real one' rather, in his self-offering he has 'entered heaven itself', appearing in the actual presence of God on our behalf'. It is for this reason that 'he does not have to offer himself again and again'… nor 'suffer over and over again', but what he has done is 'once and for all' (Hebrews 9:24-26).
Now, here in this Mass, we are taken up into that one sacrifice of Christ. We are not repeating it, but rather being taken into its presence and made sharers in that one action, taking place before the Father, to whom all honour and glory are given forever and ever. This can only mean one thing: that every time we celebrate Mass we are, as it were, being lifted out of the time-capsule of this world, of our mortal lives, and being incorporated, no matter how incompletely, into the one and only heavenly Liturgy, which is never repeated and a constant sacrifice of praise.
Here, then, we stand just beyond the threshold of heaven, glimpsing, sensing, being lifted into its eternal now. Here, then, we stand alongside our departed brethren, departed from this world only to be incorporated, we pray, into the next. Here, we pray, we are in their company in a manner that surpasses all human friendship and shared experience. Here we touch our deepest fellowship and identity with them: one in Christ, brought home through his sacrifice, made whole through his blood. He is indeed our Way, even now, bringing us home and filling us with his promise.
Our turn will come to leave this time-limited life and enter into that promise. Our longing is well expressed in the words of the Psalm (26):
'There is one thing I ask of the Lord, for this I long, to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to savour the sweetness of the Lord, to behold his temple.'
As we are taken up into this liturgy of the heavenly Temple our prayer for our brethren is that this longing of theirs is now fulfilled and 'that having celebrated these sacred mysteries here on earth they may now rejoice at your heavenly banquet.' This is the promise of the priesthood, a privilege we carry with care and often with more than a little carelessness. Yet our hope is firm for here we glimpse the glory that is ours, gifted only because of the precious blood of our Saviour being shed for our forgiveness and for the forgiveness of our departed brethren. Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ!
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.
✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster