On 5th November 2019, the eve of the feast of All Saints of Ireland, Bishop Paul McAleenan led a service of remembrance in St Patrick’s Chapel, Westminster Cathedral. The service was organised by the Irish Chaplaincy, a charity which provides support to Irish people living in Britain. The CEO of the charity, Eddie Gilmore, provided the musical accompaniment for the service, in the form of an acoustic guitar.
In his homily, Bishop Paul spoke about the saints of Ireland and how they flourished in the ‘Dark Ages’ between 600 and 1100. He reminded the congregation that there are only four Irish saints who have been canonised (St Malachy, St Lawrence O’Toole, St Oliver Plunkett and St Charles of Mount Argus) but over three hundred Irish saints who were declared saints by their contemporaries.
‘The manner of their lives was inspirational and memorable, recognized as worth following. To be regarded a saint by one who knew you personally is a great tribute, it is statement of one’s profound and positive contribution to life. Those who watch and listen to the saints can have their vision widened and become aware of a bigger and better way of life.’
Bishop Paul highlighted the ways in which the Irish saints displayed their commitment to Christ through scholarship.
‘Books were written, Gospels reproduced. They inspired craftsmen to manufacture beautiful chalices, their beauty reflecting the faith that Christ is present in the sacraments and his blood would be contained in the chalices they made.’
Bishop Paul also spoke about the continuing legacy of the saints of Ireland and of Celtic spirituality on Irish society in 2019.
‘Celtic spirituality was marked by a sense of sacredness in another person which determined how you approached another. The word, ‘Hello’ as a greeting did not exist in the Gaelic language. Instead the standard greeting was ‘Dia Dhuit’, ‘God be to you’. The response being, ‘Dia is Mhuire Dhuit’, ‘God and Mary be with you’. Such a tradition arose from that sense of the all-pervading presence of God, which the Irish saints possessed.’
‘Those virtues of welcome and hospitality became engrained in the fabric of Irish society thanks to the saints.’
Bishop Paul concluded his homily with the assertion that it was happiness which motivated the Irish saints to share their Christian faith with others.
‘One thing that all saints have in common is that they are happy, they possess a joy. When one is happy you want to share what you have, you want others to know what you know. One consequence of that attitude is that many Irish saints travelled from their homeland taking with them the message of the Gospel.’
The Lord’s prayer and the final blessing were recited in Gaelic Irish. After the service, the congregation were invited to join the organisers for tea and cake in the Westminster Cathedral café.
The full text of Bishop Paul’s homily is available here.
Photos from the service of remembrance are available here.
Published: 8th November 2019