Are Bishops set to defy ban on Communions and Confirmations?


The government had told Catholic leaders to postpone First Holy Communions and Confirmations earlier this summer. understands that the four Catholic archbishops of Ireland have written to the government today stating their priests will proceed with Baptisms, First Holy Communions and Confirmations from mid-August.

The news comes after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar had unexpectedly said the ceremonies were “off” in late June, despite plans to restart them on July 5th, prompting criticism from Archbishop Eamon Martin that the Fine Gael leader’s remark was “off the cuff” and “very disrespectful”.

Following Varadkar’s comments, the government website was updated to read that “religious ceremonies such as Baptisms, First Holy Communions and Confirmations should not take place at this time. Further advice will follow on resumption of these ceremonies when it is safe to do so.”

The Catholic Church largely abided by the government’s advice until now, with most priests postponing the ceremonies at a parish level, but today’s letter marks a significant shift in attitude among bishops towards the government’s measures.

Archbishop Martin had told RTÉ that there was “a lot of frustration and deep disappointment and indeed anger” following Mr. Varadkar’s announcement of restrictions on the sacraments, and that the Tánaiste’s “manner of communication in this case was grossly disrespectful.”

Martin did concede at the time that the church would be “respectful” of the deferral however, but it now appears that patience has run out among the clergy as children prepare to return to school.

Varadkar for his part dismissed criticism from the church that his comments had been “off the cuff”, telling the Dáil that he was simply responding to a press conference question and that NPHET were under the impression the ceremonies “were not supposed to be taking place anyway.”

Church leaders had previously expressed opposition to a post-Christmas ban on attending Mass, which was eventually lifted on May 10th.

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  1. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Government guidelines updated 27 July on their website:

    From Thursday 5 August, the maximum number of guests permitted to attend a wedding will increase from 50 to 100 (current protective measures apply).

    Baptisms, communions and confirmations:
    From Thursday 5 August, Baptism services may proceed. However, they must follow all protective measures and social gatherings afterwards should be avoided.

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    Should the Govt be relaxing restrictions at the moment when the Delta variant is striking terror worldwide? In Tokyo the number of cases yesterday was an unprecedented 3,177. Even fully vaccinated people have to step carefully, for they may be carriers of this highly infectious variant. And a deadlier variant may be down the line. Playing games with a virus is unwise, because it will always win.

  3. Ger Hopkins says:

    We await confirmation of this story but two points in relation to it – only tangentially related to health and vaccination policy.


    Point 1.
    The ground seems to have shifted in the Dublin Diocese under our new Archbishop.

    The fact that all four Archbishops have signed this letter to government lends it considerable authority.
    Am I alone in feeling that the previous Archbishop of Dublin might not have signed it – and so the letter might not have been sent.

    We already know from his January interview that Archbishop Farrell is opposed to the public blessing of rings for homosexuals:
    “Priests have given these blessings in the past. I remember one colleague of mine. I had said to him – he used to have this ceremony of the blessing of rings – I said to him I don’t have a difficulty with blessing rings if you’re doing that here in the house but if you go out into the public domain, in a church, and bless rings as you see it … It can be misconstrued as `yes, the priest married us’… because once you start blessing things like that people are going to construe that as a marriage. We can’t have that sort of situation in the Church because it creates all sorts of problems in terms of our own teaching and these teachings of the church have been constant.”

    and says of inter Communion:
    “The question comes down to how we understand Communion as being union. The reality is that there isn’t union and we have to accept that there isn’t union… We’re working towards it, it’s slow… that seems to almost to have come to a halt. Maybe there is a greater acceptance that we are different.”


    Point 2.
    The Church is showing signs of a renewed confidence.
    A confidence that was shaken by the Eamonn Casey story and has been missing since the first of the Abuse Reports.

    If the Church is now feeling sure enough about itself that it is ready to defy government policy then that’s a major change and is going to be important.
    (And yes, it is the Church hierarchy who are expressing confidence here – but they’re speaking for those of us who feel this is long overdue.)


    I’m happy to believe both of the above things are true but is some of it wishful thinking on my part – am I reading too much in to it? How does it seem to people who might be otherwise disposed?

  4. Joe O'Leary says:

    The Gold Medal rowers here in Tokyo would love to celebrate like crazy but they cannot. Caution must prevail. The prima donna sensitivity of the bishops to perceived government casualness is misplaced. Respect for life should come first.

  5. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    “ understands that the four Catholic archbishops of Ireland have written to the government today stating their priests will proceed with Baptisms, First Holy Communions and Confirmations from mid-August.”

    All we can be sure of from this is that “ understands …”

    Their report is dated 28 July. They do not give their source for the story. Their web page is headed:
    “Gript | News. Analysis. Opinion. Unfiltered.” We don’t know from this whether it is Fact.

    On 27 July, the government website was updated (see #1 above), with changes on Weddings and Baptism.

    On the other hand, a note was sent on 28 July by Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin, which would seem at present to imply that the four Catholic archbishops did not send the letter described on Gript:


    Currently 50 guests are permitted to attend a wedding ceremony and reception.

    From Thursday 5 August, the maximum number of guests permitted to attend a wedding will increase from 50 to 100 (current protective measures apply).

    From Thursday 5 August, Baptism services may proceed. However, they must follow all protective measures and social gatherings afterwards should be avoided.

    The number of mourners permitted at funerals continues to be limited to 50, regardless of size of venue.
    Attendance at wakes in private homes and at funeral homes is for family only.
    Related family gatherings should strictly adhere to prevailing public health advice on household mixing, including visitors to your home and indoor and outdoor dining

    And finally: a coup d’état? –

    A photograph in the Irish Times (Thursday 29 July) on page 5 shows Taoiseach Mícheál Martin and Minister Simon Harris greeting five children who received their First Communion yesterday! They were in the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin for another function. Mícheál wished them a wonderful day.

    The report says: “one of the mothers rushed to explain that there hadn’t been a big parish ceremony. Instead, the local priest has been offering the sacrament to small groups of pupils after the normal 10 o’clock Mass, when possible. He just slots in a few at a time.”

    This is still contrary to the guidelines. Nothing about going ahead with a small group or even just one candidate.

    It seems that neither Taoiseach nor Minister sent for the Gardaí!

  6. Liamy Mac Nally says:

    Further to No 5 above:
    A letter was sent to priests by the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, in which he stated that he wanted to update priests in relation to the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation in the Archdiocese.

    The proposal is to proceed with the celebration of these sacraments from mid-August. The AB went on to emphasise the health and wellbeing of all by ensuring that Covid-19 guidance and protocols be followed, that the public health messaging be adhered to during the celebration of the sacraments, and that parishioners are encouraged to take every precaution outside of the particular ceremony itself.

    Parish Priests have been delegated to administer the sacrament of Confirmation.

  7. Liamy Mac Nally says:

    Latest via RTÉ news:

    Rules on communions, confirmations ‘difficult’ – Taoiseach
    The Taoiseach has said that he accepts the restrictions around holding Communions and Confirmations is “very difficult” but warned against any “unilateral breaching of regulations”.

    This follows a circular being issued by Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran to parish priests in his diocese, telling them that they can proceed with communions and confirmations in the coming weeks.

    Micheál Martin said that the sole motivation behind restrictions was to “protect lives”.

    “I think that should be accepted in good faith”, he told reporters this afternoon, following a meeting of the 26 North South Ministerial Council.

    “I don’t approve of any unilateral breaching of regulations” he said.

    Mr Martin acknowledged that the rules are “very difficult for children”.

    Referring to the pace of the vaccination rollout, he queried “is it too much to ask that we another number of weeks to get into a really strong protective situation”.

    In a circular to parish priests in his diocese, which includes parts of Sligo, Galway, Roscommon and Westmeath, Bishop Doran said the guidance issued by the Government on holding communions and confirmations was advice rather than regulation.

    “As you may be aware, the Government today reissued its guidance on First Holy Communion and Confirmation, advising that they should not take place at this time.

    “In consultation with the Vicars Forane and the Vicars General, I have decided, however, that no good reason has been given to us for this advice, considering the focus on the careful reopening of all sectors of society.

    “I am, therefore, proposing that we proceed with the celebration of these Sacraments as previously scheduled,” the letter read.

    Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran has told parish priests in his diocese that they can proceed with communions and confirmations in the coming weeks |
    — RTÉ News (@rtenews) July 30, 2021

    Bishop Doran said the Sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation should be celebrated, as they were last year, with limited numbers, consistent with public health regulations.

    He said more detailed guidance would be issued to priests before the weekend.

    Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, he said that since 5 May, public mass has been celebrated in accordance with strictly controlled public health guidelines.

    He said that if 50 people can currently attend mass he didn’t see why that number can’t also attend a communion ceremony.

    Bishop Doran said he understood public health concerns about what he called “irresponsible gatherings” and said that both he and his colleagues have been encouraging people at all times to behave in a safe and responsible way.

    However, he said things were getting better, restrictions were easing and the whole country was reopening in a safe and controlled manner.

    Bishop Doran said celebrations would be “trimmed down” with family groups wearing masks and remaining in their places as well as no photos being taken in the church.

    He said he has asked parishioners to “keep it simple” and observe public health advice when celebrating on the day.

  8. Liamy Mac Nally says:

    RTÉ News update Sat 31st July:

    The Bishops of Clogher and Waterford and Lismore have given the go-ahead for Communions and Confirmations to take place from next month.

    Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Alphonsus Cullinan said that sacraments for children will get under way from mid-August.

    In a statement, he said that after seeing large crowds gathering at “all kinds of venues” lately, he believed that there was “no valid reason for the further postponement of the sacraments for our children”.

    Yesterday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he accepted that the restrictions around holding Communions and Confirmations were “very difficult”. However, he warned against any “unilateral breaching of regulations”.

    Under current guidelines, places of worship are open for religious services for up to 50 people but ceremonies, such as communions and confirmations, should not take place.

    The regulations state: “It is advised that religious ceremonies such as Baptisms, First Holy Communions and Confirmations should not take place at this time. Further advice will follow on resumption of these ceremonies when it is safe to do so.

    “From Thursday 5 August, Baptism services may proceed. However, they must follow all protective measures and social gatherings afterwards should be avoided.”

    The comments from the Taoiseach followed a circular being issued by Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran to parish priests in his diocese, telling them that they can proceed with Communions and Confirmations in the coming weeks.

    Mr Martin said that the sole motivation behind restrictions was to “protect lives”.

    “I don’t approve of any unilateral breaching of regulations,” he said.

    In a statement today, Bishop Cullinan said: “The communication from the Government and from NPHET regarding the sacraments leaves a great deal to be desired. We are all conscious of the need to remain vigilant.

    “Parishes have been exemplary in taking the health guidelines seriously and will continue to do so, but for any local parish community and their priest who wish to avail of these sacraments, they must be allowed to do so.

    “Therefore in line with the four archbishops letter to the Government this week access to these sacraments for our children will go ahead from mid-August.”

    Meanwhile, Bishop of Clogher Larry Duffy said that Communions and Confirmations may take place in Republic of Ireland parishes on or after 20 August.

    “The appropriate protocols presently in place in our churches will be maintained, and families are reminded of the need for adherence to public health guidance in relation to social interactions following the church celebration,” Bishop Duffy said.

    “As with the practice last year, these liturgies will take place with small groups of children where attendance is restricted to the child, the parents/guardians and sponsor.

    “The celebration of First Holy Communion and Confirmation has been completed already in the parishes situated in the northern part of our diocese, with full adherence to public health protocols.”

  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    The lethal Delta variant is as infectious as the common cold.

    It is soaring everywhere.

    It is no respecter of the young and children.

    US health advice is now bordering on the impossible: “Don’t meet anyone.”

    The whole society needs to hunker down until universal vaccination takes hold (which only partially protects against Delta).

  10. Joe O'Leary says:

    “But that was eighteen months ago and now the script is pretty much the same.” Has Fr Meaney never heard of the Delta variant?

    The Trumpists would convince us that facts are made of words and that there are alternative facts. Yet it turns out that Fauci’s words were naming real facts, and the toll of disease among the unvaccinated cruelly verifies them.

  11. Daithi O'Muirneachain says:

    Due to Covid there is no obligation to attend Sunday Mass. But, I have been going to weekend Mass but now I will probably not continue to do so. Why?
    The last time I was at Mass, I felt very uneasy. It became clear that there was not a two metre distance between people, the marked distance was less that one metre.
    We were all under the impression that inside the churches all precautions were being strictly observed, alas in some churches this now does not appear to be the case.
    The question arises is there any mechanism for checking that all precautions are in place. I wonder what checks, if any, those Bishops who are now going ahead with First Holy Communions and Confirmations, have made or are making. Also, it would be appropriate if all the Bishops could sing off the same Hymn Sheet on this important health and safety matter.
    Fr. Hazlewood’s comments this morning on RTE radio are thus opportune.

  12. Paddy Ferry says:

    Are bishops set to defy ban …….

    This is such complete madness that I found it difficult to get involved in this debate.

    However, Tim did very well on Morning Ireland this morning. Yes, indeed we are supposed to be “Pro-Life” and this whole controversy brings up the question once again if, in fact, the movement is genuinely pro-life or, in reality, just pro-birth.

    And, of course, we should be the ones setting a good example as Tim said.

    But you would think that our bishops would realise that our institutional church has got itself into enough trouble over the last few decades without presenting another genuine reason to have its already meagre credibility further diminished.

  13. Ger Hopkins says:

    The RTE interview with Fr Hazelwood seems remarkable in that there is pushback by the interviewer. In my limited knowledge of these things ACP representatives appearing on RTE can usually count on a much more sympathetic reception.

    Same point could be made about the reception Fr O’Donovan got on Newstalk.

    “A lot of people are very happy about [the bishops decision]… we got a load and load and load of people getting in touch and saying fair play.”
    (Fr Flannery interview on MWR.)

    People want their children’s Communion parties.


    There are a number of reasons to think that, unusually, the ACP has found itself on the unpopular side of a public discussion. Even more remarkable, the Bishops have found themselves not only on the side with popular support but are, in some part, leading it.

    Public fear of Covid is disappearing. Case numbers dropping in the UK. Tiny numbers of ICU cases and deaths here. Vaccine passport implementation, in Dublin at least, lacks support, is chaotic and non functioning.

    The tension between a public, who no longer feel fear about Covid, and policy makers who are extremely slow to adapt to that fact, is driving politics and the popular mood. With what long term consequences?…

    10,000 people showed up in Dublin, Saturday of last week, to oppose the government Covid regulations. They came from the four corners of Ireland. No masks, no distancing, shook hands, hugged, made as much noise as they could and, ten days later, no spike in cases as reported by the HSE.

    RTE, Newstalk, the Indo, the IT, all reported the crowd at 1500. Not everything on your feed can be trusted.
    To paraphrase Groucho Marx – Who are you going to believe, RTE or your own lying eyes?

    Speakers voiced positions on major social issues that were the same as the Church. References to Pearse’s faith and the Man Above. Biggest roar followed the ending of a speech with ‘God bless Ireland!’ I was speaking to one family from Cork whose 9 year old son thought the best way of dressing for the occasion was to wear his Knights Templar T-shirt.
    It was by no means a religious rally, that wasn’t what people were there for. But the perception of how the Church has been treated has made religious sentiment both acceptable and relevant again with this cohort. A cohort big enough to get 10,000 people out on the streets of Dublin. Not for the first time the Church is serving as a focus for opposition.

    The greatest advantage this nascent movement enjoys is the political naivety/arrogance of the powerful, being shown by those opposed to it.

    1. Three quarters of those who showed up were there purely because of government vaccine policy. They might have been a little surprised by the speeches. An ounce of political nous would tell opponents to emphasise the difference between their view and those of the organisers. Instead they went home and read that they were now members of the far right. To which many will have responded ‘If not wanting a jab is right wing the label doesn’t seem quite as bad as I thought’.

    2. Old hands at the demo were wondering where things were going, what should be done next. My own view, for anyone who asked, was that nothing needed to be done. The ones dictating government policy lack the political cop on to let up or make concessions. They would determine where this goes next.

    I doubt I have convinced anyone here of how out of step with popular opinion the ACP leadership is on this. Or what that is doing to how the ACP leadership is perceived. Or what it means for their agenda or how seriously their voice will be taken in future.
    But I tried. And given how different my own views and aspirations are I obviously won’t be too unhappy if we keep hearing the same message from ACP leaders in the media. Steady as she goes.

  14. Joe O'Leary says:

    Tony O’Flannery is a rock of common sense and pastoral vision. “It’s a strange situation”, and his own strange situation is a painful symptom of the amazing dysfunctionality of our church.

    As to the caller who protests that we cannot live in fear forever, he should remember that fear is an essential safeguard of fragile human existence, always necessary, a part of life, and that it is perfectly rational to fear in proportion to the dangers. Covid has triumphed through people’s devil-may-care lack of rational fear–killing 4.3 million and infecting 200 million.

  15. Joe O'Leary says:

    “The State had been founded on rebellion, Fr Kilcoyne said, adding that democracy had a rebellious quality at heart.” (Irish Times today)

    That is the ethos also of the Trumpist anti-vaxxers.

    It’s also the ethos of Irish drivers who drive without seatbelts, or while texting on mobiles, or under the influence of alcohol.

    We’ve seen what it leads to: injury, fatality, bereavement, and too late remorse.

  16. Liamy Mac Nally says:

    RTÉ report today 4 Aug 2021 –

    Archbishop of Dublin gives go-ahead for communions and confirmations.

    The Archbishop of Dublin has written to priests in his archdiocese to tell them that they can proceed with first holy communions and confirmations, despite current public health advice that these ceremonies should not go ahead.

    Dermot Farrell is the first archbishop to direct an archdiocese in this way.

    Last week, some bishops advised their own diocese that they could proceed with sacraments for schoolchildren in August.

    In a letter received by nearly 200 parishes in the archdiocese, Archbishop Farrell said they could go ahead with communions and confirmations “if you consider it safe”.

    “It would be prudent to ensure that families confirm their awareness of the public health guidelines regarding household mixing,” he wrote.

    The Archbishop cited a letter that the four Archbishops sent to Taoiseach Micheál Martin last week which stated that the sacraments should resume in some parishes from mid-August when looking at the “successful vaccination programme, the relaxation of restrictions in many areas of life and the proven record of parishes in conducting liturgies with great care for safety”.

    He said that “it is a matter of profound regret” that the Government had not engaged with the church about the revision of the public health guidance on sacraments for schoolchildren.

    While he noted that restrictions are “justified for grave reasons of public health”, he said that many have been disappointed that the current restrictions on communions and confirmations are based on the grounds that they may lead to family gatherings.

    “This is perplexing, as no such prohibitions were applied to other events such as sporting or civic events or other family occasions” and he said that the guidelines are “discriminatory”.

    He said that he believes that public health guidance from 30 April that resulted in some sacraments being postponed “still remains appropriate”.

    But he also said that where parishes want to hold communions and confirmations it is important that public health advice and protocols are followed, “not least with regard to gatherings in the church grounds both before and after ceremonies”.

    “The format of such ceremonies should be adapted appropriately, as was the case in many parishes last year, with shorter, simpler and smaller ceremonies, which were nonetheless reverent and joyous.

    “Some parishes have continued the practice of permitting small numbers receive their first holy communion in the course of the regular schedule of weekday or Sunday masses,” he wrote.

    He acknowledged that the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation had been a matter of concern for parishes and many families for some time.

    Last week, Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran was the first to advise priests in his diocese that communions and confirmations could go ahead.

    He was quickly joined by the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, the Bishop of Clogher, the Bishop of Meath and Bishop of Raphoe.

    A spokesperson for the Irish Bishops’ Conference said, “it is the responsibility of an individual bishop and also each priest to decide about ministering the sacraments at a local diocesan and at a parish level”.

    The decision from the Bishop of Elphin drew sharp criticism from the Taoiseach who said that he “does not approve of any unilateral breaching of restrictions no matter they cohort they come from” and said the Government was open to engagement on the issue.

  17. Paddy Ferry says:

    Yes, Joe@20&21, I agree completely. And, Tony is always excellent : always full of common sense and pastoral vision.

  18. Liamy Mac Nally says:

    Statement from Bishop Nulty, Kildare & Leighlin diocese, regarding First Communions and Confirmations

    5 August 2021
    I saw, with great pride, the many young people who queued this past weekend at the walk-in vaccination centres to avail of their first dose of the much needed vaccine. Such was the turn out that we drew the attention of other nations. We have done so much as individuals, as parishes, as communities, as counties and as a country. Better days are, we all feel, within touching distance.

    In this context, and in a recognition of the great sacrifice we have all already undertaken, I am asking parishes to continue to abide by current official guidelines. I am hopeful that these will ease in the weeks ahead and I do hope that as the month progresses and we start a return to schools that the resumption of all sacramental celebrations will be possible.

    I recognise, too, the deep frustrations brought about by conflicting messages of permitted gatherings in so many different contexts. Borne of this, where parishes feel that they can begin to plan for sacramental celebrations I ask that they ensure that they do so in a manner that protects the safety of all and do so in the context of the recommended guidelines for sizes of gatherings for that time.

    Our churches, our people, our priests, our parish volunteers have done everything possible to make sure that we can gather in prayer safely throughout this pandemic. Our parishes, our priests, our parents, our children can be trusted to do nothing that will undo the good that has been done.

    I recognise, and deeply appreciate, all that has been, and continues to be undertaken to ensure that safety is a priority for all as we journey together through this pandemic.

    + Denis Nulty

  19. Daithi O'Muirneachain says:

    “Catholic Church overdoing the righteousness on Communion” and “Communion days have long been undermined by crass materialism and the premium attached to the festivities rather than receiving the body of Christ for the first time”, wrote Diarmaid Ferriter in today’s Irish Times.
    He also gives much credit to the former Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin who stressed the need for more appropriate celebration of First Holy Communions
    So the decision of Bishop Denis Nulty to continue to follow health and safety guidelines is very welcome.
    It would appear that some of the Irish Bishops have deep concern for the spiritual health of the laity but are not so concerned for their bodily health and safety.
    There is a great need for commonsense and prudence at this time. So waiting to see how the situation developes, as the numbers being infected continues to rise, has much merit.
    Of course, the churches were treated differently to many sporting organisations but that is a different matter and not really relevant today.

  20. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Once again, +Denis Nulty stands head & shoulders, intellectually as well as physically, above several of his colleagues. Sensible man.

  21. Liamy Mac Nally says:

    Homily of Archbishop Dermot Farrell for Mass on the occasion of his investiture with the pallium

    Saturday 7th August

    St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral

    I welcome you all — priests, religious and laity – who have joined us this evening for this ceremony of the conferral of the Pallium. In particular, I welcome the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, and Bishop Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. My thanks to each of you for participating in this evening’s joyful celebration.

    The pallium — which is conferred at this Mass — is a sign of the communion which exists between a metropolitan church, as embodied in its bishop, and the chair of Peter. By the simple yet solemn act of placing the pallium on my shoulders, you Archbishop Okolo, have demonstrated the singular and important service you offer to the Church as a representative of the Holy Father, Pope Francis. The pallium is a sign of the bond we in Dublin share with the successor of Peter; by your presence this evening, you make real the personal character of that bond.

    On the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, as he blessed the pallia, Pope Francis reminded those present that, “this sign of unity with Peter recalls the mission of the shepherd who gives his life for the flock. It is by giving his life that the Shepherd, freed from himself, becomes an instrument of liberation” for his brothers and sisters.

    This evening also, I want to pay particular tribute to the bishops, clergy and religious whom I have the honour to work alongside and who persevere in faithful service in what are, in some ways, challenging times but also exciting ones, times when the new directions of God have to be discerned and discovered. In Jesus — the Living Bread, as He calls himself in this evening’s Gospel (John 6:51), we find the strength to walk through life with vigour and conviction; in Him we come to the realisation that a faith, which seeks only to maintain, is not enough.

    One of the earliest and most striking images of early Christian art is the image, from the catacombs of Santa Priscilla in Rome, of the shepherd carrying the lamb. The pallium, this simple white woollen stole edged in black and worn over the shoulders, evokes the image of a lamb being carried by the shepherd. A profoundly biblical image, it evokes Moses and David, two great biblical figures called to serve God’s people precisely because they were shepherds. It asks me, and the entire Church that I serve, to remember that we are a community which goes after the lost sheep, not only those who have strayed but those who are ignored, forgotten or overlooked. The task is not just to find them and bring them home, but to lift them up high, to shoulder level, where they can begin to see and live a new life, the life made possible by the one who is Himself ‘the living bread.’

    Jesus is the living bread, and more: Jesus is the bread of life. He is God’s food for people in the deserts of life. He is the bread come down from heaven “to give life to the world” (John 6:33), as we heard last Sunday.

    As the Gospel, the First Reading of today’s Mass is situated in the desert.

    Like the Hebrews before him, Elijah flees into the desert to escape the wrath of a powerful ruler. His struggle with Jezebel has left him exhausted, and his victory over the prophets of Baal means that he is now exposed to the full viciousness of this ruthless queen. Elijah is spent. He can do no more. He is on the cusp of giving up. It is precisely at that low point that the Lord comes to him, not in some stunning intervention, but in the gentle act of waking His prophet, and giving him the simplest — but most essential — of food: bread and water. The desert is the place of essentials, the place where the irrelevant is stripped away, where what is vital is revealed, and we are confronted with the truth of our lives.

    In the desert, like Moses before him, and Jesus after him, Elijah comes face-to-face with bread from heaven. In a word he comes face-to-face with the presence, consolation, and call of God. He can taste and see that the Lord is good: “…and strengthened by that food, he walked for forty days and forty nights until he came to Horeb, the mountain of God.” (1Kings 19:8) The echoes and re-echoes will be not lost on you.

    Neither is the resonance with the pandemic lost on us. With its experiences of lockdown and loss, of uncertainty and isolation, the pandemic has been very much a desert time.

    Thanks to people’s resilience and solidarity, the skill and efforts of scientists — many of them hidden from public view in labs and lecture halls, the selfless dedication and commitment of healthcare staff, and the adoption of public policies designed to protect the common good, we have arrived at a point where there can be hope for a sustainable return to community life.

    The Church has fully supported necessary measures to protect health and welfare. We have encouraged the faithful to see recent restrictions on public worship a form of self-sacrifice, enabling them to perform a Christian service. In the same way, we encourage all those who are eligible to be vaccinated, for their own good and to help to protect others. When public worship was again permitted, our parish communities rose to the challenge of welcoming the faithful to celebrate safely and responsibly, with a scrupulous regard to numbers, social distancing and sanitisation. In the same way, we urge everyone to be responsible in how they behave outside church, especially by complying with guidelines regarding socialising between households.

    However, we also have a responsibility to ensure that the faithful have reasonable access to ‘the living bread which has come down from heaven’, to the nourishment by Word and Sacrament which not only sustains Christian living, but which brings our faith to life. It is not to be forgotten that the Lord did not only send His angel to address a word to Elijah, but to awaken him, to give him food for his journey onwards, and to point in the direction of a deeper encounter with God. Likewise, Jesus did not only teach the crowds in the desert, he gave them bread to eat.

    It has been a source of deep frustration to many families, and to parish communities, that for so many months they have been unable to celebrate the Sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation. They have been perplexed, as am I, that of all of the types of events which might give rise to mingling between households, it is uniquely these Sacraments which are prohibited under public guidelines. In all other aspects of life, whether family celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries, or fans gathering to watch sporting events, or indeed after weddings and funerals, people are trusted and expected to observe the guidelines on household mixing. Households are permitted to mix, in homes and in restaurants, in ways that take account of the age and vaccination status of those present. I find it difficult to explain, or justify, that it is only parents of children receiving the sacraments who cannot be trusted to observe these guidelines.

    In the light of the Government’s statement yesterday, I have renewed my advice to parishes to postpone the celebration of the sacraments until September. I can understand, however, the frustration and the resentment of those who feel that the public guidelines are unfair and discriminatory. (Italics – Moderator)

    In today’s second reading the Ephesians are called, as followers of Christ, to practice kindness, patience, and forgiveness. In that spirit, I look forward to a resumption of the positive engagement between the Churches and the public authorities, based on respect both for the protection of public health, and for the responsible exercise of freedom to worship by those who are drawn to receive ‘the bread of life’.

    Being nourished by the bread of life, bread that is “for the life of the world,” is not an end in itself; it is a call to mission.

    “The Eucharist is the vital centre of the universe, capable of satisfying [our] hunger for life and happiness,” proclaimed the then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, in his address at the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec in 2008. Satisfying the world’s hunger is not just a gift of God that we receive, it is also a gift we are called to give. “When I was hungry you gave me to eat, …when I was naked you clothed me…,” said Jesus. (Matt 25:35–36). As Saint John Chrysostom would appeal: “Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad.” (Homilies on Saint Matthew [PL 3-4 58, 508-509])

    “Taste and see that the Lord is good” was the response to tonight’s psalm. May it be more and more the mark of our presence in, and witness to, the world.

    May the Bread of Life — the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep— be the contour of our lives.

  22. pat savage says:

    I am the first to admit that I am not a very highly educated person in the formal sense neither do I have the skills that some of your readers and other contributing priests and lay people have when it comes to posting here. And I certainly don’t doubt the sincerely held views of some of the priests who write here, priests well known in the public eye for their excellent social work.

    But I am troubled when I read comments that in a subtle way undermine the gift that was left to us on Holy Thursday night, the gift of the Eucharist. Now I am not going to debate the in and outs of the way way Mass should be led, that’s for a different day; but I was reared by parents and good teachers despite their human failings that the vocation of priesthood was not the paid job but the vocation of priesthood was to help save souls and lead them to their heavenly journey. Now I know its not PC to say that but that is the basis of a vocation. How was that to be achieved? First of by the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments.
    Some have chosen to be social workers and social changers rather than priest first. And that’s fine, but my question is why bother staying then?

    Some here have been critical of bishops who have shown direction concerning the celebration of First Holy Communion and Confirmation. And yes, maybe some are right and some are wrong; but the one thing they have done is spoken up. So many, both lay people and clergy, have remained silent.

    But of course maybe those clergy have remained silent not through choice but because they are to busy living their vocation rather than being chosen by certain media outlets to come on and offer negative criticism rather than using the time to show leadership, a leadership that is evidently missing by certain politicians who criticise priests for having Mass but yet can have a bash in the D2 area .

    Larissa Nolan sums it correctly in Irish Indo, Saturday 14th August, when she quoted Bernadette Devlin after John Hume was arrested for being in a crowd. “When we break the law we go to jail; when government breaks the law they change the law”.

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