First Holy Communion and Confirmation – Autumn 2021
During the past number of days, a number of bishops have issued statements in relation to the celebration of the Sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation in their dioceses. I have been contacted by some media organisations asking for clarification around the celebration of the Sacraments in the Diocese of Achonry. On the 24thFebruary this year I issued a statement saying:
‘In consultation with the Priests’ Council, I have decided to postpone the celebration of the Sacraments of Confirmation, First Penance and First Holy Communion in Achonry Diocese until the Autumn. My hope is that this will give our schools and families more time for the preparation of the children and it will enable families to gather in a safer way to celebrate the Sacraments when the majority of us are vaccinated and restrictions have eased.
I emphasise the reason for this decision is to bring clarity at this early stage for all concerned and to enable the children have a meaningful and memorable celebration with their families, friends, and parish community when it is safer to do so. I thank the families, teachers, parishioners, and priests for all they are doing to prepare the children for the Sacraments during this difficult year. All of the above is, of course, subject to public health advice.’
Following on from this, Confirmations are due to start in the diocese on the 12th of September 2021. As I understand parishes have postponed First Communion Ceremonies until September also, therefore the celebration of these Sacraments in August was never planned for our diocese. As the vaccination programme continues, we look forward to celebrating the Sacraments with our children and their families in a safe and meaningful way from mid-September onwards.
In the meantime, may we continue to keep vigilant around the virus so that we can emerge out of this difficult time safe and well.
Last Sunday, as Bishop Paul travelled to Kilkelly for the celebration of Sunday Mass there, he caught up with some walkers from Derry. They were not just walkers, rather pilgrims on their way to Knock Shrine. They walked in steps that have been taken for more than three decades – initially taken in a quest for peace and more recently in thanksgiving for that peace.
He stopped to say hello to a few of them and realised that one of those with whom he stopped was Bishop Donal McKeown, the Bishop of Derry. A chance encounter but a meaningful one.
We continue to pray for peace and to give thanks for progress already made. We journey with the Derry Pilgrims to that Shrine of Knock and lay our petitions for peace and our prayers of gratitude at the feet of “Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland.”
Pope Francis in his homily on Pentecost Sunday reminds us that the Holy Spirit “does not mould isolated individuals, but shapes us into a Church in the wide variety of our charisms, into a unity that is never uniformity.” Since coming to the Diocese last August, I can see how the Spirit has blessed the people, deacons, religious, and priests of our Diocese with a variety of charisms. This is a source of great hope for the life and mission of the Church.
As we “walk together” as a community of disciples in Achonry, we are entering a time of discernment that will help us discover where the Lord is calling us. The fundamental question is: how do we share the Gospel message of Jesus Christ in this changed and changing time? In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds us that: “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way.’ I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.” (33) I hope we can be courageous enough to face this challenge posed by Pope Francis to be “bold and creative” in our approach. This is something I will be encouraging in the coming months and years in our Diocese as the Irish Church embarks upon its synodal pathway.
As we reflect upon the bigger questions that face us as a Diocese, there are the day to day needs that require careful attention. The appointment of priests is central to this. As this is my first year as Bishop and conscious of the bigger questions we will need to look at in our planning for the future, I am making the minimum number of clergy changes this year. These changes are as follows:
Fr. Vincent Sherlock PP, Kilmovee, to be PP of Tubbercurry.
Fr. Joseph Gavigan PP, Ballaghaderreen, to be PP of Kilmovee.
Fr. Paul Kivlehan CC, Cathedral Parish, Ballaghaderreen, to be Administrator, Cathedral Parish, Ballaghaderreen.
The appointments begin on the 15th August 2021, the Feast of the Assumption.
I express my deep gratitude to Fr. Vincent, Fr. Joe and Fr. Paul for their service and generosity. I know from my own experience it is not easy to change parish or role. I wish them every blessing and encouragement in their new appointments. I express my thanks to the people of Tubbercurry Parish for their patience in awaiting the appointment of a new Parish Priest. I also thank most sincerely Fr. Peter Gallagher and Fr. Dan O’Mahony for looking after Tubbercurry Parish in the absence of a Parish Priest.
When the new appointments begin in August, we will have one priest per parish. In addition, we have some retired priests and those involved in education who so generously help out and provide cover, for this I am deeply grateful. The Cathedral Parish of Ballaghaderreen will be served by one priest, having had three a few years ago. This will involve changes to schedules that I hope parishioners can understand.
Pope Francis’ in his homily on Pentecost Sunday reminded us that the Spirit protects us “against the temptation to let ourselves be paralyzed by rancour or memories of the past, or by uncertainty or fear about the future.” The present moment is where the Spirit has called us to be. We do not need to be fearful about the future as there are opportunities at this time to renew the life of the Church in Achonry and we know in faith that the Spirit always provides. In the light of this I ask that we continue to encourage and pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life and for the vocation of the lay faithful that we would be generous in responding to the Lord’s call to “go out into the deep” (Lk.5:4).
From Monday, May 10th, our churches will again be open for public worship. This is very much welcomed and we look forward to being together in faith. The following clarifications have been issued from the Department of An Taoiseach around numbers etc.
Pods of 50
Where the size of the premises/place of worship allows for a capacity of greater than 50 this may be permitted only where:
– social distancing guidelines are adhered to
– the premises can be subdivided into distinct sections (cordoned or marked appropriately) of not more than 50 persons in each section
– there is a minimum of four metres between sections
– each section having its own entrance/exit route
– there are separate arrangements for elements of the service involving close contact, for example the distribution of Holy Communion
– strictly no movement of people between sections before, during or after the service
– the premises is well-ventilated
There is an increased risk of transmission of the virus where families and communities come together following the death of a loved one. Therefore, numbers at funeral services (and weddings) is capped at 50 regardless of size of premises.
Notwithstanding the increase in numbers permitted, funerals are still considered private family events and all notices in newspapers or online should be clear about this.
Funeral services should continue to be live-streamed to help reduce numbers attending.
Attendance at wakes in private homes and at funeral homes remains unchanged ie immediate family only and people should be discouraged from queuing to pay respects.
Outdoor worship is not permitted in line with Government restrictions on organised outdoor gatherings.
Use of religious premises for any other purposes/parochial activities/community meetings etc. is not permitted in line with Government restrictions on organised indoor gatherings.
Bishop Paul shares reflection on Amoris Latetita Family
On the 19th of March 2021, the Feast of St. Joseph, the Church celebrated five years since the publication of the papal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love). Pope Francis has invited the Church to reflect upon this document five years on and to celebrate family over the coming year. This comes shortly after the announcement by the Irish Bishops of a synodal process leading to a National Synod within five years. Further to this, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published its formal response to the question regarding the blessing of the unions of same sex couples. I have been reflecting upon this moment in the life of the Church and the challenge it poses for all who care for the Church’s position but are also aware of the complex nature of life and love.
In October 2015, the Synod on Marriage and the Family took place in Rome. Out of this came Pope Francis’ exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love). In it he outlines the vocation of the family according to the Gospel which has been affirmed by the Church over time. The Pope’s teaching stresses the themes of indissolubility, the sacramental nature of marriage, the transmission of life and the education of children. However, the Pope also acknowledges that not all situations meet the ideal proposed by the Church and the need to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations.
Following the publication of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s response to the question of blessing unions of people in same sex relationships, many have expressed their anger, disappointment and disillusionment with the Church. This has been experienced as another hurtful response from the Church to people with same sex orientation. In an article published on the 16th of March 2021, Bishop Johann Bonny of Antwerp, who attended the Synod on Marriage and the Family in 2015, stated that during the synod “there were frequent discussions about appropriate rituals and gestures to include homosexual couples, including in the liturgical sphere. Naturally, this occurred with respect for the theologically and pastoral distinction between a sacramental marriage and the blessing of a relationship. The majority of the synod fathers did not choose a black and white liturgical approach or an all-or-nothing model.”
To understand the bigger picture of how the Church arrives at its teaching we must turn to Scripture and Tradition. The Church studies and interprets the Scriptures and Tradition and from this teaches what it believes is the truth given to us by God. If we apply this to the Church’s understanding of marriage, which is fundamental, it believes in and teaches the unitive and procreative ends of marriage. In my assessment of the current situation, it seems people can understand the position that the Church has a duty and responsibility to proclaim its message, whether one believes it or not is another matter. Some agree with what the Church proclaims as truth, others do not. The deeper problem arises in the sphere of language, at best it is experienced as cold and distant, at worst hurtful and offensive. The statement that the Church “cannot bless sin” is seen as targeting or treating same sex couples in a way that others are not targeted or treated in the Church. Many have found this deeply offensive. As a result some feel they are not welcome and have no place in the Catholic Church. There is a great sadness in this as no one should feel that they are not welcome in the Church, which is the Body of Christ. Further to this, so many people in same sex relationships have enriched the life of the Church and continue to do so in parishes across the world.
In one of his first interviews after becoming Pontiff, Pope Francis was asked how he would describe himself. His response was “I am a sinner.” We all find ourselves in this category. In my own life as a Christian I strive to live the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but knowing my sinful nature, I all too often fail at reaching that ideal. However, I do need the truth of the Gospel to aim for, knowing that when I do fail, God’s mercy awaits me. God’s mercy is more powerful than my sinfulness. Pope Francis has reminded us that another name for God is mercy! This is the approach I have tried to use in my pastoral ministry as a priest over the past twenty-three years and now as bishop. It is something I am very conscious of when I celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a confessor, but also as a penitent seeking forgiveness.
So where do we go from here, what can we learn? Firstly, the Church needs to hear what is being said in relation to language. The Church must reflect upon how its language is heard and interpreted by people in today’s complex world.
Secondly, even though many are disillusioned by the statement from the Congregation, there are important points that may have been overshadowed in the commentary. For instance, the document talks about “positive elements” in same sex relationships which are “to be valued and appreciated.” This may seem insignificant, but to my knowledge, I do not recall the Church making such a statement before.
Thirdly, the Irish Church has recently embarked upon a “synodal journey.” Synod means “walking together,” it is at the heart of Pope Francis’ model and understanding of Church and ministry. The Irish Bishops have emphasised that this synodal journey must reach out to everyone, including those who feel they are not part of the Church. A synodal path is not about changing the doctrine of the Church, it is about how we apply it more pastorally. The journey involves prayerfully listening to the Spirit and discerning what God wants of us as a Church in the modern world. This will not be an easy journey, the chaotic “field hospital” image of Pope Francis comes to mind, an image that many can identify with today.
Perhaps this struggle, this unease is at the very heart of the synodal way. We would all like for it to be “neat and tidy” and to be in control. This is not the way of synodality which requires humility to allow the Spirit to take charge. Pope Francis reminds us of this call to humility when says: “Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators.” (Evangelii Gaudium 47). May we have the courage to “walk together” as a community of disciples with our minds and hearts open to where the Lord is calling us at this critical moment.
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