Cathedral 150th Anniversary

“(The angel) went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you. (Mary) was deeply disturbed by these words, and asked herself what this greeting could mean…”

And this evening, I’d like us to ask what this Cathedral could mean?

I had finished my first year as a young student for the priesthood in 1965 when I attended the dedication of the youngest Cathedral in Europe in Galway on the 15th of August 1965. The thing I remember most from that day was the way Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston preached. In his sermon, he asked over and over again the question: Why did you build this Cathedral? It’s a question worth pondering for us this day when we are celebrating, modestly, the dedication of this Cathedral 150 years ago.

Some details of what happened on that day are given in the mass booklet we have in our hands this evening. Patrick Durcan, a native of Tourlestrane was the bishop. The Cathedral took six years to build. When you consider that Galway cathedral, built a hundred years later, took seven years (1958-1965) to complete, the building of this Cathedral in far poorer times, admittedly without the spire, was an extraordinary achievement for the people of Ballaghaderreen and of this small, rural and largely impoverished Diocese. And on top of that, when you consider that six other churches were built in the Diocese during that same decade (1860-1870) and four during the previous decade (1850-1860), it’s an even more remarkable achievement.

Clearly, this building stands as a monument to the faith of the people. It is an expression of that faith. Every Church building is. The Cathedral could not have been built without the people of this Diocese working together as a community, and not just here at home but in communion with the people of the diocese spread all over the world, particularly in the United States and in England. This building proclaims that our faith is a communal reality and a universal reality. Christians believe in Communion, and in community. We know the importance of working together, of depending on each other and helping each other. We know that if we believe in God we cannot but build community. Loving our neighbour is the first principle of the Christian faith along with loving God. That’s what Jesus did, to the point of giving his life, and that’s what we celebrate in the Mass, and that’s what making communion, that’s what building the church can entail.

And a Cathedral, like any church, is basically a Mass house: where the people of God gather in prayer to hear the saving Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist, for we are poor in spirit, we know our need of God. We know our coming together is an imperative if we say we are Christian and Catholic. There is literally no choice. We come together because we want to be in communion, and are called to be in communion; we come together because we know we fail precisely in this area of being one and together. We so easily hurt, injure, neglect and fail each other, the very ones we profess to love, so we are together to seek forgiveness, and to celebrate our oneness in faith, and our dependence on God, our need of a Saviour, of Jesus. This is a place where we can be on our knees together in sorrow and prayer, stand up together in praise and rejoicing, sit together in rest and reflection. Together, together, together… and together with God, and Jesus, and the whole family of the mystical Body of Christ from the beginning. This is our house.

And then, like St. Paul does in words in the second reading today, this church and every church brings home to us powerfully and beautifully who we are, our deepest identity. “You are God’s building… didn’t you realise you are God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you? If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple.” These words of St. Paul describe who each one of us is as an individual man or woman: there is a sacred dignity about each one of us, regardless of our station in life. Let this come home to us in the reception of the Eucharist.

But even more than talking to the people of Corinth as individuals, St. Paul was speaking to them as a community, and it is as a community, together in faith, with Jesus our head, that we are nothing less than the Temple of the Living God on earth. Therefore the work of building unity, of being Church in other words, is the great work for us: ensuring that we are in a real and concrete way a people who love one another. Therein lies our hope in these difficult times, as our ancestors knew 150 years ago when they built this great symbol of unity. And every time we come into this church, or any church, we are reminded of who I am, and who we are, and what I am called to be, and what we are called to be – as individuals and together. That’s why we maintain our churches and keep them beautiful! They remind us of who we are and the dignity and beauty of every human person – that the most beautiful thing is that we be together before God in Communion – that we be Church in other words. So being Church is vital, with all the structures that that demands if we are to be truly human, truly incarnational. We may be aware acutely today of our failures, our wounds as Church, as Communion, but that should call us to greater effort to build unity, never to do the opposite.

And talking, finally, of being incarnational: this Cathedral is the Cathedral of the Annunciation, the moment when the Son of God became incarnate in the Temple of Mary’s body, the central mystery of our faith. There’s nothing notional about Christian faith. It has very real, human, everyday-living implications. Mary is the first Christian. The first of our Church to say ‘yes’ to what God asks, in an absolute and total way. Every time we enter a church, and especially a church dedicated to the Annunciation, like this one, we are reminded that like Mary we too are Temples of God’s Holy Spirit, made holy as she was, by the fact that we are the dwelling place of God’s Holy Spirit. That’s what receiving Eucharist reminds us of and proclaims. We really are, like Mary, God-bearers to all we meet and to all creation.

And we recognize in this Cathedral too St. Nathy as the first of those God-bearers in our midst in Achonry, so he shares the dedication with Mary of the Annunciation; this is what we are remembering today in this Mass and celebrating, our hearts full of gratitude.

So we pray: Lord, may this great edifice, this cathedral of the Annunciation and St Nathy, be renewed for us in our time as a symbol and sacrament in our midst of who we, the people of Achonry diocese are:  God-bearers to our world, called to build unity, to forgive and to welcome each other for your sake, so that love may be real, and holy communion alive in our diocese in this 21st Century,