Mass for the 30th Anniversary of the Ordination of Fr Derick McCulloch to the Catholic Priesthood

“It was he who sent me”, says Jesus to his adversaries in today’s Gospel. Jesus was sent by the Father to show him to the world and bring us to faith in this unimaginable love. A blessed sending, a most beneficial mission – and all on our behalf. “This is my Body which will given up for you. This is the chalice of my blood which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Today we are commemorating a sending within that great Sending of the Son of God. On the 12th  of March 1994, Fr Derick (Derick William Brookes McCulloch) was ordained a priest of the Catholic Church in St Mary’s, Blairs, by Bishop Mario Conti. It is that event we are feasting today. But behind it lies another, his ordination to ministry in the Episcopal Church which dates from June 1974. So we are thanking God for some fifty years of ministry and within that thirty years of Catholic priesthood. There is always more to Fr Derick than meets the eye. He has ministered not only in Deeside and the Highlands, but alongside factory workers as an industrial chaplain and with hard-headed farmers in rural Yorkshire. He has known Ayr and Aberdeen and Aboyne, Buckinghamshire, Ballater and Brora, Durham and Deeside, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Rome. In his various missions and studies, he has enjoyed the heavenly patronage of St Joseph and St James and St John Ogilvie, St Aidan, St Bede, St Cuthbert, St Margaret, St Nathalan, St Vincent, our Lady and Christ the King – among others! He has a sheaf of academic qualifications: in divinity (theology), in the New Testament and the Fathers of the Church, in the thought of John Henry Newman, in computing science and mathematics.

But, of course, beyond and beneath these things, what we are thanking God and Fr Derick for – and all those who have supported him, not least in this parish of St John Ogilvie – is first of all a fidelity. According to the Gospel of St John, Jesus “having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1). “This is my Body which will be given up for you…this is the chalice of my blood which will be poured out for you and for many.”  Jesus is “our merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb 2:18), and the ground of any fidelity of ours.  Pope Francis often calls our times “not an era of change, but a change of era.” And how inevitable anxiety becomes in such a world; we teeter on the edge of so many precipices. And then in life and love, in marriage and every form of commitment, in ministry, what balm fidelity is!  Jesus did not come down from the Cross, and by it stood the three Marys and the beloved disciple, surely John himself. “The Cross stands while the world turns”, say the Carthusians. And those who within that greater stability of the Lord and his mother also stand stabilise the whole world. When one is younger, it can be alternative attractions that pull us away from fidelity. When we’re older, it can be just weariness. But Fr Derick is still standing!

Before the morning of his martyrdom, St Magnus of Orkney spent the night in prayer in the small church on Egilsay. The poet George Mackay Brown imagines the local priest coming early that morning to his church to light the candles for Mass and seeing the kneeling earl. Mackay Brown goes on:

“[St] Magnus, pray for priests /  In this time of hate

(Never such hate and anger over the earth.).

May they light candles at their altars / This day and all days

Till history is steeped in light.”

Fr Derick cherishes the Liturgy, Word and Sacrament, the round of feasts and fasts and seasons, and day by day, “this day and all days”,  has lit the candles at the different altars he has served. This is one man’s fidelity, a sacrament itself of the great fidelity of Christ. And it strengthens us.

“Candles at their altars”. That takes us surely to the main cause of our gratitude. As a Catholic priest for thirty years, Fr Derick has not just lit candles. He has kindled the fire of the Eucharist. Thanks to the laying-on of hands and prayer of a Successor of the Apostles those thirty years ago, he has  proclaimed, shown forth, represented, re-presented, the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. He has kept the Lord’s command: “Do this in memory of me.” He has celebrated the Mass. And every time, like any priest he does so, he has placed us into the great once-for-all sacrifice of Christ. He has woven into that definitive Act the hopes and fears the prayers and desires of parishioners and those they love and– such is the scope of any Mass  – all humanity, past, present and future. “For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them: for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and paying their homage to you, the eternal God, living and true” (EP 1). “And I, when I am lifted up, will draw all people (all things) to myself” (Jn 12:32). In company with the priests of this diocese and of the whole Church, in communion with the Successors of Peter and the various bishops he has served with, “this day and all days”, Fr Derick has put his voice and his hands at the service of this great Lifting Up of the Son of God which every Mass proclaims. This Lifting Up which saves us from ourselves, blesses us, and introduces us to ultimate love. “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb.” This is what Fr Derick’s ministry has enabled: the inclusion of our small lives and loves into the undying Life and Love of Christ. Fr Derick – Derick William Brookes McCulloch – Sacrament after Sacrament – has told us we are loved. Of all the things he could have done and could have said, he has done and said this; done and said it for us. It’s worth a party.

Thank you, Father.

St Joseph’s, Invergordon, 15 March 2024


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
A registered Scottish Charity Number SC005122