Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist are – forgive me! – a ‘species’ which evolved after the Second Vatican Council. The main founding document, called Immensae Caritatis, was issued by the Holy See in 1973. Its driving idea was “to make access to communion easier”. One aspect was ensuring that there are enough people, ‘ministers’, to administer Holy Communion. This held both within Mass if numbers are large or the celebrant disabled and outside Mass if distances are extensive and there are many housebound or sick. So, in addition to the ‘ordinary’ ministers, i.e. bishop, priest and deacon, the ordained, St Paul VI made room for special ministers, now called ‘extraordinary ministers’, i.e. not bishops, priests or deacons, not ordained but commissioned. He mentioned explicitly lectors, seminarians, religious, catechists and “one of the faithful – a man or a woman”. We would now add acolytes.
Brothers and Sisters, at this time of the year, the Church’s liturgy is giving us a course on the “last things”, as we call them, or “eschatology” if you want a fancy word. We’re being pointed to the future.
Sunday by Sunday, we are following Christ under the guidance of the Gospel of St Mark. Today we come to a high-point and a turning-point. The high-point is Peter’s profession of faith: You are the Messiah. The turning-point is Jesus revealing that he’s a Messiah who will have to suffer. Peter gets it right, very right. And then he gets it wrong, very wrong.
Today is the feast of the Triumph or Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and, dear Dominic, your diaconal ordination. It’s a good combination. And the Gospel says: “The Son of man must be lifted up.”
According to St Paul in the 2nd reading, he was lifted up by the Father through his Resurrection and Ascension. According to St John in the Gospel, he was lifted up by the Father already on the Cross. But in both cases the essential movement is the same: down and up. Coming down to share our lot, going up so that we will be healed and saved and have eternal life. This is the pattern.
Today’s feast brings to mind an episode in the life of the Apostle Paul. It occurs during his second missionary journey, some twenty years after our Lord’s death and resurrection. Paul has arrived in Athens. ‘Standing in front of the Areopagus’ (Acts 17:22), he speaks for the first time to a non-Jewish audience, to the leading Athenians. The Gospel is crossing a threshold, encountering a quite other mentality from that of its Jewish homeland. St Paul says his say, but when he mentions the raising of Jesus from the dead – the resurrection of Christ – he is met, drowned out perhaps, by laughter. ‘At the mention of rising from the dead, some’ of his listeners, says Acts, ‘burst out laughing’ (Acts 17:32). The idea is ridiculous. So it was to the Greek mind. Perhaps we can say that this ‘laughter’ at the Resurrection runs through the centuries. The notion of bodily resurrection flies in the face of all the evidence. After the experiences of the 20th c., we might feel that particularly. If there is a resurrection that awaits us, it could only be through some form of genetic engineering or artificial intelligence – not what St Paul had in mind.
We continue with Jesus’ Discourse on the Bread of Life from John ch. 6. Our Lord is saying amazing things.
‘Lord, give us this bread always’.
Brothers and Sisters, for a few Sundays in this Year B, the Liturgy turns away from the Gospel of Mark and back to the Gospel of John, the Easter Gospel. It makes a detour to John Ch. 6, the chapter on the Bread of Life. One could say much about the context. Briefly, we’re in springtime, close to Passover. We’re in the synagogue in Capernaum, with Jesus, the disciples and a crowd. Probably, it’s the Sabbath. Probably, what we’re hearing is a dialogue homily of Jesus in the midst of a service. Possibly, the reading from the Law was our first reading today, Exodus 16, the story of the manna in the desert.
Today we are offering Canon Stanley’s soul to the mercy of God and his body to Mother Earth. And so he makes his final journey. And we accompany him with our prayers. An enigmatic man in some ways, something of a loner, eccentric, prey to depression at times, a great radio ham, famous for his motorbikes and scooters and ponytail. Most of all, for 58 years, he just steadily served the Lord and his people as a priest, preaching, celebrating sacraments, taking care, attracting affection and in his last years at Northcote Lodge becoming patriarchal in dignity, with his long, white, whispy beard and a benign peacefulness.
The Ordination of Douglas Duncan to the Diaconate and of Emmet O’Dowd and Rafał Szweda to the Priesthood
Stories about a Scotsman, an Irishman and a Pole are not in fashion these days. But we can surely give thanks for our three men and their varied backgrounds: one from not so far from the Lake-isle of Innisfree, another from the land of the Northern Lights, another from the marches of western Poland. Think of the languages: Doric, Irish, Polish. One for many years shepherding the facts and figures of a construction company; another, when not on a bicycle, packaging pharmaceutical remedies; another sometimes seen at the wheel of a forklift truck. Aberdeen, Elgin, Inverness: three spiritual homes. Converging here tonight. It is remarkable, ‘amazing’ as one of my monastic brethren is wont to say.
Today we remember two great figures of Christianity, known well beyond its borders. Two lamp stands burning before the Lord; two olive trees; two founding fathers of our faith. Two foremost knights of the Round Table of which Christ is King Arthur; the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, as it were, of Christ’s United Kingdom.