Immaculate Conception

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Homily by Archbishop O’Brien
Archdiocesan Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
Opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy

Today, Pope Francis inaugurated the Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Universal Church. He did so on the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council and on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. For us here in the Archdiocese of Kingston, this date has an added significance as we honour the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Patroness of the Archdiocese and Titular of this Cathedral.

In the Brief which was read to close the Second Vatican Council, Blessed Pope Paul VI noted that this Council had the largest number of Council Fathers; that it was the richest in terms of the questions which had been discussed over four sessions; and that it was the most opportune, because “bearing in mind the necessities of the present day, above all it sought to meet the pastoral needs, and, nourishing the flame of charity” it has made a great effort to reach out not only to other Christians but to the whole human family.

During the past two years, there have been a number of celebrations focussing on the impact that various documents of this Council have had on such diverse matters as Christian unity and interreligious dialogue; our approach to scripture and the liturgy; as well as our understanding of the Church and our relationships within it as laity, religious, and clergy. So, we give thanks tonight for the work of this Ecumenical Council.

If we turn to the readings of today’s Solemnity, they are very familiar to us: the scene from Genesis of the Garden of Eden, and the portrait of the Annunciation from St. Luke’s Gospel. What we see played out here is a contrast that is important for us to grasp.

In the passage from Genesis and what immediately precedes it, we see this scene where God has placed Adam and Eve in a garden and has given them free rein to eat of all the trees there, except the tree in the middle of the garden which they are not to eat of or touch. God appears to be very generous to Adam and Eve, and, so, why this prohibition?

The serpent gives them a reason – not the right reason – but one which will lead them astray. He says that God doesn’t want them to eat of this tree because, if they do, their eyes will be opened; they will be like him, knowing good and evil. The serpent says, ‘You’re not going to die if you do this; God is just saying this because he sees you as a rival; he will be jealous and resentful; you need to do it; you need to take what God doesn’t want you to have.’ And, so, Adam and Eve follow the serpent’s advice.

If we turn now to the portrait of Mary and the angel in Luke’s Gospel, we see the reversal of this. The ‘Ave’ of the angel is the reverse of ‘Eve’, ‘Eva’ in Latin. Mary is addressed by the angel as “full of grace”, and this is how she reacts to the news that she is to be the Mother of God. She is ready to receive, in contrast to Eve’s desire to take. Mary is perplexed by the angel’s message and questions how this can be, but she trusts, and, so, she is able to receive what God wants to give her – where God wants to take her under the power of the Holy Spirit which will come upon her.

In the second reading, from the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians, we are reminded that this is how God acts toward us as well; he wants to give us spiritual blessings. He has chosen us and adopted us in Christ. Like Mary, we are called to recognize and accept these gifts. Of course, like Mary, the acceptance of the gift doesn’t mean that this will not entail hardships and difficulties. However, like Mary, we are being invited to respond, “let it be done unto me according to your word”. Mary did not perceive all that her “yes”, her ‘fiat’, would involve; it called for a consistent faithfulness which is portrayed for us in the image of the Pieta, which portrays her as holding the body of her son taken down from the cross.

And, so, it is fitting that this Jubilee Year begins on Mary’s Feast. In his document announcing the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis speaks of Mary as ‘Mother of Mercy’. He says:
“At the foot of the cross, Mary, together with John, the disciple of love, witnessed the words of forgiveness spoken by Jesus. This supreme expression of mercy toward those who crucified him shows us the point to which the mercy of God can reach. Mary attests that the mercy of God knows no bounds and extends to everyone, without exception.”

Later in this Mass, we will sing the hymn, Salve Regina. We ask Mary to turn her merciful eyes upon us and make us worthy to contemplate the face of mercy, her Son, Jesus. Pope Francis has spoken so often about mercy since he became Pope, and how God wants to extend that mercy to all of us and through all of us. The motto of the Jubilee year, ‘Merciful like the Father’, urges us to practice, in a special way this year, the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. They address not only economic poverty, but cultural poverty, like illiteracy and lack of educational opportunities; they also encompass social or relational poverty, like loneliness, social isolation, and discrimination; and, of course, there is spiritual poverty, inner emptiness and spiritual and moral confusion. During this year, we are invited to discover where these forms of poverty exist in our midst and to do something about them.

I would like to make just one further comment on the Jubilee of Mercy; this is something that Bishop Robert Barron has pointed out. When the Holy Father speaks of God`s mercy, it presupposes on our part a desire for greater conversion. To say that God is merciful is not to say that sin doesn`t matter. Mercy is what God`s love looks like when it turns towards the sinner, a word that Pope Francis often uses to describe himself.

St. Augustine remarks, miseria (misery or suffering) and misericordia (mercy) go hand in hand. In his commentary on the meeting between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, he points out that, after Jesus said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin cast the first stone”, the Scribes and Pharisees went away. When Jesus is left alone with the woman, St. Augustine says that there are left two – misery and mercy (miseria and misericordia). When you add heart (cor) to miseria, you have misericordia, mercy. What we call ‘mercy’ comes about when someone’s heart is moved to enter the ‘misery’ of another.

The Holy Door which you see at the entrance to the Church will be opened this Sunday before the 10:30 a.m. Mass. The gesture of passing through the Door of Mercy is a recognition of the mercy which the Father extends to us in giving us his Son, Jesus, the door or gate to eternal life. To pass through the Holy Door is, as well, an acknowledgement on our part of our need for conversion and spiritual growth.

May this Jubilee Year of Mercy be a time for all of us to trust in God`s mercy so as to be brought forward to a better spiritual place in our life. May our practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy be concrete signs to all that the God in whom we profess our faith is, indeed, a merciful Father.

The Chief medical Health Officer of Kingston has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
Please read and observe the six key principles outlined below.

1) The key principle is that we come to Mass to worship God. Out of justice and exercising the virtue of religion we must give God what is God’s due. That quite simply is worship, adoration and praise. Thus, the absolute essentials of Mass will be included so that the Sacramental praise of God will take place and we will be exposed to one another for as brief a time as possible.

2) The second key principle is that the health and safety of parishioners, staff and clergy here at St. Mary’s are essential and require our utmost concern and attention. Therefore, the dispensation from the obligation to come to Sunday Mass by Archbishop Mulhall continues to be in effect. Those who are sick, elderly or have other critical health concerns should not come at this time. However, that is left to your discretion. Should you make the choice to come, knowing the risks, you are most welcome.

3) The underlying principle of all of our restrictions in isolating, physically distancing, wearing masks etc. is the common good as we live out the Lord’s commission to “love one another.” We are to care for each other and at this time we are called to be as prudent and careful as we can to protect the health of everyone else and ourselves.
4) The principle for the next few weeks will be brevity. The received scientific wisdom is that the virus spreads within groups who spend a prolonged period of time together. Therefore, we will be reducing the Mass to the bare essentials.
5) Singing is considered more dangerous than speaking so you are asked to please not sing at all throughout the Mass. I will not be singing either.
6) If you have any sickness, are elderly or have a critical illness you should remain at home. The dispensation from the obligation to come to Mass continues through this time of 30% capacity. Of course, if you choose to come you will not be turned away. We will continue to live- stream the Masses until we are back to a more normal arrangement.

The Chief medical Health Officer has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
We will pray a shorter Penitential Rite.
The Gloria will be said not sung. There is to be no singing by the congregation during the Mass. Only by a cantor or as we have today a physically distanced choir in the choir loft…3 metres apart.
We will only have one reading followed by the Psalm
The second reading will be omitted.
The choir will sing the Alleluia on Sundays. During the week it will be omitted. Please do not join in.
The Gospel.
A very brief (3-4 minute) homily will follow.
The Creed will not be prayed.
There will be no petitions. Please prepare your own petitions and offer them in your heart during the Mass.
There will be no procession of the gifts.
There will be no regular collections at this time in the Masses. It will happen later. Ushers will be at the doors to receive your offering as you leave.
The Eucharistic Prayer will be prayed. This is the Most Important Part of the Mass.
The Our Father
Sign of Peace. This is a time when we won’t shake hands. Please do not wave to each other or give the two finger sign of peace. Neither of these reflect what is the intention here…You are recognizing the presence of God in the other person and praying they know God’s peace. The most appropriate gesture is a slight bow or nod of the head to the other person. You have seen me do this at the sign of peace to all of you at every Sunday Liturgy.
Please be seated.
Then the ushers will direct you to the place where you will receive Holy Communion. Please do not leave your pew until an usher has indicated you should do so.
Another usher will be close to the Communion Station to receive your Sunday Offering.
When it is your turn to receive Holy Communion. You will stand 6 feet away on the red line. The person distributing Holy Communion will say “The Body of Christ”. You will say “Amen”. Then move forward within arms length and receive the Host. Once you have received go straight out the nearest exit and make your Thanksgiving on your way home.
Aisles 1 & 5 will come forward to receive Holy Communion and leave by the side doors.
Aisles 2, 3 & 4 will go to the back to receive Holy Communion.
Aisle 2 will exit by the exit closest to the rectory.
Aisle 3 will exit out the centre door which you came in
Aisle 4 will exit out the door by the washrooms.
You are strongly encouraged to receive Holy Communion in the hand. Receiving on the tongue endangers the person giving Holy Communion and yourself, the person receiving Holy Communion. If you wish to insist on receiving on the tongue please wait until the very end as the person giving Holy Communion should sanitize their hands after each communicant. The usher will pass you by and will come back to you after everyone else has received. Please don’t leave your pew until that has taken place.