Fr Francis Mitchell

Homily of Very Reverend Francis Mitchell, JCL, KCHS, given at the annual Western Mass of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem – Lieutenancy of Ireland in St. Mary of the Rosary Church Cong, County Mayo on Saturday 7th October 2023 – The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

Familiar places

Those of us who have had the magnificent privilege of being pilgrims in the Holy Land can easily put concrete images on the names of all the places we hear about in the scripture readings today.  We have heard mention of the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, the Upper Room, Nazareth.  There is mention of Jesus’ death and resurrection, therefore we call Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre to mind.  And because of what happened in Nazareth – the Annunciation, we can easily bring Bethlehem into the picture too; and because the Upper Room is mentioned, we cannot but think of the Eucharist – “the summit and source of our faith,” the celebration of which is precisely our purpose here today.

A link with Knock

The Gospel passage the Church gives us for today’s Mass, however, invites us to Nazareth.  Those of us from the Archdiocese of Tuam celebrate the link between Nazareth and Knock because of the image of the Apparition at Knock among other Marian images standing proudly in the courtyard outside the Basilica of the Annunciation there. 

The significance of Nazareth

Nazareth is important for many reasons.  Firstly, it is the place of the Incarnation.  It is the place where Mary was when she conceived, and we believe and hold firm to the belief that human life begins at conception and is sacred from that moment on – sacred from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.  As we recite the Creed at Mass on the Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March each year, at the words, for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man, we are invited to genuflect, just as many people do during the recitation of the Angelus prayer each day.  In doing so, we honour the moment when the Son of God, God the Son, took on human form, and that happened in Nazareth.  Of course, that human form only became visible in Bethlehem on the first Christmas night.  Hence my mentioning Bethlehem earlier.

Family life

While Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and spent the earliest part of his life as a refugee in Egypt, when the time was right, he was brought back by Mary and Joseph to Nazareth where he grew up.  He is Jesus of Nazareth.  And two things come to mind because of this.  Firstly, family life.  Nazareth is the home of the Holy Family.  And just because we refer to this Family as the Holy Family, this does not mean that they were protected or shielded from the ordinary and extraordinary ups and downs experienced by all other families.  As I just said, they had to flee for their lives as soon as Jesus was born.  Later, twelve years later, Mary and Joseph went through the unimaginable trauma of searching for a missing child; and eighteen years after that, just as Jesus began his public ministry, so too did the hostility against him begin to grow – culminating in his crucifixion and death on the cross.  His family felt that hostility too, and his Mother was on the Via Dolorosa and at the foot of the cross on Calvary carrying her own cross and experiencing the pain of the crucifixion in her own way.  Although this Family was favoured by God, this Family of Nazareth had its own struggles and difficulties, and for that reason it when our families experience any difficulties or troubles, Jesus, Mary and Joseph invite us to bring these people and these troubles to them so that they can help us through.

Work and workers – blessed and sanctified

Nazareth is also the place from where human labour is blessed and sanctified.  If the Son of God saw fit to learn his trade and work with Joseph as a carpenter, there is surely a sign here that the work we are called to do is noble, dignified, and good.  In 1964, St. Paul VI delivered an address in Nazareth, and among the themes about which he spoke, work was one.  He said, “O, Nazareth, home of “the carpenter’s son,” We want here to understand and to praise the austere and redeeming law of human labour, here to restore the consciousness of the dignity of labour, here to recall that work cannot be an end in itself, and that it is free and ennobling in proportion to the values – beyond the economic ones – which motivate it.”  Then, he continued, “We would like here to salute all the workers of the world, and to point out to them their great Model, their Divine Brother, the Champion of all their rights, Christ the Lord!”

Praying with Our Lady

The impression we have is that Mary was at prayer when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her at the Annunciation.  In the first reading, then, we are invited to the Upper Room in Jerusalem after the Ascension – another location with which pilgrims are familiar.  Did you notice that beautiful line in the text from the Acts of the Apostles when the apostles are named and then it says, “All these joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, […]”?

Mary is with the Church when it prays.  Mary is with the successors of the apostles – the Holy Father and the bishops – when they pray as she was on that occasion about which we have heard in the reading, but she is with the members of the Church whenever we pray too.  Imagine how powerful our prayers become because of Her presence as we make them, and they are even more effective if we actually channel them through her.  The Lord is never likely to say ‘no’ to the woman who delivered a resounding “yes” to him in Nazareth on that celebrated day long ago.

The Mass and the Rosary

Today, we gather as members and friends of an Order that has the Christians in the Holy Land at the centre of our mission and endeavours.  We cannot be on the ground there all the time, but our contributions towards the many worthy projects undertaken there make a huge difference for the better, and our spiritual assistance – our prayers and sacrifices also make a difference. 

The Mass which we celebrate is the greatest prayer, but let’s not forget another prayer Our Lady asks for – the Rosary.  It’s no accident, but providential, that we gather today on the Feast of the Holy Rosary in the Church of St. Mary of the Rosary here in Cong, when the Opening Prayer of the Mass says it all really:

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.  Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Bishop awaits at the Mass of Western Region of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in St Mary of the Rosary Cong 7 Oct 2023 Photo © Michael Donnelly
Bishop awaits at the Mass of Western Region of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in St Mary of the Rosary Cong 7 Oct 2023 Photo © Michael Donnelly