Mass for Priests who died during the pandemic

Mass for the Priests of the Diocese who died during COVID

Homily notes of Bishop Tom Deenihan
Cathedral of Christ the King

17 xi 2021

The word ‘unprecedented’ is a word that is being used too often to  be true to its meaning. I heard a radio presenter use the word a while ago to reference something that, he said, had not happened in two years!

However, the collective experience of individuals, society and church over the past twenty months is, indeed, unprecedented.  COVID has impacted on every aspect of living from the most unusual to the more mundane.  This has been particularly true in relation to funerals.

Funeral rites are importance on so many fronts.  From our perspective, from a church perspective, they are a prayer to Almighty God to have mercy on the deceased and to welcome them to eternal life and happiness.  Indeed, our first reading today [2 Maccabees 12:41-44] stresses that point.  In an unusual Old Testament  reference to the resurrection of the dead, Judas has an offering taken on behalf of the dead so that they might be released from their sins.  That is our theology of Requiems. Remembering and acknowledging certainly but primarily an intercessory prayer on their behalf.

The Requiem Mass and the accompanying funeral prayers are important for us who are aware of our failings and who realise that we cannot be saved by our own efforts.  In that sense, a Requiem is a consolation and an assurance.

Sometimes that is forgotten and when it is, something is missing.  A service of remembrance offers no hope and looks back at what is gone rather than looking forward to what is promised.

Socially, funeral rites offer the wider community, even those of no religious affiliation, an opportunity to honour the contribution of those who have died and to offer support and sympathy to those who mourn.

In the early days of the pandemic, Television channels showed a funeral cortege driving along country roads lined with neighbours and friends who wished to acknowledge the deceased and to sympathise with those who were mourning.  The ritual became more widespread, it was necessary and it was appreciated  but I don’t think it will endure.

We need something more, particularly in bad weather!

This diocese lost six priests during the pandemic; Father Phonsie Macken who had given 66 years of service as a priest to the Diocese; Father Paddy Keary who had given 54 years as a priest; Father Gerry Rice who had served as a priest for 59 years; Monsignor Ted Dunne, who for 57 years had served in the Diocese and with the Irish Army; Fr M.V. Daly who served as a priest for 66 years; and Father Paddy Casey who served the Diocese for 66 years also.

Collectively, these six priests served the diocese for 368 years between them.  They died during COVID which meant that their families, their brother priests, their former parishioners and their friends could not join in their funeral rites.

I commented at those funerals that while the mercy of God is not dependent on the size of the congregation, there is something inhuman in not being able to afford the dignity of a proper funeral to those who have died. It is empty and lonely and not as it should be. It also goes against our religious practice.

It is important to acknowledge too that our parishioners, as you know, suffered the same deprivations.  The bishops were in Knock last Sunday to offer Mass for those who died during COVID. 

Those families from the various dioceses who accompanied us had harrowing stories to tell of people dying alone, husbands, wives and children  bidding tearful farewells to parents,spouses and,in some cases, children over the telephone and by zoom.  It is not meant to be like this and, with God’s help, it will not be again.

Tonight is an opportunity for us, as priests of the diocese, to gather and to pray for our own and to acknowledge also the long years of service they gave to the church, to the diocese and the people of the diocese.

Fr Phonsie Mackin worked in Florida, Castletown-Kilpatrick, Tullamore, Milltown, Ballinabrackey, Mullingar and Bohermeen.
He was also Director of the Lourdes Pilgrimage.

Fr Paddy Keary served in Saint Finian’s College for 22 years and then worked in Kilcloon, Holy Family, Drogheda and in Clara.

Fr Gerry Rice worked in Ossory, and taught in St. Patrick’s Navan, the Diocesan School in Drogheda and in China and then worked in Kilcloon as Parish Priest.

Monsignor Ted Dunne worked in Rahan, Dunboyne, Delvin, Donore, Coole, Stamullen and as an Army Chaplain.  As Army Chaplain, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for, as the citation reads,  ‘Dedication to duty above the ordinary and for displaying courage under fire in bringing spiritual succor to a wounded comrade during a night attack by hostile forces’ in Lebanon. On leaving the army, he became Parish Priest of Dunboyne.

Fr M.V. Daly worked in America, Rochfortbridge, Navan, London, Rahan, Navan again and Stamullen.

Fr Paddy Casey worked in Dunboyne, Florida, Castletown Kilpatrick, Drumraney, Birmingham, Dunderry, Kinnegad and Carnross.

The first reading for the Feast of all the Saints of Ireland, from the book of Ecclesiastes talks of a list of generous men whose good works have not been forgotten.  This is certainly true in their case and it is another reason why we are here this evening.

We lament their passing, we regret the circumstances of their passing and we lament too the suffering that they endured.

But there is another aspect.  Sometimes we and contemporary culture forget that death can be  welcome and kind because it brings an end to suffering and the presence of God.

In the Office of Readings for All Souls, Saint Ambrose writes:

Death was not part of nature. It became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning: he presented it as a remedy. Human life was condemned because of sin to unremitting labour and unbearable sorrow and so began to experience the burden of wretchedness. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more a burden than a blessing.

Our Colleagues have set aside the burden of mortality. We commend them to Almighty God, confident that he will note their generosity and service more than whatever human failings they endured. We console ourselves with the assurance that they are at Peace  and with the memory of their faith and service and we pray that more will follow their example and dedicate themselves to Christ and His Church.

And we pray for ourselves. May we too continue with generous service and earn the reward of good and faithful servants and may our colleagues, and all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

+ Tom Deenihan
Bishop of Meath