'When we celebrate Mass we are never alone' says Bishop Patrick

An image of Pope Francis that spoke powerfully to me, and to so many people throughout the world, was that of him, on his own, in an empty St Peter’s Square last March, holding up the Blessed Sacrament and silently calling upon Christ the High Priest to bless the peoples of the world struggling with the devastating consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps, like me, you have often thought of that solitary image of Pope Francis, when, during this pandemic, you have celebrated Mass in an empty church or chapel. Certainly, in putting on my chasuble to celebrate such a Mass, I have found very helpful Pope Francis’ reflection on the symbolism of the sacred robes worn by the Jewish High Priest when offering sacrifice to God. He reminds us of what we find in the book of Exodus, (chapter 28), that the names of the 12 sons of Israel, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, God’s people, were engraved on the onyx stones mounted on the shoulder pieces of the ephod worn by the High Priest (the fore-runner of our chasuble); six on the right shoulder piece and six on the left. Their names were also engraved on the breastplate he wore. So, in offering sacrifice to God he carries on his shoulders and close to his heart the whole people of God. So, when we vest for Mass and put on the chasuble, we too can be powerfully reminded that we never theologically celebrate the Mass on our own but, as Pope Francis reminds us, the priest ‘carries on his shoulders the people entrusted to his care’, and carries close to his heart their names.

I want to highlight this today, as we gather here, and by means of streaming, all over the diocese, to thank God for our priesthood and to renew our priestly promises. This has been an unprecedented and difficult time for everyone, certainly for those we serve in our parishes and chaplaincies, but also for each of us. We have felt frustrated that the Covid restrictions, put in place to try and curtail the spread of the coronavirus, have massively restricted our pastoral work which is such an integral part of our priestly identity. It has affected all of us, in different ways, depending upon whether we have had to shelter from public ministry or not. But I commend to you the symbolism that Pope Francis speaks of, not only looking back over the past year of lockdowns, but also looking forward in hope. That, when, to celebrate Mass, we put on our simple chasuble we do so as an outward sign of our desire be close to the people entrusted to our care, to carry on our shoulders and close to our hearts their prayers, sorrows, and joys, and, during this pandemic, the very particular challenges many of them have faced: the heightened grief at the death of a loved one, whom perhaps they have been unable to be with at the time of death or to have the Funeral they would have wished to arrange with you; or the loneliness, so keenly felt by so many, ourselves included, in not being able to see in person family and friends; these and many other things you, as priests, have carried on your shoulders and held close to your hearts as you have offered Mass, whether on your own or with a congregation.

For my part, I have tried to carry in prayer at Mass the needs of the whole people and clergy of our diocese, and I have been most grateful to those of you who have prayed for me through this time. I know too that you will join me, today, in thanking parishioners for their prayers, and for the great care that they have shown so many of us during this time of Covid. I have been greatly heartened by the very real evidence of a deeper sense of co-responsibility, on the part of clergy and laity, for the life and mission of our parishes and chaplaincies, and of care and support for each other. Thank you all, and please pass on my gratitude to your deacons, religious, and all parishioners. I am deeply sorry that we cannot all be gathered here in the Cathedral as we normally would, but am grateful to all who join with us in this Mass of Chrism by means of streaming.

Conscious of the love and prayerful support of those we serve, in spite of our weaknesses, and with a renewed desire to let the grace of the Holy Spirit shine out through and shape our priestly ministry, let’s take a moment now in silent prayer to prepare ourselves before we stand to renew our priestly promises.


Bishop Patrick McKinney

31 March 2021


"It’s a very special feeling to be so close to the Lawrence Chapel here, whose altar stone was found among the ruins of the nearby Beauvale Priory. What’s more, that altar stone may very well have been used by the Martyrs, St Robert Lawrence and St John Houghton, whom we are honouring in this special Mass, so close to the anniversary of their martyrdom on 4 May 1535.

"As you know they were both Priors of Beauvale Priory, founded in 1343 by Nicholas de Cantilupe and one of nine Priories to be built in England dedicated to the Carthusian Order of Monks who lived and worshipped God there for some two hundred years until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. John Houghton was Prior in 1531 for only a short time, because later that year he was elected Prior of the London Charterhouse. His successor, Robert Lawrence, continued as Prior until 1535. That year, those two, along with Augustine Webster, Prior of Axholme in Lincolnshire, travelled in good faith to meet Thomas Cromwell to plead for a dispensation, for themselves and their monks, from the new Oath of Supremacy which recognised King Henry VIII as head of the Church in England. But Cromwell had them arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. When they refused to take this Oath, they were first hanged at Tyburn, and then, while still alive, they were savagely drawn and quartered, so making John Houghton and Robert Lawrence the first Carthusian Martyrs in England.

"St Thomas More, from his prison window in London Tower, saw the martyrs being taken out to Tyburn and, turning to his daughter said, “Lo, dost thou not see, Meg, that these blessed fathers be now as cheerfully going to their deaths as bridegrooms to their marriage?” What would have sustained these men during their imprisonment in the Tower and given them such courage and peace of mind to face martyrdom? No doubt it was their lives of faithfulness to God spent in silence, prayer and manual labour in the Beauvale Priory. There they would each have spent several hours a day alone in their simple cells in silent prayer and study, some time in manual labour to help sustain the Priory and its land, a little time to eat, and the rest in communal worship. Priors Robert Lawrence and John Houghton were men who had given their lives to service of Christ, not out of a sense of duty but out of love for Christ, whom they had personally encountered in their hearts, whom they wished to serve as his disciples, and whose love sustained and directed the way they freely lived and gave their lives as witness to him. When we stop and think about it, their generous witness is a perfect illustration of the living out what Jesus is saying to his disciples in today’s gospel reading:

“Make your home in me, as I make mine in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me…for cut off from me you can do nothing.”

"When, on the night before he gave his life for us, Jesus spoke in this way of himself as the true vine, he promised to abide within us and to nourish and make our lives fruitful: “whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty.” I do believe that the time Robert Lawrence and John Houghton spent in silent prayer at Beauvale, with hearts open to doing God’s will, was the foundation for Christ Jesus being able to do such great work in their lives, and also through their deaths. I say this because the blood of the martyrs has, down through the ages, inspired so many Catholics to live, and give of their lives, generously in the service of Christ. May their example continue to remind us of our absolute dependence upon Christ: “cut off from me you can do nothing”; that without his love, allowed to work freely in our hearts, we would not have the motive to live our lives generously as his disciples; without his promise, “I am with you always”, we would not have the courage to persevere in times of difficulty; and without the gift of his Holy Spirit, being given the freedom to work within us, we would not be inspired and enabled to do God’s will in our lives, here and now. What is certain is Christ Jesus also wants our lives to be fruitful: “It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit.” He is generous always towards us, let us in turn live our own lives generously in his service.

"St Robert Lawrence, pray for us.

"St John Houghton, pray for us."


Bishop Patrick McKinney