A Solemn Mass for the Religious of the Diocese of Westminster was held at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday 2 February, the feast of The Presentation of the Lord, at 12.30pm. Mass was celebrated by Bishop Alan Hopes, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster.
Representatives from most of the 98 female religious communities in the diocese attended. Among them were those celebrating 25th, 40th, 50th and 60th jubilee anniversaries. The Mass began with a short reflection by Sister Magdalen Lawler SND who considered the meaning of the feast, using the painting of the Presentation in the Temple by Rembrandt as reference.
During his homily Bishop Hopes said: “For there is a deep offering of hope to the world in a vocation which expects a way of life that is so much in contradiction to that which is accepted as normal today.”
“For much of today’s society, there is no meaning to life without money, sex and power. You have been called to chastity – to lay down that deep and personal side of your lives in order to grow in love of the Lord and of his people; you have been called upon to live simply and in common like the early Christians. You have been asked to renounce all worldly power and to be someone who is obedient, someone who serves.”
“We need to live out these evangelical counsels confidently and to witness to them in both our lives and words. They can be a real sign of life and freedom and hope, a sign of contradiction in a world where only success seems to matter and which can lead to new forms of enslavement, despair and inner death.”
“Light is one of the greatest of all religious symbols. Today – the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple or Candlemass – is the Church’s festival of Light.
The Gospel reading gives us the context of our feast day. Together with Joseph, Mary brings her child, the Light of the world, to the Temple of his Father, to present him to his Father. This is in accordance with the Jewish Law. In the fragility of this new born child, the old priest of the Temple, Simeon, recognises and proclaims him as the One who is sent from God himself. He is the divine Light in the darkness of human sin. He is heaven laid open. He is the long awaited Messiah of the Jewish people and the Saviour of all peoples. Jesus is the Light sent to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.
As Mass began today we lit our candles to commemorate this event and contemplate Jesus Christ as the Light of the world. We walked in procession as the pilgrim people of God, to meet Christ who is the Light of the world. Here as at every Mass, we recognise and proclaim the One who enlightens us with his Presence both in the Scriptures and in the Blessed Eucharist.
Wherever and whenever he is recognised and acclaimed, he transforms our lives: He brings light to our minds, our thinking and our understanding; He brings light to our homes, our places of work, our families, our communities; he brings light to our relationships.
He transforms us in order that he may use us to bring illumination to the lives of all those we meet and serve. Let your lives so shine in the sight of men so that seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven.
On behalf of Archbishop Vincent, I want to especially welcome to this Mass as we celebrate the World Day of Consecrated Life, the many representatives of all the different Congregations, Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life that live or work in the Diocese of Westminster.
I also want to thank you for the generous offering of your lives and your many gifts in the service of Christ’s Body, the Church. For many of you this will have been almost a lifetime of dedication in the Lord’s service – in prayer, in teaching, in mission, in nursing, in the parish and in so many other apostolates – often working in difficult circumstances and in overseas countries. Your generosity and courage is recognised and acknowledged by the Church and the Archdiocese.
Since last October the Church across the world has been invited by Pope Benedict to set out on a Year of Faith. He has asked us to rediscover the gift of faith and to rediscover the joy of believing. Then he has invited us to seek new ways of handing on the faith to others – to become part of the new evangelisation.
What significance has this for those who are in consecrated life – in particular for those religious who are not as young as they once were and for those religious orders that are discerning new ways of how they might carry out their apostolate in the 21st century and attract new vocations.
First, for the whole Church, this year must be one of renewal, coming to a deeper understanding of our Christian belief. As religious this renewal must begin in the re-discovery of the joy we had when we first believed, of that first awakening of our love for Our Lord, and of our generous response to his call.
Remember Simeon and Anna of today’s Gospel – they longed to see the Messiah, even after many years of prayer and service in the Temple. We too must long to see and hear Jesus. So this year of faith is not just to be something that is intellectual and affects only our minds. Pope Benedict tells us that faith is not just a theory or a set of propositions. Our Faith is Who we believe in. Our faith must be something that touches our hearts. We too must long to encounter the Christ in whom we believe. We need to encounter the One who lives in his Body, the Church. We need to re-discover and to encounter Christ in the Scriptures as he speaks to us and in the Eucharist as he fills our lives with His life. We need to re-discover that we encounter Him as we serve others and especially the poor and needy. We need to rediscover that we encounter Him in each other as we look for that image of God in which we are all made.
Simeon encounters the long awaited Messiah and the Saviour of the world in the newly born son of Mary. He witnesses that he will become a Light to enlighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of his people Israel.
The Year of Faith must lead to mission. For that renewed encounter with Christ, that continual conversion of our lives, is not just to be kept for ourselves or for our own benefit. Our belief, our joy in believing, is to be shared, to be handed on both in word and in lives and actions as we seek to love and serve our brothers and sisters. You already do this in so many different ways.
But as consecrated men and women, you have a special part to play in the new evangelisation. For there is a deep offering of hope to the world in a vocation which expects a way of life that is so much in contradiction to that which is accepted as normal today.
For much of today’s society, there is no meaning to life without money, sex and power. You have been called to chastity – to lay down that deep and personal side of your lives in order to grow in love of the Lord and of his people; you have been called upon to live simply and in common like the early Christians. You have been asked to renounce all worldly power and to be someone who is obedient, someone who serves.
We need to live out these evangelical counsels confidently and to witness to them in both our lives and words. They can be a real sign of life and freedom and hope, a sign of contradiction in a world where only success seems to matter and which can lead to new forms of enslavement, despair and inner death.
As we commemorate and celebrate the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, let us renew that offering of ourselves which we made at our solemn profession and rediscover the joy of believing in and encountering the One who has called us. Let us live out our vows with hope and with confidence and play our distinctive part in the new evangelisation.
Photos will be available here: flickr.com/photos/catholicwestminster
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