Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Bishops’ Conference, preached this homily in Westminster Cathedral at a Mass for those in Europe who have died of Covid-19. The continent’s Catholic bishops are celebrating Masses throughout Lent 2021 to serve as a Eucharistic chain in memory and in suffrage of over 770,000 people.
This evening we take our part in a mighty wave of prayer, moving across the whole of Europe, for all who have died in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE) has called for and coordinated this prayer, from East to West, North to South of the continent of Europe.
So let us now prepare ourselves to celebrate these sacred Mysteries by calling to mind our sins and seeking God’s pardon and mercy.
One year ago, Pope Francis stood alone in St Peter’s Square, on a dark and rainy evening. There he prayed for our entire human family, caught in the midst of this dreadful pandemic. There he emphasised that the great family of humanity found itself in one and the same boat, battling together against the storm of the effects of the pandemic.
First among those effects has been the deaths of so many people, in every country of Europe; in this country alone over 120,000. This evening we pray for every single one, of every faith or philosophy, of every race or nation. We pray that they are received into the compassionate embrace of God, according to God’s own desire and in God’s own way.
We know that so many of these deaths have taken place in an enforced isolation, adding a stark depth to the pain of the dying and to the grief of the bereaved. Today we pray in the company of this image of Mary, for she is the Mother of all sorrows, the blessed Mother, who in embracing her dead Son embraces all our sorrows too. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death.
The Gospel passage from St Matthew, that we have just heard, calls us to remember three basic truths of our existence. The first is that we have but one Heavenly Father, who places us in this world with the gift of free will that we may strive to serve him above all else. The second flows from this: that having one Father we are all of one family, brothers and sisters, bound together whether we like it or not. The third great foundational truth is this: that our Father gives us one supreme Teacher, the Christ, who shows us, in its fullness, the way to life in all its richness. And that way is the way of service.
As we continue our struggle against this pandemic, as we build a new future, let us remember these three great truths: one Father, one family, one great Teacher in the way of truth. Then we will indeed build back better.
As we pray for those who have died, let us be strengthened in the sure and certain hope that for those embraced by God, life is changed, not ended, and when the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, God will draw us into an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.
Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.