Mass marks opening of bicentennial year

SOUTH END -- Clergy and laity, young and old, native-born and immigrant all came together at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross Dec. 2 to celebrate the opening Mass of the yearlong bicentennial celebration of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley presided at the Mass which was concelebrated with over 100 priests from the archdiocese, and six bishops including visiting Ugandan Bishop Robert Muhiirwa. Representatives from each parish in the archdiocese were invited to attend.

Singing at the Mass were members of the Cathedral Brass Ensemble, the Cathedral Hispanic Choir, the Cathedral Festival Choir and various parish choirs representing the Brazilian, Haitian, Kenyan, Korean and Vietnamese communities, underscoring the multicultural nature of the archdiocese.

“As we begin our bicentennial, we too, look back with a sense of profound gratitude and look forward with hope,” Cardinal O’Malley said in his homily.

“Sometimes we rhapsodize about the past, glamorize history and remember only what is pleasant. As a Catholic community in New England, we should know that our beginnings as a local Church were fraught with hardship and hostility and with enormous sacrifices,” the cardinal said.

“Priests were not allowed into this colony. If a priest were to be found, he was to be banished. If he returned, he would be executed,” he continued.

When the archdiocese was inaugurated 200 years ago, “the entire Catholic population of the diocese would not have filled this church. There were about 1,000 Catholics and two priests,” he added.

“Those handful of Catholics of two centuries ago, have grown to over 5 million Catholics in New England today,” underscored Cardinal O’Malley, adding, “Today, for all of these blessings of 200 years, we say, ‘Thank you, Lord.’

Addressing the congregation, the cardinal then spoke about the Gospel reading in which Jesus warns the faithful to be prepared, using the image of Noah’s Ark as an example.

“[Jesus] says, just as some people were caught up in the routine of their daily lives, so today, we must be aware of allowing ourselves to be so distracted by the demands of each day, as to miss the moment that the Lord offers to us. To literally miss the boat, as those people did in Noah’s day,” explained Cardinal O’Malley.

“What we must never lose sight of, is that Jesus Christ is the captain of the ship. And he is summoning us, ‘All hands on deck.’”

“As we reflect on our history, we see that it has never really been easy to be Catholics, to be a disciple. Our religion is not to be an escape. An exercise in comforting the comfortable. It’s rather about discipleship,” the cardinal stressed.

“The Christian project is not a selfish search for salvation. It’s not ‘Jesus and me and the warm fuzzies.’ It’s about serving others, about spreading the Gospel. We might feel more comfortable in our own lifeboat, but Jesus wants us on Noah’s Ark and it is, ‘All hands on deck,’” he said.

The cardinal then asked the assembly to “recommit” themselves to the mission entrusted to the Church, “to witnessing to Christ’s Gospel, to passing on the faith, to building on a civilization of love.”

“If some of our brother’s and sisters in faith have grown disillusioned and stepped away, then I invite them to come home. Noah’s Ark may have sprung a leak, but it is not sinking, and Christ is the captain...To our brothers and sisters in the life rafts, I say, ‘We love you, we want you to return to the practice of the faith, to the faith of our ancestors, the faith of the saints, the faith of the Apostles,’” he said.

“No, it will not be easy, but it will be good. The first 200 years of the Church here in Boston have not been easy, but they have been good,” he stressed.

Using the image of the candle in the window -- a popular Christmas decoration which has its origins in Ireland, the cardinal explained that originally the candle had two meanings: “It was a sign of welcome to the Holy Family, of Mary and Joseph looking for a place in the Inn,” but “it was also an invitation during the times of persecution, to a priest to come and celebrate a clandestine Christmas Mass for the family.”

“Today, as we begin our bicentennial celebration, I am here to say that in Boston, the candle is in the window. We want to invite and make welcome our brothers and sisters, especially the alienated. Especially the poor and the newcomers...My brothers and sisters, as we journey together in Christ, let us put a candle in the window. A candle that says, ‘Welcome, welcome, welcome,’” he concluded.

Following the homily, the Mass continued with intercessions prayed in Chinese, English, Lithuanian, American Sign Language and Spanish.

At the conclusion of the liturgy, Father Robert L. Connors, director of the Bicentennial Planning Committee and pastor of St. Marguerite d’Youville Parish and St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Dracut encouraged all the Catholics of Boston to “journey together in Christ” throughout the year at the various bicentennial celebrations that will be held on both an archdiocesan level and on an parish level.

“Our bicentennial year will encompass our liturgical year,” he explained. “The archdiocese will live the life of Christ” during this year.

“This bicentennial expresses a reality and a hope for the future,” Father Connors declared.