Harry Clarke's Window in Carrickmacross There is a magnificent stained glass window by Harry Clarke in Saint Joseph's Church, Carrickmacross, County Monaghan; it depicts a noble Saint Dymphna looking very courageous and resolute; her father's court jester turned out in full costume; the jester's wife bearing a bowl with candles in it; and, at the very end, Saint Gerebernus the priest.
Saint Gerebernus is shown dressed as a monk, with prayer beads hanging to the side of his habit. Saint Gerebernus represents not only the priesthood in Ireland, but also Ireland’s ancient and glorious tradition of monasticism. The prayer beads hanging at his side represent the essential work of a monk: to pray without ceasing and never lose heart. Harry Clarke has given Saint Gerebernus big eyes, open wide, and radiant with purity. He has a beautiful gaze; Looking at him, one wants to cry out: "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God!"
A Priest On His Way to the Altar In his hands, Saint Gerebernus is holding a golden chalice, the symbol of his priesthood and of much more. Let us dwell, for a moment, on this magnificent depiction of Saint Gerebernus. What is it really saying? First of all, he comes last in this little procession of four, just as the priest enters last when going to the altar for the Holy Sacrifice. He is holding the chalice; the bishop presents the chalice to a priest in the rite of ordination with these words: "Receive the power to offer sacrifice to God, and to celebrate Masses for the living and the dead, in the name of the Lord". Saint Gerebernus knows what he is about. He is a priest for the altar, that is, a man set apart by God’s inscrutable choice to offer the Holy Sacrifice standing before the altar, and to be offered from the altar as a victim with Christ. The life of a priest only makes sense if he is on his way to the altar or coming from the altar.
From the Roman Missal There is in the Roman Missal a magnificent prayer that the Church would have her priests say in preparation for Holy Mass. Do you know it?
O LORD, ever mindful of Thy venerable Passion, I, though a sinner, approach Thine Altar so I might offer Thee that Sacrifice which Thou hast instituted and commanded us to offer in remembrance of Thee for our salvation. Receive it, I beseech Thee, O God Most High, for Thy holy Church and for the people whom Thou hast purchased with Thy Blood. (And since Thou hast willed that I, a sinner, should be in the midst between Thee and Thy people, although Thou perceivest not in me the evidence of good works, at least refuse not the service of the ministry which Thou hast given me; let not the price of their salvation be wasted through my unworthiness, whose saving Victim and redemption Thou didst deign to be.) I also bring before Thee, O Lord, if Thou wilt deign to consider them, the tribulations of the people, the perils of the nations, the groans of prisoners, the misery of orphans, the necessities of strangers, the helplessness of the weak, the depression of the weary, the infirmities of the aged, the aspirations of the young, the vows of virgins, and the lamentations of widows.
The Priest: A Mediator The priest goes to the altar for the sake of his people; he descends from the altar for the sake of his people. Every priest is a mediator. The priest stands between God and men. On behalf of men, he faces God. On behalf of God, he faces men. From earliest times, in both East and West, this mediatorship of the priest has been symbolised and expressed by having the priest and people together face in one direction when the priest speaks to God on behalf of the people behind him, and by having the priest turn to face the people when he speaks to them on behalf of God.
The Protestant Heresy The current Roman Missal for the celebration of Holy Mass in English instructs the priest to do precisely this, but these directions, so rich in doctrinal meaning, have been roundly ignored for nearly fifty years. This unfortunate trend, neither foreseen, nor required, nor recommended by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, has led to a widespread loss of awareness of the role and mission of the priest as mediator. This, in turn, has led many Catholics, albeit unconsciously, to espouse a Protestant error: the belief that every man is his own mediator and that there is no need for a mediating priesthood. The essence of the Protestant heresy is this: «I need no man to speak to me on behalf of God, and no man to speak to God on my behalf». This is the denial of the mediatorship of Christ continued through the priesthood in the Church. The notion that the priest is a mere presider, facilitating the congregation’s worship and instructing them by his preaching, eviscerates the Catholic priesthood: to eviscerate means to tear the heart out of a living being.
Ecclesia de Eucharistia In Harry Clarke’s magnificent window in Carrickmacross, Saint Gerebernus is bearing the chalice so that Dymphna will not, at any time of her journey, be without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I am reminded of what one of the holy martyrs of Abitina said in the year 304, under the great persecution of Diocletian: Sine dominico non possumus, "Without this thing that is the Lord's, without Sunday, the Day of the Lord —the Day of the Eucharist— we cannot live". These Christians of Abitina were apprehended in flagrant violation of imperial law; they were found guilty of assembling on Sunday to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. When the Proconsul interrogated them, demanding to know why they violated the law, Emeritus, the man who hosted the gathering in his own house, responded, "Because without what belongs to the Lord, sine dominico, we cannot live, we cannot go on, non possumus". For these Christians, Sunday was the Day of the Sacred Mysteries, the Day of the Holy Sacrifice, the one day on which they assembled to receive the life–giving Body and Blood of the Lord. Emeritus' response means, "Without the Most Holy Eucharist, Sacrament and Sacrifice, we cannot survive". This is why, in his window, Harry Clark pictures Saint Gerebernus bearing the chalice; Gerebernus and Dymphna, like the martyrs of Abitina, knew that without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass there would be no Holy Communion to sustain them. Without the priesthood, there can be no Holy Sacrifice; without the Holy Sacrifice, there can be no Holy Communion; without Holy Communion, no Church.
A Grandmother's Witness My own grandmother, Margaret Gilbride Kirby, who grew up on a farm in Kiltoghert, Co Leitrim, went to daily Mass even into her nineties, walking to church each morning from her home in America, as once she and her mother walked across the fields to Gowel Chapel at the foot of the hill of Sheemore. She used to say something very similar to what Emeritus said in the year 304: "Without it I could not go on". And she used to add, "I don't know how people get along without it." It was the Catholic faith; the mystery of faith, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass itself.
The People of the Mass The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has always been Ireland’s treasure. This whole island is, in essence, one single great Mass rock. When the immolated Lamb appeared at Knock, standing on an altar, with the Cross rising above him, and Angels circling all about, the people of Ireland were given a vivid image of their corporate vocation in God’s plan for all nations: to be the people of the Mass. The heart of Ireland beats in the Mass. Should the day ever come, which God forbid, when the Mass ceases to be offered in Ireland, Ireland will be spiritually dead, a fire gone out, a hearth gone cold, a nation shrouded in a terrible darkness.
What Only a Priest Can Give Saint Gerebernus, carrying his chalice, accompanied Saint Dymphna because he was, first of all and above all, a sacrificing priest or what the English Protestants once called, with derision, "a massing priest". His function was to provide Dymphna, even as she fled her homeland, with the one thing that only a priest can give: the adorable Body and Blood of Christ offered in Sacrifice and given in Holy Communion.
Men for Whom an Altar Waits There are in your own families, sons, and grandsons, and great–grandsons, nephews, and brothers for whom a chalice is already prepared in the mind of God, men for whom an altar waits. Increasingly, altars all over Ireland will wait, and wait, and wait, for a priest to make present upon them the Body and Blood of the immolated Lamb? Ask Saint Dymphna and Saint Gerebernus to obtain priests for the spiritual resurrection of Ireland: mediating priests, sacrificing priests, massing priests. Ask for this grace not in any vague way: dare to say to Saint Dymphna and Saint Gerebernus: obtain a priest from my flesh and blood, a priest from my family, a priest from my parish.
Ask for Priests, Holy Priests There was a time when nearly every Irish mother and father prayed to have a son a priest. Then, the Enemy of the Body Christ, the Hater of all who bear within their souls the indelible character of the priesthood, succeeded in wounding some, in deceiving many, and in causing the priesthood to become a thing despised, a mystery veiled in shame. The priesthood itself came to be associated, in the minds of many, with the most despicable of crimes. At the same time, in a passing moment of economic prosperity, the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil fell over an entire generation like a suffocating net, blinding men to the sublime gift of the priesthood, and extinguishing in their hearts whatever spark from the altar could have ignited a great fire of divine love. You need not accept passively this tragic state of things. Pray boldly. Ask for priests, holy priests, priests chosen from among your own.
The Hour of the Sacrifice When, at length, the chieftain Damon and his men discovered where Dymphna was hiding, it was, for the priest Gerebernus, the solemn hour of the chalice, that is, the hour of the sacrifice. Gerebernus entered into the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemani:
Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done. And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed the longer. (Luke 22:42–43)
Damon ordered his men to behead Gerebernus, making him, in that hour, a priest fully accomplished, for the complete priest — make no mistake about it — is the martyred priest. The priest Gerebernus was there to consecrate Dymphna, and to offer her in advance as "a pure victim, a holy victim, a spotless victim", a victim united to the immolated Lamb who, centuries later, would show Himself standing upon an altar at Knock.
What shall I render to the Lord, for all the things he hath rendered unto me? I will take the chalice of salvation; and I will call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord before all his people: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. (Psalm 115:12–15)