The first word can only be one of thanks. And in the first place, with Mary, to Almighty God. This is a day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
And then thanks to all the Lord’s co-workers who those who have made it possible. Thanks to all of you here, and to the many, the very many, who are with us in spirit in so many places. Personally I could not have received a warmer welcome than I have. Thank you to His Eminence the Cardinal, for presiding so warmly over the ordination, for preaching so appositely, and – which he did not mention – for delaying his flight to Madrid for World Youth Day to do so. Thank you to His Excellency Archbishop Antonio Mennini, for representing the Holy Father. Thank you in a special way to my two predecessors and co-consecrators: to Archbishop Mario who ordained me as a deacon in 1981 and a priest in 1982, who blessed me as an abbot in 1992, and now has co-consecrated me a bishop, and to Bishop Peter, who has been so patiently initiating me these last weeks into the ‘joy and hope’, the gaudium et spes, of our beautiful diocese, and, too, some of our ‘grief and anxiety’. Thank you to all the bishops, abbots, and religious who are here. Thank you especially to my dear friend, Bishop Corneliu Onila of the Romanian Orthodox Church, who has come further than anyone to be here. Thank you to the civic representatives and our ecumenical guests. Thank you to the Administrator of the Cathedral, to the Canons of the Chapter, to the Master of Ceremonies and his many accomplices inside and outside the sanctuary, to Joyce Webster and her team who’ve worked so hard keeping chaos at bay and making all this happen. Thank you to the Diocesan Choir, who have enriched this celebration so much, and to James MacMillan who composed especially for this event the fine Ecce Sacerdos with which we began Thank you to my family who have been so loyal to their strange family member! And thank you again to all of you.
As you can guess, though, there is one thank you that prevails in my heart. And it’s to my own community. Here they are complete with their magnificent new abbot, Abbot-elect Anselm Atkinson, whom it’ll be my joy to bless. The decision of the Holy Father in my regard put the whole community, not just me, through the mill. And I’m sure their obedience will make them better bread than ever. Pluscarden has been my home, my spiritual mother and family, for 37 years. It’s thanks to Pluscarden that I am what I am. And so I thank each and all of the brethren, past and present. I thank all the people who support and carry us in so many ways. I thank God for St Benedict and his Rule. And I ask all of you to keep this precious community – the spiritual heart of the diocese – in your prayer. And pray for me too that in the beautiful words of our Holy Father the Pope, echoing the Rule, my own heart may be enlarged, roused by the Holy Spirit and moved only by love of my people.
New-born Bishops often use this moment to articulate their pastoral priorities. But today I’d like to touch on something prior to any priorities. Many people have kindly said to me how strange it must be to leave the monastery – Pluscarden. Yes, perhaps it’s rather like being an apple, plucked from the tree, finding oneself in a fruit-bowl on a table, and wondering what happens to one next. But naturally I ask myself what those 37 years have done to me, brought me. There could be many answers, light-hearted or other. But there is one answer I think is true, I certainly hope is true. And it’s simply a realisation – a glimmer of realisation, a small beginning of a realisation – of Christ. Putting it liturgically, I could say it’s the discovery of Easter, of Christ’s Passover from death to life, his Resurrection. People often think, Christian people too, that monks and nuns are rather odd people, who go off into a corner to do some rather strange, if essentially harmless, things. Far be it from me to deny there are odd people in monasteries! In a monastery, just as in the Church, there’s a cross-section of humanity. Indeed, a monastery is simply a microcosm of the Church. And what a monastery gives a monk or a nun is only what the Church gives each of her children and offers the world. And what is that? What is it? It’s what the women found when they found the tomb empty that Sunday morning in Jerusalem. It’s what Peter and Paul and John found. It’s what the remarkable galaxy of people who wrote the New Testament were stammering to express. It’s what the Liturgy in its simple power and beauty keeps alive in the world. It’s not a ‘what’, it’s a ‘who’. It is the person of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, and the power of his Resurrection. The whole of Christianity: its faith, its worship, its ministry, its mission, everything life-giving in what Christians do, springs from that early Sunday morning, that empty tomb. It springs from the Resurrection of Christ, his victory over sin and death. What can the Church do –for us who belong to her, for those around us? What can she give? What can she bring? There’s only one answer: Easter. The person of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, and the power of his Cross and Resurrection, and the fullness, the everything that unfolds from that. The priority of priorities is Christ. He is God the Father’s priority: his beloved only-begotten Son. He’s ‘the first-born of all creation’. He’s ‘the first-born from the dead’. He’s the one the Holy Spirit is always working to bring alive in our hearts. And so what other priorities can we have – as lay believers, as religious, as clergy – than immersing ourselves ever more in and then proclaiming, celebrating, living the reality of Christ? May Christ be real to us! That is the thing.
And so lastly, there’s today’s feast – the Assumption of the mother of Jesus into heaven, into the fullness of resurrected life. She passes within the palace of the King. It’s a feast that lifts us heavenward. Can you really believe that? People ask. But as Catholics we do. Because in this fragile faith there’s hidden a huge hope. Mary in her Assumption is the great sign of the power that bursts from the risen Christ. She’s a sign his resurrection has given our poor, precious human life a new and happy horizon. She’s a sign of the life of the world to come. She’s a sign of hope for the whole Church, for all creation, for all of us. The risen Christ can raise us all, in our hearts and lives now, and in body and soul in eternity. So, as our Liturgy comes to its end, let’s turn to her. She’s the chief patron of this diocese, and in her Assumption she’s the patron of this Cathedral. To her, to her motherhood in the Spirit, I entrust myself and my ministry as bishop. I entrust our whole diocese, each and every member of it, to her. And I invite all the lay faithful, religious, clergy to commend yourselves to her again! May she help us know the hope to which we are called, the riches of our inheritance, the saving power of God revealed in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. Amen.
Bishop Hugh Gilbert, O. S. B.