Last Mass with Bishop Thomas McMahon?

Today is the octave day of the centenary celebration at my Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Joseph in Leigh-on-Sea. You can read my report on the beautiful Mass we had last week here. In that report, I mentioned a couple of reasons why I found the Mass a bit emotional.

Another reason the Mass was emotional is that it was probably the last Mass I will attend presided over by my Bishop, the Right Reverend Thomas McMahon.

Bishop Thomas overseas a large and varied diocese stretching from East London to the North Sea. Formed in 1917, the Diocese comprises the Administrative County of Essex, the unitary authorities of Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock, and the London Boroughs of Barking & Dagenham, Havering, Newham, Redbridge and Waltham Forest.

He was born on 17th June 1936 in Dorking, Surrey and grew up in Old Harlow. He was educated at St. Bede’s Grammar School, Manchester, before training for the priesthood at St. Sulpice, Paris. He was ordained on 28th November 1959 at Wonersh, Surrey.

The newly ordained Father Thomas was appointed an assistant priest in Colchester, where he served for five years. From 1964-1969 he was then appointed to Westcliff-on-Sea, after which he became parish priest of Stock (where he continues to live as parish priest). From 1972-1980 he served as Chaplain to Essex University. He was a member of the National Ecumenical Commission.

On 17th July 1980 Cardinal Basil Hume, OSB consecrated him Bishop of Brentwood. He has been a member of the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (representing the Bishops of England and Wales on the Episcopal Board) from 1983 to 2001.

Father Kevin Hale and Bishop Thomas distribute Holy Communion to the Faithful.
Thomas has been the Bishop of Brentwood for virtually my whole life. I was nine years old when he became Bishop and I served Mass for him at Holy Cross parish in South Ockendon many times as a child. He Confirmed me, he presented me with my GCE certificates and later sat with me at Parish Council Meetings at St. Peter's, Eastwood. He has overseen and appraised my work with Brentwood Diocese Marriage and Family Life, and when my daughter died, he wrote to me and said some very helpful and healing things I will never forget.

"Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccata mundi. Beati qui ad cenam Agni vocati sunt"
However, I don't think Bishop Thomas makes friends easily, I don't suppose it is easy to make friends when you are a bishop. And despite his constant presence in my life, and my relatively close proximity to him, especially in recent years, I don't think he knows me. I mean, he wouldn't say "hi Mark" if I saw him. It strikes me as a lonely life of great responsibility to be a bishop.

In his role as a bishop, Thomas McMahon is the successor of the Apostles:
"Therefore, the Sacred Council teaches that bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ."—Lumen Gentium n. 20 
...and bears the fullness of priesthood
"And the Sacred Council teaches that by Episcopal consecration the fullness of the sacrament of Orders is conferred, that fullness of power, namely, which both in the Church's liturgical practice and in the language of the Fathers of the Church is called the high priesthood, the supreme power of the sacred ministry."— Lumen Gentium n. 21. 
Our bishops also constitute very real links to other diocese and bishops, and indeed, with Rome and the Pope, the successor of Peter and Prince of the Apostles:
"...the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head." — Lumen Gentium n. 22.
This tangible historic link to Christ is something I find very profound and moving.

As we come to the end of Bishop Thomas' episcopacy, I want to express my own sincere thanks and gratitude for his service to our diocese and the role he has played in my life. he is in my thoughts and prayers as he heads into retirement. 

I think we need to remember our bishops in our prayers as often as possible. As someone who leads a business, I know how the politics develop, the in-fighting breaks out, the games people play. It must be an incredibly difficult job to run a whole diocese and manage everyone's expectations of what a bishop should be and do. Especially in these times: Bishop Thomas has presided over a period of some turmoil within our beloved Catholic Church and he has provided a safe pair of hands. He has built a Cathedral and looked after more Ordinariate members than any other diocese in the country. He has been good enough to encourage the opening up of the liturgy taught in Summorum Pontificum that has meant I, and many like me, have been able to experience the Mass of Ages for the first time in our lives.

Bishop Thomas with Msgr Gordon Read, LMS Chaplain.
At the centenary Mass, Bishop Thomas gave an excellent homily which explored the relevance of the Scripture readings and the history of the parish. I am lucky enough to have been provided with a transcript which I can share with you here:

Homily Preached by Rt Rev Thomas McMahon 
on the Occasion of the Mass to Celebrate the Centenary of 
Our lady of Lourdes & St Joseph Parish, Leigh-on-Sea 
9th November 2012 ~ Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica 

Today’s Gospel reminds us that The Temple in Jerusalem was at the very heart and soul of the Jewish nation. Jews congregate there because The Temple is, for them, a statement and symbol of their identity. 

Jesus arrives at The Temple to celebrate Passover and finds it taken over by money-changers. He drives them out and when asked for a sign to explain his behaviour speaks of his own Temple or body to be destroyed and raised up.
In direct line from The Temple at Jerusalem is the Basilica on the Lateran Hill whose feast we keep today. It was first built by the Emperor Constantine around 324. It comes as a surprise to many people to learn that the Pope’s Cathedral isn't St Peter’s, but at the Lateran dedicated to St John. It is there that he has his cathedra/ throne or presiding chair. Because of this it is known as the Mother and Head of all churches of the City of Rome ~ and of the world ~ to show our unity together. The Popes lived nearby for nearly 1,000 years.

The cathedra in our Cathedral is linked to the Pope’s cathedra in St John’s Lateran and every other cathedra throughout the world. It was significant that when Westminster Cathedral was built over 100 years ago the bishops at the time gave, as a gift, a cathedra modelled on the Pope’s cathedra at St John Lateran ~ much to the distress of the architect since it didn't fit in with his design! But it did stress our oneness together in faith.

In the same way every presiding chair in each parish is linked to the cathedra in the Cathedral to show that the priest presides in the name of, and in union with, the bishop. And so you have a direct line, if you like, between The Temple, the Lateran Basilica, Brentwood Cathedral and your own church. Our unity in faith and in the Gospel we proclaim.

By 1912 there were two Catholic churches in the Southend district: St Helen’s, Westcliff, founded in 1862, and the recently-opened Sacred Heart in Southchurch.

However, it became increasingly obvious that a Catholic presence was needed in Leigh-on-Sea, and it was to this end that Cardinal Bourne, the then Archbishop of Westminster, sought to make provision for a priest at Leigh.

At first it had been hoped that the Holy Ghost Fathers would open a school and parish, but when this came to nothing a young priest, Father John O’Neill, was sent to Leigh. He had recently returned from South Africa, where he had gone for the sake of his health. He rented a house at 56 Torquay Drive, where the downstairs was fitted out as a chapel and where 35 people attended the first public Mass celebrated on 10 November 1912. In 1913 Father O’Neill moved to 13 Leigham Court Drive and managed to purchase an army drill hall in Marguerite Drive as a temporary church, which was dedicated to SS Joseph & Patrick and thereafter to Our Lady of Lourdes & St Patrick. This building later served as the parish hall and has only recently been demolished to make way for the building of a new Parish Centre.

Father O’Neill did great pioneering work at Leigh, where he died at the age of 38 on 17 March 1917. Five days after Father O’Neill’s death, Essex was separated from the Archdiocese of Westminster to become the Diocese of Brentwood.
The priest who replaced Father O’Neill, Father Francis Gilbert, took up residence on Grand Parade. He had been sent to Leigh by Bishop Bernard Ward, the first Bishop of Brentwood.

When Father Gilbert became ill, the bishop who was rather keen on Lourdes, insisted that he should go there. Fr Gilbert, I'm told, was less keen! However, he underwent a conversion of heart and from that moment vowed to build an English Lourdes at Leigh ~ hence the grotto. The result is the fine and unique Church of Our Lady of Lourdes & St Joseph opened by Bishop Doubleday in 1925 – much of it paid for by Father Gilbert’s own family and friends as well as parishioners. Canon Gilbert, as he duly became, remained as Parish Priest of Leigh until his death in 1952. Our Lady of Lourdes Church is the monument to Canon Gilbert’s work at Leigh and he lies buried in the presbytery garden ~ literally opposite the front door.

Canon Gilbert’s successor was Canon Toft, who was responsible for building Our Lady of Lourdes School in 1960 and also extending the church.
He was followed as Parish Priest by Father John O’Sullivan (1966-1972), Monsignor Dan Shanahan (1972-1988), Father Bernard O’Brien (1988-1993) and Father John McGrath (1993-2003). Father Kevin Hale has been Parish Priest for the past nine years and there have been countless assistant priests over the years.

There have also been a number of vocations from the parish, including Monsignor Gordon Read and Fathers Adrian Graffy, Andrew Hurley and Basil Pearson.

Leigh has also been a parish into which many priests have retired notably, my processor, Bishop Patrick Casey, who lived here for the last decade of his life.
In this evening’s New Testament Lesson we again have the word ‘Temple’. St Paul uses a metaphor in the form of a building. “ Didn't you realise that you (each one of us) are God’s Temple with the Spirit of God living among you ~ with Jesus Christ as the foundation stone”.

Over the past 100 years how many outstanding ‘living’ stones, living temples, indwelt by the Spirit who have been part of this parish. And tonight, and especially in this month of November, we recall all those who have ‘departed to God’.

This parish is, and always has been, a vibrant community with people of strong faith; great generosity and deep commitment to the service of God and the service of one another.

Your splendid bells that ring out every quarter of an hour are dedicated to Our Lady and the saints. May Mary and the saints intercede for you on this special day and in the days to come.



“Father, Eternal Shepherd of your people,

you never cease to lead your Church

with unfailing providence and to guide

and nourish your flock.

In your goodness grant to your church of Brentwood

a holy Shepherd under whose watchful care

we may grow in love and grace.

We make our prayer through

Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son,

who lives,

and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God for ever and ever.


All the pictures in this blog post have been kindly provided by the most excellent and talented Paul Tait Photography.

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