The episcopal ordination of Mgr. Brian McGee as Bishop of Argyll and the Isles took place before a packed congregation in St. Columba’s Cathedral in Oban on 18th February. People had travelled from all parts of the diocese and from Mgr. McGee’s former parishes in Port Glasgow and elsewhere, many braving the hold-up or diversions caused by an accident on the main road from the south.
There was a wonderful, warm feeling in the cathedral as people gathered and the Diocesan Choir, with Fr. Michael Hutson at the organ, provided music (in English and Gaelic) inside while a piper played outside. Before the service started, Bishop Joseph Toal, the former Bishop of the Diocese (now Bishop of Motherwell) blessed the ring, cross, mitre and staff which would be worn by the new bishop.
The Mass began with a procession of priests, deacons and members of the hierarchy of Scotland as the congregation sang Bernadette Farrell beautiful hymn “Christ be our Light”. Archbishop Cushley presided as principal consecrator, with Bishop Toal and Bishop John Keenan, the Bishop of Paisley (Mgr. McGee’s bishop). Among the guests were Cardinal Sean Daly (reflecting Mgr. McGee’s family links with Ireland) and Papal Nuncio Archbishop Mennini, as well as representatives of the other Christian churches, of religious congregations and of the civic authorities and other organisations.
The music of the Mass and ordination rite drew on a wide range of sources and styles, from the plainsong Kyrie, through Liam Lawton’s Glendalough Mass, a new Gaelic setting of Psalm 99 written and sung by Pauline MacDonald, Sean O’Riada’s setting of “To Christ the Seed” sung in Irish and Gaelic, and the well-loved Soul of my Saviour, to modern liturgical hymns the Mallaig Sprinkling Song, the St. Mary McKillop hymn and Christopher Idle’s setting of the Te Deum (God we praise You).
The central part of the service was of course the ordination rite. Before it began, Archbishop Cushley gave the homily. He began by welcoming everyone to the service and expressing thanks to Mgr. MacNeil for his care of the diocese as Administrator.
He described the diocese as a place steeped in the Celtic monastic tradition, austere and beautiful, deeply spiritual and uplifting, a place travelled by tough and single-minded mystics. It was not surprising that a 16th Century map of Scotland had not shown Iona to scale, given its impact. The impact of St. Columba had been to consolidate the faith in Scotland and exerted an influence all over Europe.
Archbishop Cushley reflected on the readings chosen by Bishop-Elect McGee. The first from Isaiah (61:1-3) was the one chosen by Jesus himself at the beginning of his ministry, and again today we could say “this text is being fulfilled even as [we] listen”. The second, from the Letter of St. Paul to Timothy (2 Tim. 1:6-14) is a reminder of the gifts which will be given by God in ordination and the need to rely on God not oneself. Finally the Gospel reading (John 15:9-17) contains the commandment to love as Jesus has loved and the central words for a bishop or priest “You did not choose me. No I chose you”
He commented that when young, priests may think that they chose the priesthood but the vocation is an external call. None of what we will see here in the Rite of Ordination is our doing and often we only see this in hindsight. Speaking directly to the Bishop-Elect, he commented that this new stage may seem strange for some time. The Archbishop raised a smile when he referred to Mgr. McGee’s family origins in the north of Ireland (like St. Columba) but suggested he had taken a somewhat different trajectory from St. Columba to reach Argyll. However, he said, “you are now in the place where the Lord chooses to send you”. In conclusion Archbishop Cushley invited the congregation to pray for Mgr. McGee in the Litany of Saints which would follow – to pray that is following in the footsteps of the island solider St. Columba which was a tall order, he would have a heart full of the joy of the Holy Spirit, that he would be loving to all people, and that in this Year of Mercy, the Lord would fill him with love and compassion.
The Ordination Rite began with the invocation of the Holy Spirit in the singing of the “Veni, Creator Spiritus”. There followed the reading of the Apostolic Mandate from Pope Francis for the ordination and the formal and quite moving posing of questions to the Bishop-Elect on his resolve to discharge the duties of Bishop for his flock.
As Bishop-Elect McGee prostrated himself before the altar, two cantors led the singing of the Litany of Saints. This was followed by the laying on of hands by Archbishop Cushley and the other bishops present. In a wonderfully apt timing the bell of the Cathedral chimed the hour as this took place. The Book of the Gospels was held over the bishop-elect’s head and then Archbishop Cushley sang the Prayer of Consecration, joined by the other bishops present. Bishop McGee’s head was anointed with Chrism and then he was presented with the Book of the Gospels and invested with his episcopal ring, mitre and staff before being seated in the Bishop’s Chair in the Cathedral. In the final part of the Rite, Bishop McGee received the kiss of peace from his brother bishops as the choir led the singing of the Mallaig Sprinkling Song.
In the concluding rites of the Mass Bishop McGee processed round the Cathedral and blessed the congregation. Then the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Mennini brought greetings from Pope Francis and invited the new bishop to be a builder of bridges and of friendship, to keep his flock united in a community of love.
And at last, Bishop McGee had the opportunity to address his new Diocese. He began by expressing his thanks. He had tried to learn a few suitable words of Gaelic before his ordination but he had not managed it in time but he did express his thanks in Irish! He thanked Mgr. MacNeil, Canon Donald MacKay, and Fr. Michael Hutson for all their help. There was laughter when he thanked all who had travelled so long to get to the ordination, saying that St. Columba would have got there quicker!
He reflected that so often, God’s choices in the scriptures seemed wrong but were so right in hindsight, so he no longer asked why he had been chosen for the office of bishop but accepted it and trusted that the Lord knew what he was doing. For him it was particularly meaningful that his ordination was taking place during the Holy Year of Mercy.
Drawing attention to the card chosen as a memorial of his ordination, he pointed out that the Chi-Rho symbol from the Book of Kells was a constant reminder and inspiration to fall ever more deeply in love with the Lord. This growing love, for all of us, should be demonstrated in our practical concern for others.
Bishop McGee committed himself to daily prayer over the scriptures as, he said, “you cannot give what you do not have” and he encouraged everyone to this practice. The Celtic monks, he said, had been open to others and we must be too.
The Mass ended with the singing of the Salve Regina and then Bishop McGee processed out through the congregation to the joyful singing of “Blest be the Lord” and the opportunity to meet with his community in the Corran Halls over refreshments.
The following day, Bishop McGee celebrated his first full Mass as Bishop of Argyll &the Isles with a Mass for Vocations. He was joined by Archbishop Conti and Bishop Nolan, priests from the Diocese, members of the Diocesan Choir and many of the congregation from the Ordination Mass.
In his sermon, Bishop McGee made the point that the large crowds following Jesus in the Gospels were not necessarily a good thing. Jesus in fact challenges them that they are only there to witness his miracles, while what he wants from them is conversion. Lent was originally a time of preparation for catechumens but now it is for all because we are all in need of conversion. We are all called, he said, to deeper conversion. He asked the congregation to pray for priests and religious and he urged parents to be open to promoting the possibility of a call to serve the Lord in the priesthood or the religious life.