Glasgow clearly had a very lively and outward looking Catholic community around a hundred years ago. In 1920 the Apostleship of the Sea port ministry was founded there and the organisation will celebrate its centenary in Glasgow in two years’ time. But before that, Glasgow will be celebrating the centenary of the Knights of St. Columba who were founded in Glasgow in 1919.
To build up to that celebration on 5 October 2019, the Knights began their centenary year with a Mass at Our Holy Redeemer church in Clydebank, which was attended by Supreme Knight Bertie M Grogan, members of the Board of the Knights and members from across the country. The Ecclesiastical Advisor, Most Rev. Malcolm McMahon OP, Archbishop of Liverpool, was principal concelebrant of the Mass.
The music of the Mass was supported and led by the St. Mungo Singers and Dr. Noel Donnelly on harp. As the church filled, the choir sang music associated with St Columba and the Celtic saints: the Celtic Invocation (with verses in Gaelic sung by Frances Dunlop) and The Prayer of Columba in a setting by Catherine Walker. The Mass then began with the well-known hymn Be Thou My Vision.
Archbishop McMahon began his homily be reflecting that the Gospel reading for the day was very appropriate in that it was about service. Service is a strange idea perhaps, as some view people in service as at the lower end of the social scale. His own grandmother had come from Ireland and was “in service” in Edinburgh before her marriage but she ahd a good attitude to her work and turned it to her advantage.
In the Gospel, Jesus is trying to get his disciples to understand that he has come to serve and to give his life for others. The human instinct is to improve oneself, to get to the top of the heap but the Lord’s instructions are clear: we are to serve not to be served. He turns the world view upside down and this is very challenging. He plays off two ideas, that of the Suffering Servant in the first reading of the Mass, and that of the Son of Man who comes in glory.
The work of the Knights of St Columba is about serving those most in need for the glory of God. The original 24 Knights saw that there was discrimination and great needs in their community, and they worked to help it to grow both in spiritual and in physical health. They quickly realised that their work should be for all in need and for those who had no voice. The organisation today looks forward and does not live in the past. It recognises that Jesus wishes us to look outwards to the world.
Archbishop McMahon finished his homily by recounting a story from his recent visit to Rome where a Vatican colleague had asked why the church is losing its influence in the public square, why its work with the sick, the poor, refugees etc was not recognised and its voice not heeded on moral issues. He had no answer for these questions but he urged that if we continue to serve the poor then our voice will be heard. As Mother Teresa said “God does not ask us to be successful but to be faithful”
During the Mass, the new members of the Board were installed and presentations were made to retiring Board members. At the end, Supreme Knight Bertie Grogan expressed thanks to all who had made the service possible. Archbishop McMahon joined in expressing his thanks for the Mass and particularly thanked parish priest Canon Tartaglia who had been unable to be present as he was saying Mass at his other parish, for hosting the Mass. He thanked the deacons and altar servers and the choir, and specifically Fr. Gerry whose music he knew of. There were gales of laughter from choir members and congregation when he said that he hadn’t realised that Fr. Gerry was still alive! Obviously he thought you had to be dead to be famous.
On that high note, the choir then led the congregation in the final hymn, the rousing Christopher Idle setting of the Te Deum.