Rorate Caeli

Sermon for the “Final” Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne – 19th June, 2024 - The Prophetic Words of Cardinal Pell in 1992


Feast of Sts. Gervase & Protase

If you be reproached for the name of Christ, you shall be blessed: for that which is of the honour, glory, and power of God, and that which is His Spirit, rests upon you.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

May it please Your Grace. Very Rev’d Monsignor, the Dean, Dear Fathers, dear brethren,  

Tonight my mind goes back to Saturday, 13th June, 1992, when I was present in this Cathedral. On that day, at the request of a group of lay people, then Bishop George Pell, as an auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, celebrated the traditional Roman Rite (the Mass we are celebrating tonight). It was the first traditional Mass celebrated by a Bishop in an Australian Cathedral since 1970. From 1970 to 1985, the old Mass had been under a putative ban, until the more enlightened and tolerant approach of John Paul II began to reverse this.   

In his memorable sermon preached at that Mass in 1992, Bishop Pell acknowledged the widespread interest in the Mass he was celebrating. ‘’’What is its significance?’ I have been asked.  It is significant, of course, primarily because it is an act of worship.” Unquote. The Bishop went on to explain the relationship between the lex orandi and the lex credendi -  thelaw of praying and the law of believing, and of their foundation in Christ, that is bequeathed to us in the Catholic & Apostolic Tradition. Bishop Pell continued: 

“This is a precious inheritance; it is not ours to improve or to prune. It is the source of faith and repentance, the source of everlasting renewal. To the extent that we depart from this central tradition of worship and conversion, that we damage or pollute this core, we are weakened and enfeebled. ‘Without me’, says Christ, you can do nothing.’”

Encouraged by the policies of Pope Benedict XVI, a group of lay faithful successfully petitioned for a regular weekday Mass in the Cathedral, to be celebrated in the ancient form. This began in August, 2011It has been a source of many graces. Tonight, we give thanks for these.

This Mass honours Sts Gervase and Protase, twin brothers and martyrs of the second century, who gave their lives for Christ in Milan. Their father Vitalis, a man of consular dignity, suffered martyrdom at Ravenna under Nero, while their mother Valeria died for the Faith in Milan. St Ambrose rediscovered the brothers’ bodies in 386. They rest now with him in the crypt of St Ambrose’ Church in Milan. What a family! In human terms, we might see this as a waste, or a disaster. Not so with the eyes of faith. As Tertullian reminds us, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”. Over three centuries in ten distinct persecutions, Christians persevered – often underground – until the time of freedom, a hard won freedom, was granted in God’s ProvidenceUnder the most adverse conditions, the foundations of Catholic civilisation were forged, and a beautiful and complex union between faith and culture then blossomed through centuries of development. The essence of this is bequeathed to us in the priceless pearl of the historical form of the Mass. It has significance not only for Catholics, but for all who value our civilisation.

In the epistle today, St Peter writes – somewhat mysteriously – “for the time is, that judgment should begin at the House of God.” We all hope for God’s mercy, but we must know that there is no escaping His judgment. The filial fear of God should free us from the servile fear of men. That, together with the Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude, gives us strength to bear witness for Christ and the Faith in the face of every obstacle, and to come to the aid of our neighbour who is oppressed or persecuted. The clear and consistent teachings of the Catholic Church in relation to human dignity are founded on our understanding of creation, and of the Incarnation and Redemption. For these teachings to bear fruit, Catholics themselves – and especially those exercising pastoral authority – must be credible and consistent in their commitment to justice, charity, and freedom in the Truth that sets us free!

I return with gratitude to the words of our late Cardinal Pell at that Mass in 1992, words that seem tonight to be even more relevant and prescient than when they were first delivered from this very spot:                 

“I cannot promise you a second spring. I can only promise you a hard slog. The external pressures on us will remain formidable. I hope and pray that this Mass strengthens you for this long struggle. The Tridentine Mass has many virtues; it is part of a noble tradition of worship. Through prayers, ritual and music it attempts very explicitly to convey the beauty of holiness, and especially through its decorum and dignity it helps to bring us to bow in worship before the invisible God, the All-Holy One.”   


The Introit tonight reminded us: “The Lord will speak peace unto His people.” That peace no one shall take from us. The one condition for its untroubled possession is our forgiveness of those who trespass against us. Our preparedness to pardon our enemies is not an optional extra, but a core demand of our Faith. May it obtain their conversion, and draw us closer to the Lord, the God Who is Hidden but also present in our very midst in the Holy Eucharist. Therefore, we abide in hope, thanks to the assurance of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel of this Mass: “Blessed shall you be when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you and shall reproach you and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Be glad in that day and rejoice: for behold, your reward is great in heaven.”

Fr Glen Tattersall