Semon for Bishop Monahan Requiem

Fr David McGladdery’s sermon 9 August 2015, St Mary’s Church

Requiem for Bishop Monahan, 1877-1945

“Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

At about 6.40pm on Friday, 10th August, 1945, in a hospital in Bristol, The Rt Revd Alfred Edwin Monahan, Doctor of Divinity; 3rd Bishop of Monmouth and formerly Archdeacon of Monmouth and Vicar of this parish entered into eternal rest.

On the evening of Monday, 13th August, Bishop Monahan’s body was brought here to St Mary’s, where he had been vicar for 28 years from 1912 to 1940. The body was received at the gate by his former curate and disciple Canon Knight – who was his successor as vicar of Monmouth. A watch was kept throughout the night and on Tuesday, 14th August, three requiems were held early in the morning, then came the Solemn Requiem at 11.30am, with the funeral service taking place at 2.30pm.  The church was full on each occasion. For the funeral service, the Bishops of Llandaff, St Asaph and Swansea and Brecon were present in the sanctuary. After the service a long funeral procession wound its way down to the Monmouth cemetery, where the Bishop of Llandaff pronounced the Prayers of Committal.

Thus took place the home coming of one to whom this parish owed so much.  His soul had gone to God and his body had been laid to rest in the parish that he loved.

Alfred Monahan was born in 1877, educated at Trinity College, Dublin and entered Ely Theological College in 1903.  He was ordained priest in 1905 in Southwark cathedral to serve in the Walworth mission.  After three years he went to serve as his brother, Fr William Monahan’s curate in Worcester and was appointed vicar here in 1912.

But why remember and commemorate someone who served the church so long ago?  Well, the answer lies in that statement Jesus made in this morning’s Gospel:

“Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Bishop Monahan devoted the whole of his adult life to ensuring that God’s people were fed with the bread of life. The gift of the Eucharist was at the very centre of his spiritual life.  As a pastor, he knew and taught that the only way that God’s kingdom can come is for God’s people to be fed and nourished by the transforming power of God’s love as given to us by Jesus. He knew and taught that we become what we eat.  He knew and taught that just as Mary had – if we say yes to God and open our hearts in faith and in trust – then we shall be given all we need to become people of God.

Not only did Fr Monahan ensure that the sacramental life of this church and later this diocese flourished; he set about teaching the people through prayer; through worship; through spiritual teaching and through works of charity: caring for the poor.  A solid foundation for the life and growth of any parish, I think.

This building was only 24 years old when he became vicar in 1912.  The Church in Wales and the diocese of Monmouth was a decade away. Fr Monahan set about establishing the sacramental and dignified worship which set the tone for the Church in Wales over 100 years’ ago.  A tradition which we uphold, and continue to evolve, to this day.  He wrote The Church People’s Prayer Book, which became the official prayer book of the Church in Wales for many years.  Its great strength was that its logical simplicity enabled congregations to participate easily in the services of the church.  He published works teaching about the community of saints; the importance of the Holy Eucharist and encouraged those in his care to honour and find an example in the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

As bishop he was described as “always fair; always sympathetic; always just”… “we always knew where we were with him”.

We give thanks for Bishop Monahan, for his life of service to this parish and this diocese, because the church is greater than us here and now.  The church of God, includes all those faithful disciples from generations before and will include those yet to come.  We are part of that great cloud of witnesses stretching back across the ages and reaching forward into the future: the communion of saints.

The message of today’s Gospel, is that the Christian life of one of sacrifice for all who would be disciples of Christ: bishops, priests and laity – Jesus calls us all to give ourselves to one another in love.  In a world, torn apart by anger, hatred and conflict, we have the privilege of being living signs of love that can bridge all divisions and bring real healing and peace. Jesus says:

“Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

We become what we eat – simple bread and simple wine are blessed by the priest and shared… all I know…is that in that Eucharistic moment…Jesus shows up.  It is mysterious; it is strange.  And it is God.  In The Church People’s Prayer Book, one of the invitations to Holy Communion (The Comfortable Words) is:  “Jesus said: come unto me all you who are weary and overburdened and I will give you rest”. 

That is the message of the Eucharist:  Come…all of you…who are weary…sometimes beaten down by the realities of life…sometimes just struggling to even just make it…sometimes, struggling to see a vision of something that’s greater than what you normally see in life… Come all of you, come! Be fed; have strength; have life.

I shall let Bishop Monahan have the last word:

I his farewell letter to the parish, published in the parish Magazine in August 1940, he wrote:

“…No vicar could possibly receive more loyal and whole-hearted support from the churchwardens, the Parochial Church Council, Church workers and the Laity generally than I have received during the last twenty-eight years…May God’s blessing rest upon you and yours and may He save and deliver us…in truth and love.

Yours very sincerely,

Alfred E Monahan.”