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  • 67. Exposition on St Oliver Plunkett - Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary

Exposition on St Oliver Plunkett - Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary


An insight into Plunkett’s soul with reference to his heroic Roman Catholicism.

1. The Resurrection

The powerfully and precisely driven alignment of Plunkett to Catholicism throughout his life (this was his conversion). You do not become Primate of All Ireland in the late 17th Century Roman Catholic Church unless you have done your homework and established your Catholic credentials from the outset. In England and Ireland the Catholic/Protestant battle lines were clearly defined at that time. The Battle of the Boyne to come shortly in Northern Ireland – James II Catholic King of England defeated. I argue Plunkett had an early understanding of Roman Catholicism which grounded his Catholic Faith probably indeed very likely in his childhood and teenage years. We think of this mystery as conversion of heart essential to everyone. Plunkett’s example of his concentration with precision on Christ, the church and the practice of Confession and Communion in his early years from First Holy Communion onwards. That was his taking of Christ to his heart and his conversion of heart to Himself our Redeemer. No one can learn Catholicism save through Baptism, Confession and Communion and Confirmation. The same goes for Anglicanism. Without this practice and preparation we are nothing. Plunkett was a real thoroughbred Catholic hence his elevation to such high ecclesiastical office later in his priestly career. He understood acutely the meaning of these sacraments which truly transform the heart and soul of communicants be they Roman Catholic or Anglican. Plunkett was converted from an early age we can be sure. He would have demonstrated the same understanding as Jesus aged 12 in the Temple (5th Joyful Mystery) and he Plunkett of similar age.

2. The Ascension

This is the precise desire of the future Martyr for Heaven which emerges in Plunkett’s life and thinking. He was to be extradited to England, imprisoned in London, tried, wrongfully convicted of treason and put to death for his Catholicism on 1st July 1681 at Tyburn Marble Arch as the inscription says in Westminster Cathedral London Victoria all at the end of his life. I believe he died aged 51 years. The precision lies in the prayers he offered up at each stage of his life and final months and days. Those prayers intricately helped him through each stage of his ordeal to his last hours. We pray to Our Lady “pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death”. Nothing is predictable or bound to happen in our lives it is not chance but things can work out differently to what we expect even for Plunkett indeed not as many expected in his case. He was Head of the Irish Catholic Church but he was a mere mortal who had to wait 300 years for canonisation by Rome after his execution. That would not unduly concern the good Irish Catholic Plunkett of such rank. Paul VI and his predecessors precisely defined this canonisation on 12 October 1975. They did not err and were in no rush to glorify him as also not with the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales (died 1560 – 1645) who were canonised by Pope Paul VI shortly before in 1971 – 1973. The Catholic Church demonstrates it will wait upon Heaven and urges us not to storm Heaven but to be quietly patient like Plunkett himself was on earth, however strong the desire for Heaven may not be forced. The answer lies in Plunkett’s patient prayerful method which Heaven has undoubtedly rewarded with the Catholic Church on earth in his Canonisation on 12 October 1975. Let us never forget that date.

3. The Coming of the Holy Ghost

The vindication of Plunkett was without doubt precisely achieved after the calumnies of his show trial in 1681. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate sent by the Father and Son lacks no precision. Catholicism is not a wishy washy and a woolly religion it is clearly defined in dogma and the lives of Holy men and women such as Plunkett – it is frighteningly powerful. To advocate requires verbal aggression and rhetorical flourishes. Clarity and an understanding of certainty and gravity. Plunkett was a Catholic Irish Archbishop doing his job of pastoral teaching in Ireland which required skilful preaching. The English Stuart non-Catholic machine dragged him to London out of Ireland and after his cruel death the Holy Spirit (the Advocate) spoke up for him eloquently until Heaven and earth both demanded his Canonisation rightly in 1975. You cannot keep a good man down and certainly not a man of Plunkett’s grace and goodness. The message for English Catholicism is wake up and take a few risks not with the tenets of Catholicism but with yourselves as individual Catholics. We must aim for a strictly clear cut and accurately defined pastoral teaching which has a distinct and proper message. For example Homosexuality is not a burning issue and should be settled on the altar of Catholic Charity not by condemnation of its practice by homosexuals. We cannot determine their lives and actions. It is for the Bishops to lead the Church as Plunkett did and put his life on the line. Clearly English Bishops and Irish Bishops do not have the same threat to their security that Plunkett had to face but the same principle applies put the Church and your flock before yourself – a difficult one to answer. The answer lies in true sorrow for your failings and Confession and Absolution with Holy Communion. Then the inspiration will be found by all the Catholic faithful. Do not be afraid of the power of Catholicism rather harness it to the work of all in our Church. Above all do not weaken your resolve – Catholic or non-Catholic.

4. The Glorious Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

As Plunkett had many trials and tribulations in the latter stages of his life he was without doubt devoted to Our Lady like all good Catholics then and now and consoled by the Mother of God. She taught him the way of the Rosary and his actual path through life especially when the going got really though. This once again came down to reality as only Our Lady can teach her understanding. To understand is to see clearly and be definitive. We may be sure Plunkett did not stumble on this stone of uncertainty – he trusted Our Lady as only Irish do to guide him through life.

5. The Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven

Yes eternal happiness for Plunkett as we hope to follow. No one wants the darkness and damnation not even the Prince of Darkness Himself. Plunkett prays for all his flock living and dead – St Oliver will never neglect us. Let us always ask for forgiveness and forgive each other. That is the hardest lesson of all for a Catholic to learn however many times he says those words (Lord’s Prayer). Thus I end with my plea to St Oliver – hear our pleas St Oliver for God’s mercy and support us before the Heavenly Judgement seat in our moment of the Almighty Father’s discerning scrutiny upon each one of us.

6. Afterword

Plunkett was the top Catholic Bishop in 1680 – 1681 appointed in Ireland. The Stuart regime of Charles II was taking a real risk in extraditing Plunkett to London and executing him. It could have caused a foreign invasion such was this violation of the Irish Catholic hierarchy traditionally respected by the Stuarts even Elizabethan England. Thus Plunkett, his supporters and the common man might well have expected a different outcome with Plunkett being allowed back to his Archbishopric. This analysis shows there is no inevitability in these matters and Plunkett was “unlucky” to undergo his ordeal in Tyburn and execution. Yet it did not fall to chance to clinch the issue.