Funeral Mass - Fr Ray Wells

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Fr Ray Wells passed from this life at 10pm on Holy Saturday night. He died as parishes were concluding their Easter Vigil Ceremonies. The Liturgy of the Church on Holy Saturday night is the great liturgy of the Church’s Year. It proclaims the joy of the Resurrection and focusses upon the Sacrament of Baptism by which we are able to be made partakers in the Resurrection of the Lord. St Paul’s Letter to the Romans is read where it says, “When we were baptized in Christ Jesus we were baptized in his death … so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life”. (Rom 6:3) Baptism, St Paul teaches, assures us that we will imitate Christ in his Resurrection.

The Easter Vigil not only proclaims the Resurrection of the Lord, but proclaims our participation in it: we will be raised to glory. So Fr Ray passed from this life as the Church proclaimed this singular and comforting truth.

It is with this faith that we celebrate this memorial Mass for Fr Ray today.

Ray was firstly a Christian, baptized into Jesus Christ. Ray was also a priest. On the times I visited him at Rosary Villa, firstly shortly after I became Archbishop and then a couple of times in recent weeks, I was struck by the fact that he had a picture on his bedside table of his Ordination day blessing his parents. Indeed he had other pictures focused upon his priestly identity. Clearly his consciousness of his priesthood was important to him. Since his ordination in 1957, he has served as a priest in a number of places across Tasmania. His final official appointment was to South Hobart in 1991.

A priest’s life can never really be measured in terms of practical or physical results. It is the hidden work of God at work through the priestly sacramental, preaching and pastoral ministry that will not be able to be outwardly assessed or calculated. God chooses us and works in and through us. We priests know only too well that we are earthenware jars which hold a treasure. We are conscious of our limitations and frailties. We know that we make mistakes, despite our best intentions. We, however, do offer ourselves that in some way God may use us for his own kind purposes.

The priesthood is a wondrously mysterious thing. The oft quoted words of the Letter to the Hebrews captures the role of the priest in these words: “Every High Priest has been taken out of mankind and is appointed to act for men in their relations with God” (Heb. 5:1). For this a priest is set apart. He is ordained and takes on the sacramental grace of the priesthood. He is a priest, not just someone doing priestly things. The Western Catholic tradition requires a priest to embrace the discipline of celibacy. He is thus singularly dedicated to his ministry and the care of the people entrusted to him. He is called “Father”, a humbling term which acknowledges that he has a role of being a nurturer of people in the spiritual life. He is seen as a pastor modelling himself on Christ the Good Shepherd.

A priest is a man of prayer. Again the Church places on him the expectation of saying the Divine Office daily. He is to pray this prayer not just as a private devotion but in and with and for the Church. He joins a chorus of praise and petition of God. Priests in reading the Scriptures are drawn constantly into the contemplation of heavenly things. A priest is often asked to pray for the needs of his people, and so he becomes a dedicated intercessor. He carries in his heart the needs of his people. He lifts up his hands before the Lord on behalf of those who have turned to him in their struggles.

The Prophet Jeremiah (3:15) gives the promise of the Lord that he will give the people “shepherds after my own heart”. A Priest always has the image of Christ the Good Shepherd before him. He has a desire to configure his heart to that of God. He senses the pulsing love of the Lord for his people. Priests will do this imperfectly, but they are oriented in this direction. Some do it wonderfully well and people sense the grace of God in their words and actions.

The priesthood is not the possession of the priest, he knows that he shares in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. Christ alone is the Eternal High Priest. A priest unites himself with Christ the Priest. He acts in persona Christi capatis.  Christ becomes the principle of his being. A man of prayer, a priest is drawn more and more into the divine mysteries that he celebrates. He becomes more and more one with the salvific work of the Lord realized particularly in the Holy Mass.

Today we commend Fr Ray Wells to the Lord. We are entrusting him firstly as a Christian acknowledging that through his baptism he is promised to be able to share in the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We also pray for Fr Ray Wells as a priest. A man who loved and lived his priesthood, who was a priest of Jesus Christ. We ask the Lord to receive one who have given his life to priestly service. We commend him to Christ the Good Shepherd.

Gathering today as priests and people we pray for the repose of his soul.

Eternal Rest grant unto him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.


Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, April 11, 2015