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Warm welcome for Bishop Gilbert

— New Bishop of Aberdeen dedicates his ministry to Our Lady during Episcopal Ordination

Catholics in Aberdeen Diocese welcomed their eleventh bishop with genuine warmth at St Mary of the Assumption Cathedral on Monday.

“I could not imagine a warmer welcome than the one I have received here,” Bishop Hugh Gilbert told the 700 plus strong congregation attending his Episcopal Ordination in Aberdeen on the Feast of the Assumption.

The former abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Pluscarden, Elgin, had personally requested his Episcopal ordination be held on the feast day, which he referred to as ‘a feast that lifts us all heavenwards.’

During his first address to the Catholics of Aberdeen as bishop he ‘entrusted’ himself and his new ministry, and Aberdeen diocese to Our Lady’s ‘motherhood in the spirit,’ and said that Her Assumption was a sign of the ‘power of the risen Christ.’

Called by the Pope

Apostolic nuncio Archbishop Antonio Mennini brought the Papal mandate and Pope Benedict XVI’s blessing to Bishop Gilbert, 59, for his Episcopal Ordination.

In the mandate the Holy See thanked retiring Bishop Peter Moran of Aberdeen and expressed delight that ‘someone of outstanding learning’ was becoming the new ‘shepherd’ in the diocese. It also contained a message urging Bishop Gilbert, an Englishman who converted to Catholicism at 18, to continue to ‘mimic St Benedict.’

“It is a privilege and a joy to be asked to serve the Church, and the wider community, in the beautiful Diocese of Aberdeen, where I have already lived as a monk for 37 years,” the new bishop said.

While bishop-elect, he had met privately with the canons in the Chapter and made his profession of Faith and oath of loyalty to the Holy Father and the Church teachings.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, was the principal consecrator at the Episcopal ordination of Bishop Gilbert. Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, a former Bishop of Aberdeen, and Bishop Moran co-consecrated at the joyful celebrations.

The Mass was concelebrated by Bishop Gilbert’s brother bishops in Scotland, including Bishops Emeriti Mone, Murray and Taylor, and priests from around the diocese and from as far away as Romania.

The congregation included Aberdeen’s Lord Provost, Bishop Bob Gilles of the Scottish Episcopal Church and many representatives from the religious life, including the monks of Pluscarden Abbey—who played an integral role in the bishop’s Ordination Mass—the Sisters of the Gospel of Life, members of the new bishop’s family and composer James MacMillan.


Bishop Moran welcomed the congregation to the celebrations, his last ‘two hours’ as Aberdeen’s bishop, and spoke of Bishop Gilbert’s life as a monk.

Bishop Gilbert entered Pluscarden Abbey in 1974 and made his final profession in March 1979. He was ordained a priest by Archbishop Conti on June 29, 1982 and was elected abbot in 1992. He served in this role for 19 years.

“Not only is Pluscarden the spiritual centre of our diocese, it acts as a magnet and focus for those seeking a deeper understanding of God’s love for them,” Bishop Moran said before adding ‘neither Pluscarden Abbey nor its abbot are remote from the pressures and concerns of the contemporary world.’

In his homily Cardinal Keith O’Brien reiterated the message of the Holy Father when he visited Scotland last September by saying ‘We are all called upon to be saints’ and he also spoke of the new bishop’s experience and writing on vocations in life.

“The bishop is aware more than most new bishops of the needs of this diocese,” the cardinal said. “I know that Bishop Hugh is fully aware of what his particular vocation is to seek that knowledge and love of God which is indeed beyond all knowledge and to be filled with that utter fullness of God.”

The cardinal added: “He is to be a steward of the mysteries of Christ in the Church entrusted to him; as a father and a brother he is to love all those whom God places in his care; and he is never to forget that in the Catholic Church he is incorporated into the College of Bishops and consequently should have a constant concern for all the churches and gladly come to the aid and support of churches in need.”

Prior to the ordination Archbishop Conti of Glasgow said the new bishop was ‘a wise and holy man who knows the diocese well and who is much respected by the people and the priests.’

On Monday Bishop Gilbert pointed out light-heartedly that Archbishop Conti was ‘compounding his crimes’ of ordaining him a deacon, priest and blessing him as abbot by co-consecrating him as bishop.

Bishop’s message

The new bishop said that he was not yet at the point where he had finalised his pastoral priorities but that his years in the monastery had given him one simple answer, Christ.

“To put it Liturgically, it is the discovery of Easter, when Christ passed over from death to life,” he explained. “Everything that we as Christians are springs from that moment.

“He is the one the Holy Spirit is working to bring alive in our hearts. So what other priority could we have?

He went on to say, on the Feast of the Assumption, that Mary’s Assumption into heaven was one of the first signs of the ‘power of the risen Christ.’

Pluscarden’s legacy

The Pluscarden community lifted their voices in Liturgical song throughout the ordination. In doing so they reminded the congregation of their new bishop’s roots and his first spiritual home.

After an extensive vote of thanks, the new bishop spoke of the ‘one thank you that prevails in a way over all others.’

“It is thanks to Pluscarden that I am what I am, the good bits anyway,” he said.

He was called on in June by the Holy Father to lead the Catholics of Aberdeen.

To those who have asked him how strange it must seem to be leaving the monastery after 37 years, Bishop Gilbert said that it was like ‘being on land and all of a sudden finding yourself on the sea.’ However he added monastic life had a cross section of humanity, and was a microcosm of the Church, teasing the religious community by saying: “Far be it from me to deny there are odd people in monasteries.”

Last week the monks at Pluscarden elected Dom Anselm Atkinson as their new abbot. Bishop Gilbert said he is looking forward to the blessing of the new abbot in the near future.

Pic: Paul McSherry

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