Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has warned that the Catholic Church in Ireland can only experience God's strength when it renounces any sense of rank, privilege or superiority.

Addressing a congregation of leading churchmen and churchwomen who helped to organise initiatives including Pope Francis' visit here, he said the church's strength would not spring from numbers or political influence.

Archbishop Martin, who hosted Pope Francis' visit just over five weeks ago, was delivering a homily at a Mass in Maynooth College in recognition of the contribution of those church workers and volunteers to the National Bishops' Conference and the recent World Meeting of Families.

He told his fellow bishops and others in the College Chapel that one of the Pontiff's strongest statements here was his warning to the Irish bishops not to repeat "the attitudes of aloofness and clericalism" that at times in their history had "given the real image of an authoritarian, harsh and autocratic church".

He described the Pope's words as a call to the hierarchy and to the entire church here to be "authentically church in the new and changing religious culture in Ireland". 

The Archbishop of Dublin conceded that change causes uncertainty and even anxiety for some and that such a situation poses the danger of some Catholics developing a siege mentality and "rushing for comfort to what is familiar, avoiding risk and perhaps failing to allow the newness of Jesus to enter into and challenge" their hearts.

He said both the church's language and activity must always be marked by a style that reflects the love revealed in Jesus Christ.

He lamented the language of polarisation, sometimes bitter and personalised, in today's church, arguing that it "smothers true prophecy".

"The truth of Jesus Christ can only be spoken in charity," he cautioned.

He noted that many feel the church should respond more vigorously to the challenges that spring from a changed culture. 

"Certainly, the church must defend itself from unjust attack," he agreed but cautioned that the truth does not need polemics. 

"People's minds and hearts will be attracted to the truth not by polemics but by the coherence between our way of life and the message of Jesus Christ," he counselled.

"The strength of the church in our contemporary world will spring not from numbers or political influence but from that special strength which the Lord gives us in our weakness.  We can only experience that strength when we renounce any sense of rank or privilege or superiority," Archbishop Martin said.