Chrism Mass, St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, 2018
It is a great joy to gather as our local church to celebrate the Chrism Mass. The whole Church is represented here: the Bishop and his priests; the laity; the consecrated religious. I welcome all who are involved in the life of our parishes — priests, Readers, Ministers of the Eucharist, members of pastoral and finance councils and representatives from many parishes across the Diocese and various groupings of post-primary students
The particular symbol of this evening’s Mass, which singles out part of the mystery of Holy Thursday, is the sign of oil. Christ got his name from it – Christ means the Anointed One. Jesus is the anointed one of God, the Christ; we are His anointed disciples, the priestly people of God. Each of the oils can symbolically stand for an important dimension of the mission of the Church. Their blessing tells us what we are about as a Church carrying on the work of Christ in the world of today.
The oil of catechumens is used to anoint those who are preparing for Baptism; it symbolises the salvation of Christ coming to them. It reminds us that the Church’s mission is one of conversion. Throughout Lent we have heard repeatedly the call to turn back to God. What does this mean for us today? The same thing it meant for the first followers of Christ. Go beyond the mind that you have. Repent. Live as though nothing in this world finally matters.
Our mission is to transform the world in accord with the Gospel. We are vehicles of Christ’s forgiveness, the means by which it is conveyed into the world. Christ does commission his priests to be the instruments of sacramental forgiveness. As priests, however, we are not just dispensers or agents of forgiveness and mercy. We are products of God’s mercy. There is a broader sense here as well, a sense in which these words apply to all Christians, priests and laity alike. Jesus is giving his Church the enormous privilege and responsibility of bearing the divine forgiveness to a fallen world.
Our mission is to work for justice in all areas of life. A steady teaching of the Bible is that God stands for justice and wants us to stand for it too. Jesus says, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” In these days we are all very aware of the need to protect the life of every child in the womb. This evening ask yourself: Is it just to terminate the life of the unborn child? Is it just that Down Syndrome or other illnesses deprive the unborn child of the right to birth and to life?
The attempt underway to impose a questionable right of the strongest, over and above, innocent life is a very slippery slope. To a woman in the grip of fear and traumatised – a quick death is proposed.This slippery slope, naively embraced by many convinced supporters, is too slippery to be defended as a right. On the contrary it depends on a cynical vision of society, tending more and more towards a subtle form of discrimination. Human life is sacrificed to the false gods of usefulness and career. Such a vision is unable to protect the dignity of the human person. The latter cannot be determined by social status, race, religion, usefulness and even less by physical appearance and good health; it is founded, rather, upon that equality which recognises everyone for who they are, and not for what they possess.
The oil of the sick reminds us that our mission from Christ is to continue his healing and reconciliation in the world. If you close your eyes to the wounds of the world, you have no right to say “My Lord and my God.” When you gather as parishes, especially in parish pastoral councils or parish finance committees, the most important questions do not pertain to the upkeep of the property or fundraising. The important questions on the table are these: What are the needs of our people? Where are they hurting? Is our parish a place where people feel at home? Are the people finding spiritual nourishment here? Is our parish a community of pastoral care? The mission of the Church is one of healing.Are you the kind of person who heals others, who brings calm and peace, who soothes troubled minds and spirits?
The consecration of the oil of chrism reminds us that we are the anointed of God in Christ. It is the oil of chrism that flows over the head of the bishop and anoints the hands of the priest: anointed to serve the people of God in the name of Christ.
If the Lord is my shepherd then we are merely shepherds relative to Christ, we act here and now in the person of Christ; to represent Christ’s person, as the liturgy expresses it. Because we depend on Jesus, all does not rest on our shoulders; the pastoral activity of the Church is representative of the action of Christ. We must be in tune with Christ, in harmony with Christ, attentive to that action which he exercises in every heart by means of his Holy Spirit who fills every part of the earth.
Jesus has responsibility for the people: Jesus carries the weight of our ministry: the first agony was his in Gethsemane, and our every cry is but a sharing in Jesus’ crying over Jerusalem or his weeping for Lazarus. We – the church, the parish, the world – are not the owners of the vineyard; it belongs to God; we are God’s tenants. The success of our mission rests in God. We are collaborators. In our humility and our weakness we participate in the pastoral service of Jesus who gives life.
We priests recognise our human limitations and weaknesses, yet for some reason known only to God, Jesus has chosen us to be his priests in ministry to his people. In this Mass we dedicate ourselves once again to serve God faithfully for you, our people. This evening we pray for the gift of becoming worthy of participating in the ministry of Christ, of his life, his death and his cross: to preach well the word of God; to celebrate the sacraments; to be spiritual leaders in the church and in the larger community.
We come here to renew our “yes”, with enthusiasm, with passion. We want to renew our “yes”, but as a realistic “yes”, praying that the Lord will sustain our promise. We renew our Ordination promises in the presence of the believing Church; for just as the priests in their way support the Church, they are supported in their ministry by you, the people. Now when we renew our Ordination promises, I ask the priests to make them with the Lord, who alone can support us. And I ask you all, who represent here the unity of this Diocese, to support us, also, with your prayers, so that in us the promising, and at the same time, the challenging words of St Paul may be fulfilled more and more in us: “[In every place] we are the aroma of Christ” (2 Cor 2:15).