“The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me”
The prophet Isaiah unleashes something very rich in the very first line of tonight’s scripture. So much so Jesus applies that very same text to His own life as He unrolled the scroll in the synagogue that day in Nazara. It was a homecoming for Jesus. Nazara was the place where he grew up. Places are important to all of us, where we come from, where we call home, where we return to.
Ossory, proud of its hurling tradition across Kilkenny and Laois, has many clubs that are wrapped up in the parish identity. Identity is important. And Jesus returns to Nazareth, to the place where He grew to maturity. It is believed that en-Nasira with a population of around 10,000 is that place of Nazareth today.
“… for the Lord has anointed me”. We are all anointed and the Mass of Chrism celebrates that anointing. It’s the night we bless oils. Oils that represent the mechanism of every aspect of the lives of our 42 parishes. Oils for baptism celebrations. Oils for ceremonies of anointing the sick. Oils for confirmation liturgies. Oils for moments of ordination – priest and bishop, as we await the announcement of the 95th successor to Kieran here in Ossory.
It’s the night we renew priestly promises. The night we return to the promises of our Ordination Day and remember what was said then and heard by those who were with us, many now gone to their eternal reward. I am very conscious of you our priests on a night when you would normally publicly renew your Priestly Promises. Tonight you will do so in your own presbyteries and homes. There is an aloneness to this evening that shouldn’t be there but know that I and Bishops before me and the people of your parish deeply appreciate and cherish your ministry, particularly throughout this very challenging pandemic.
I think tonight of priests who died in the past year – Jim Cassin, John Lawlor, Percy Grant and Jimmy Dollard. I include Eamonn Tobin a priest of Orlando and past pupil of St. Kieran’s College. I very much think of our priests who have recovered from Covid: Patsie Guilfoyle, Mark Condon, John Delaney and Bishop Seamus Freeman. Also in my prayers are a number of men journeying through illness at the moment, I am particularly conscious at this time of Fr Pat Comerford.
In the past year Michael Norton, Paschal Moore, Patrick O’Farrell, Liam Barron and Noel Maher all celebrated Golden Jubilee of Priesthood, while Sean O’Connor and Mark Condon both marked their Silver Jubilee. This pandemic restricts how we celebrate significant moments but it must not impede our acknowledgement and appreciation of same.
It’s the night we gather as a diocesan family. A family of 42 parishes. A family comprising of women and men who are the backbone of every parish. On Chrism night I applaud your commitment and dedication to parish, a dedication that is rooted in understanding and living your baptismal calling.
The past three months have been testing on priests and people, on all of us, with our churches closed to public worship. For people of faith to miss Easter ceremonies for the second year in succession is asking a huge sacrifice indeed. And so much has been done at diocesan and parish level to ensure best practice is in place. Many of you roll up your sleeves when a call is made, excelling in the new pandemic ministries of stewarding, social distancing and sanitizing. I and all of you very much look forward to the reopening of our churches for public worship as soon as it’s possible, strictly abiding by all the guidelines.
Where we come from is so important. Remember Jesus’ return to Nazareth. We all have great respect for the parish jersey. The Chrism Mass is truly a celebration of the combined ministry in all our parishes. The Chrism Mass subverts rival identities, we mightn’t be kind to each other on the hurling pitch but surely there are resources we can share? Surely there are economies of scale that could be considered? Surely there are creative ideas that can be explored?
The church we reopen will be different to the one that closed its doors to public worship in late December. A church that has been closed for seven out of the last twelve months. We return to public worship a hope-filled people, stronger than ever in our parish identity, stronger in our pastoral area connection with neighbouring parish communities, stronger in our appreciation of the diocese animating the life of every one of our parishes. Simply put together we are stronger. Ní neart go chur le chéile. And Chrism celebrates this ‘together’ piece. We are stronger because we are all anointed at baptism to bring good news to the poor, freedom to captives and announce the Lord’s year of favour. Announce it from the Ossory rooftops. The spirit of the Lord rests on each of us this Chrism night.