Chrism Mass Homily

Bishop Niall Coll

Chrism Mass Homily 2024

St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, 27 March 2024

If you’ve ever visited the United States, you may have experienced American humour about the taste of traditional Irish food – boiled to death many chuckle – going so far as to assert that in hell the Irish will do the cooking, adding to the torment! Sense of humour required here! A prime example of our culinary ineptitude, one might add, is our traditional salad: a few dry lettuce leaves, some quartered tomato, a boiled egg and a blob of salad cream. No proper oil! But I can hear you say things have changed here; we have become more sophisticated. And you are correct!

Visitors to Mediterranean countries know well the long attachment there to the olive tree and its oil: the oil of gladness, the oil which the Psalmist tell us makes the face shine. Drive through the American Midwest and you can spend days passing through fields of corn. Go through the Mediterranean countries and you can meet field after field of olive trees, playing in the light, tough and gentle at the same time.

Tonight, in continuity with the many generations of Ossory bishop, priests and faithful who have gone before us, we bless oil and consecrate chrism (oil mixed with balsam) for the various sacramental anointings in the Diocese during the year ahead. Tonight, too, the Liturgy highlights the spiritual anointing priests receive at their ordination inviting us to ponder the gospel’s account of Jesus, beginning his messianic mission, being invisibly anointed by the Holy Spirit,: ‘The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me’.

Mention of oil, we know well, runs through the Bible from Jacob’s anointing of the stone pillar (Gen 28) to the Good Samaritan who poured oil and wine on the man beaten and left half-dead (Lk 10) and many more instances. And, of course, the psalmist proclaims, ‘You have prepared a banquet for me / in the sight of my foes. / My head you have anointed with oil; my cup is overflowing’ (Ps 22).

The Old Testament anointings and the blessings they bestow are all taken up in that of Jesus, and his in turn flows on to us. Our Chrism Mass shouts this aloud. Through the sacraments what runs through Scripture and the living Tradition about Jesus, his life and ministry, death and resurrection, flows on to us.

Every Catholic is gloriously anointed starting with baptism and as required, with the oil of the sick. Think too of the Sacrament of Confirmation and the ordination of a priest. The priest’s hands are anointed. And in the anointing of the sick, the healing power of God touches the sick and dying. Truly, the Catholic salad is well-oiled.

Observe, too, that oil is versatile; it multi-tasks. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes its use in limbering up, healing, soothing, bringing health and strength in ordinary life (cf CCC 1293). And oil’s uses – in its many different forms – go further: doors and hinges can creak, like us; try WD40. Machines or bicycles can grind horribly; oil them and all is smooth. Food can be indigestible; try Extra Virgin. ‘Have you checked your car for oil?’, my late father would pointedly ask when I visited.

Here we come to the point. All these uses indicate oil as reality, oil as metaphor and to the Christian imagination they evoke the Holy Spirit, the Oil of God. As St Irenaeus says, the Father anoints, the Son is anointed, and the anointing itself is the Holy Spirit. He makes us all, by our faith, baptism and confirmation a line of kings, priests, prophets, people to serve his God and Father and some of us also priests in the ministerial, ordained sense.

He makes us all, and us priests too, capable of bringing the good news to the poor, liberty to captives and sight to the blind. He anoints us so we can anoint, and the holy oil fills hearts and lives, which flow in the world. Without the anointing of the Holy Spirit, our Christian life will be lack-lustre, a grind, an unending round of unawakened possibilities, touching no-one.

Similarly, our priesthood and ministry, if it does not ooze the sense of joy and mission which anointing in the Holy Spirit signals will stagnate in ‘function without unction’, as Pope Francis tellingly warned in his first Chrism Mass as Pope

Let’s pray tonight for a deeper sense of our baptismal and priestly anointing, for an inner conviction that is truly collaborative and synodal. With such awareness, sometimes at least, we can be on form, a touch inspired. If ordained – in our preaching, our celebrating of the Eucharist and the other Sacraments, our pastoral care. If lay faithful – in our parenting perhaps, in our solidarity with colleagues at work, in help to our neighbours and the needy, in use of time and talents. And all of us, at all times in our prayer.

This is the grace of the Chrism Mass. This is the call and the vision: that all of us, lay, clergy, religious, each and all of us, bear one another’s burdens and further the mission of the Church, and thus let the holy oils taste and flavour our lives and world more abundantly. May we channel to the world, to souls, to lives, often so dry and insipid, the healing, flavouring and strengthening oil of God that flows from the eternal Olive Tree of the crucified, risen and glorified Christ. Amen

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