Diocesan Administrator Homily: 2015 Chrism Mass
Chrism Mass Homily of Diocesan Administrator, Very Rev Peter G Williams, St Patrick’s Cathedral Parramatta, Wednesday 1 April 2015
Gathering together as the people and clergy who are the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta, we are conscious that this is a unique and historic moment in our short history as a local Church. For this is the first Chrism Mass we are celebrating without a diocesan bishop.
I am very grateful to the Bishop Emeritus of Parramatta, Kevin Manning, in coming to our aid as the principal celebrant of the Mass and for his indispensable role in the consecration of the Chrism.
Given we have this episcopal lacuna it provides us with the opportunity to reflect on the importance of this liturgy.
The practice of blessing of oil for sacramental use in the Church is very ancient and is attested to by the Church Fathers and, in particular, St Cyril of Jerusalem and St Ambrose of Milan about 1700 years ago!
Oil pressed from olives – its very production evoking the image of sacrifice! – has had a time-honoured place in both Hebrew and Christian history as a source of wellbeing and also as a sign of God’s blessing in formal recognition of kingly, priestly and prophetic roles.
Blessing the oils used in initiation this close to the Triduum is quite practical since the Easter Vigil is the normative celebration for initiation of new members into the Church.
After the Second Vatican Council Blessed Paul VI added to the Chrism Mass the priests’ renewal of their ordination promises of priestly fidelity and pastoral service.
This symbolic linking of the priests’ ministry with that of the bishop reminds the whole local Church that the bishop is the source of the Diocese’s sacramental life and the oils that are consecrated and blessed are then administered sacramentally by the priests in the parishes, chaplaincies and other pastoral settings.
Thus, when priests anoint those to be baptised and chrismate the newly baptised, attend to the sick and anoint them, there is a direct link to the ministry of the bishop.
That is why this liturgical moment in the life of the local Church is special – for there is no other occasion in the year (except perhaps for the installation of a new bishop) when the local Church of Parramatta is revealed – the baptised represented by parishes, chaplaincies and agencies – with the college of deacons, the presbyterium and the bishop in the Cathedral church reminds us of who we are.
But a word of caution. Whilst this might seem like a cosy gathering of the faithful that celebrates our identity there remains the question that if we know who we are, what are we to do?
As always, the Word of God proclaimed already in our assembly contains its challenges. The role of the prophet of God is expressed in the first reading by Isaiah, who reminds the people of Israel that they all have a responsibility as “priests of the Lord” as “ministers of our God” to reach out in the name of justice and to inaugurate a new order that will testify to their responsibility to bring all nations to understand that the God of Israel is the God of all nations.
That this passage is reprised in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus at His home synagogue is invited to read the scripture at what is, in reality, the early stages of His mission has a potency that is not lost on us: Jesus’ mission comes about because Jesus is the anointed one – the Messiah or, in Greek, the Christ (from which the very word Chrism is derived), and that Jesus’ mission – as He defines it, bringing the whole world the Good News of God’s reconciling and unconditional love – becomes our mission by virtue of the fact that all those baptised are baptised into Christ.
There is, as we are all aware, an urgency in the world in which we live to take seriously this call to reach out to those who desperately need the healing touch of Christ and a conduit to experience the love of God made visible in Him. The Church for all its foibles and weaknesses is the very instrument by which this can be achieved.
What is the beginning point?
A few years back, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in a homily for the Chrism Mass in Rome made the following point about the sacramental oil.
He said: “In popular etymologies a connection was made, even in ancient times, between the Greek word ‘elaion’ – oil – and the word ‘eleos’ – mercy. In fact, in the various sacraments, consecrated oil is always a sign of God’s mercy. So the meaning of priestly anointing always includes the mission to bring God’s mercy to those we serve. In the lamp of our lives, the oil of mercy should never run dry. Let us always obtain it from the Lord in good time – in our encounter with His word, in our reception of the sacraments, in the time we spend with Him in prayer.”
Then, Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis, in his first Chrism Mass as Bishop of Rome, less than two weeks after his election, added this thought about the sacramental oil.
He said: “The readings and Psalm of the Chrism Mass speak of God’s ‘anointed ones’: the suffering Servant of Isaiah, King David and Jesus our Lord. All three have this in common: the anointing they receive is meant in turn to anoint God’s faithful people, whose servants they are. They are anointed for the poor, for prisoners, for the oppressed. A fine image of this ‘being for’ others can be found in the Psalm 133: ‘It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down upon the collar of his robe.’ The image of spreading oil, flowing down from the beard of Aaron upon the collar of his sacred robe, is an image of the priestly anointing which, through Christ, the Anointed One, reaches the ends of the earth, represented by the robe. The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person; it overflows down to ‘the edges’. This anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. The ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid – and the heart bitter. Instead, may those who need it most receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness which Jesus, the Anointed One, came to bring us.”
To make this prayerful wish a reality, Pope Francis, on 13 March 2015, announced an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy for the universal Church to commence on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (8 December 2015) and conclude on the Solemnity of Christ the King next year (20 November 2016).
So there is a very real link between what we do here tonight and our preparation for this forthcoming Year of Mercy. All of us as anointed in Christ should exhibit the mercy of God in our dealings with others. It applies not only to the ordained in their sacramental and pastoral encounters, but to all those engaged in the mission of the Church.
I expect that by the time we gather for the Chrism Mass in 2016 we will have welcomed and installed the fourth Bishop of Parramatta. Let us pray that when he comes here, he will find a Church fully committed to the task of mission that has as its centre the Gospel of Mercy.Go to Chrism Mass 2015 Photo Gallery
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