Wednesday, 28 March 2012 14:56

Homily: Chrism Mass

Written by Bishop Les Tomlinson
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Sacred Heart Cathedral, Bendigo

As we gather for the Mass of Chrism in this beautiful Cathedral, we are given the opportunity to reflect together on a significant aspect of our faith. Traditionally, the Chrism Mass helps us to focus on the sacramental life of the Church, as we bless the holy oils that will be used in the celebration of four of the seven sacraments. This reminds us that God communicates divine life to each of us by means of the sacraments.

So, at the heart of this morning’s liturgy is the blessing of the holy oils – the oil for anointing catechumens and anointing the sick, and the chrism for the great sacraments that confer the Holy Spirit: confirmation, priestly ordination and episcopal ordination. In the sacraments, the Lord touches us through the elements of creation, and the unity between creation and redemption is made visible. The sacraments are an expression of the physicality of our faith, which embraces the whole person, body and soul. Bread and wine are fruits of the earth and work of human hands. The Lord chose them to be bearers of his presence. Oil is the symbol of the Holy Spirit and at the same time it points us towards Christ: referred to in the scriptures as "the anointed one".

Our liturgy today also has a special significance as it focuses on the great gift of priesthood, and the simple rite demonstrates the special relationship that exists between a bishop and his priests, as we renew our commitment to priestly service and celebrate the unity of our presbyterate. The oils are blessed on just one occasion during the liturgical year in this remarkable celebration of the unity of priests and people around the bishop, as we gather as a faith community from across the Diocese of Sandhurst.

Furthermore, our ministerial priesthood has been generated and is sustained by the faith community, to which we as priests belong. At the end of Mass the blessed oils will be taken to each parish to be used in the celebration of the sacraments, through which Jesus is able to bring to us and to the diocese, healing, reconciliation and peace.

The oils also represent our initiation into the life of grace and into the Church in Baptism and Confirmation as well as the special consecration of priestly ministry. They represent also the community, which brings Christ’s care in a special way to the sick and those at the end of their life. These oils remind us that the Church is the community within which we realise how our entire life is embraced by the loving care of God. Therefore, this blessing of the Oils also reminds us of how our fundamental unity within our Diocese is built upon the sacramental life of the Church.

This is what we need in our lives and in the world. As we face the problems and challenges of life, at times we can even begin to believe that God is distant. This is never so, for we have a tremendous gift in the sacramental life of the Church, and we are reminded in the celebration of each sacrament that God is not far, but rather: God is near us.

The readings of this Mass focus on the action of anointing. In the Old Testament, anointing was a sign of being taken into God’s service. For us as Christians, anointing is never a question of being endowed personally with earthly power and status. It is quite the opposite. Those anointed to serve in the Church, those called to any ministry in the Church, can no longer consider themselves to be the central figures of their own ministry. We are taken into God’s service. Our ministry is not something then that derives from us ourselves. It comes from our anointing with the oil of the Holy Spirit. We become ministers of the Spirit in the measure in which we follow the path of Jesus, whom we remember in Holy Week as the one who emptied himself.

We have heard in the Gospel of the words and action of Jesus in the Synagogue of his own town. Jesus tells his hearers that the prophecy of the anointed one, who was to come, is realised in Him: he is God's Anointed One. He is not a prophet for himself or of himself; all his actions are entirely at the service of the Father's mission. His does not cling to equality with God; he does not seek himself, but lives for the One who sent him.

As sharers in the ministerial priesthood of Christ, we priests and bishop are called to model ourselves on Jesus. Our service is to be total and generous in the service of others and of our God. There is no room for complacency or self-serving. We must be open to an ever deepening relationship with Jesus, nurtured by prayer and the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation. In this way we ensure that our concern does not concentrate on ourselves, and we are able to give of ourselves joyfully in our priestly ministry and lead our people towards our loving God. In serving our God and people, we benefit ourselves in deepening our relationship with our God.

This opportunity to celebrate the Chrism Mass is directly linked to the events we recall in Holy Week, where we contemplate the love of God for us, as we recall the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Placed central to these events is the account of the Last Supper, where Jesus gives the Church the gift of himself in the Eucharist and for priests and bishops; it highlights the sharing in his ministerial priesthood and mission.

Our responsibility is to continue this work and also most importantly, to provide for its continuation beyond our own participation. We are not only called to minister to our people’s present needs, but also we are to lead them forward and to encourage them to take a part in leading others. Especially we priests are to foster a consciousness in the youth, of God’s call to them to share in this work, and offer encouragement and support that will give them confidence to respond generously to God’s call.

Experience and reflection teaches us that we do not labour in the Lord’s vineyard alone and unaided, but that the Lord himself is there beside us. Daily, our attitude and confidence needs to radiate this reality to others.

In a few moments the Liturgy will lead us to the opportunity of renewing our commitment to our priestly ministry. My brother priests, today we are reminded of the wonderful gift and privilege we have in bringing Christ to the world. Let us pray together that we may grow in our love of God, our vocation and the people we are called to serve. Together, let us make this a real moment of renewal, where we open ourselves up the Holy Spirit who enlivens our faith and ministry, so that our lives and work may be renewed.