19 April 2011 - Chrism Mass

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Chrism Mass
19 April 2011

Over the past five weeks, as we were reminded at the introduction to Palm Sunday Liturgy,  two days ago, that  “ we have been preparing in three ways, by works of charity, by prayer and fasting” for the celebration of the Lord’s paschal mystery. It is interesting to note how often the number three is repeated in other important moments during this special time of Holy Week.

During this week, in particular, we focus on the three elements of water, of light and of oil. Tonight, there is the focus on the element of oil, and again in three-fold manner as we move in a few minutes to the blessing of the oil of catechumens, the oil of the chrism and the oil of the sick.

In another way, there are three groups represented here this evening, the priests, the catechumens, and the people of God. Those who are being baptised during the Easter Vigil, will become members of the people of God, those who are priests serve the People of God in a particular way, as preachers of the Word, and celebrants of the Sacraments, in particular the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and the People of God are those who share these gifts and carry forward the Mission of the Church in a great variety of ways.

Tonight is an opportunity to reflect on the presence of each of us, and the particular way that we contribute to the well-being of the whole People of God through our faith and our sense of mission.

For those who are priests, there are constant reminders that things are not as they used to be. Each year when we gather for this occasion, we seem to be fewer in number and older as well. The manner in which the priesthood is exercised today is also very different for many of us. In my years as a young priest, there seemed to be more “disposable” time as it were, time available to take more initiatives of our own choosing, more time to visit homes and to be in the presence of the parishioners.

For a variety of reasons, things today are different, and there have been a number of studies and enquiries conducted among priests themselves to measure and express that difference. Some of these initiatives have proved to be disturbing and painful at times. But there is a positive side to the picture as well.

In the very experience of having confidence shaken, and the spirit bruised, and maybe status diminished or reputation questioned, there is the possibility to become more dependent on the strength of the Spirit, and more reliant on the power of the words of Christ that nothing can separate us from Christ’s abiding love and the saving promise of the Creator.

The spiritual writer, Ronald Rolheiser said in one of his reflections that the “great mystery of the priesthood is that it tries, however inadequately to give a human face of a wondrous God who walks with us even then things aren’t all pure.”1  Today, as in the past “you (my brother priests) are called by Christ to lead his people in love, to nourish them by your words, and to strengthen them through the sacraments.” 2

The Mass of the Oils is a very precious opportunity for me, on behalf of the People of God, to thank each and every one of you, the priests serving in the Archdiocese of Hobart, for your deep priestly commitment and your generous service over the past year. In a few minutes time, according to the format that we follow, you will be renewing that commitment. Although this renewal takes place each year, it is important that it not be seen simply as a formality, but that it is a serious gesture on the part of the priests, and on the part of the People of God, whom you serve.

I also wish to thank you, the People of God, and those whom you represent throughout the whole of Tasmania, for the love and support that you show to your priests, and the appreciation you have of the various elements of their ministry in happy times and in moments of sadness as well.

It has been through your encouragement and example that a number of adults, as yet not baptised, as well as you who have already been baptised in another Christian tradition, have discerned a call to also become members of the People of God, and we welcome you wholeheartedly again this evening. Some of you were present here in the Cathedral on the First Sunday of Lent, when you participated in the very meaningful Rite of Election.

Also here present are a representative group of young people who, during the course of the next twelve months, will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. The same Holy Spirit, who gives strength to the Priests, and to the wider people of God, will be given to you at Confirmation, to become your “teacher and guide.”

Yes, in a very real sense, the Spirit of the Lord is upon each and every one of us, as together we strive to bring the Good News to the poor, to bring freedom to those who are captives of other ways of thinking and behaving, and to encourage people to look at life and at God with new eyes.

Those words of Isaiah may have been written many centuries ago, they may have been repeated in the moving experience of Jesus in the temple, but they are being fulfilled today, by all three, you the priests, by you the catechumens and the candidates, and by you the People of God.


1 “Christ’s face in Today’s Priesthood”  9 October 2009

2 Preface of the Priesthood