Chrism Mass 2014

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My brothers in the priesthood, this Chrism Mass each year has particular meaning for us. It is when we gather with the particular purpose of consecration of the Oil of Chrism and the blessing the sacred oils which are used in Baptism and Anointing of the Sick. It is also the occasion when we renew of priestly promises. With the coming celebration of the most sacred mysteries of our faith – of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil – we are conscious of our priesthood in a special way. It is fitting that we prepare for these most solemn commemorations by renewing our priestly dedication.

This Chrism Mass provides us with a suitable moment to appreciate again the extraordinary privilege that is ours – we have been called and ordained as priests, sharing in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. Pope John Paul II spoke of his own priesthood as “gift and mystery”. We would see it in a similar way. We are aware that it is a gift given to us. We are often aware that we are priests not by our own choosing but by the choice of Almighty God. The words of Jesus at the Last Supper are entirely appropriate: “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15:16).

We know that being a priest is something of which we can never be worthy. We know we will never satisfactorily live up to its ideals. We are earthenware vessels that hold such a treasure (2 Cor 4:7).

We also know that our lives have been swept up in a mystery. Despite our own inadequacies and weaknesses God marvellously works through us. We see time and time again our own stumbling efforts are turned into something great. We know only too well that we are operating in the realm of grace. We see the Almighty do great things for us and in us and through us.

This Chrism Mass each year provides moment for each of us to appreciate afresh the gift and mystery of being a priest. It is a moment to come humbly before God to express our deep gratitude for the blessing of being called and ordained as a priest.

In the Gospel today we read a passage very familiar to us. The Lord, in the synagogue, locates the text from the prophet Isaiah which begins, “the spirit of the Lord has been given to me for he has anointed me”. The Lord later claims that this text is being fulfilled in him. 

At this Chrism Mass I would like to propose that we can interpret this text at a personal level and say that this text is being fulfilled in each of us. When we were ordained the Bishop laid hands on us and anointed our hands – the Spirit of the Lord has come upon us. By this action we were configured to Christ the Priest. We were changed at the very depth of our being – we became priests. It was not a role we assumed or a mission we accepted – it was this of course – but so much more. We received the grace of priesthood.

We became priests. Our very being was transformed. We became a new reality. From that moment our identity for all time is that we are priests, “according to the line of Melchisedek”. We entered a mystic realm whereby we were instruments of the actions of God.

Thus when we say the words, “I absolve you from your sins”, we were not speaking of our own authority or power. We were instruments of the action of God – “whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven” Jesus declared. We have spoken words and God has acted. At the moment of absolution we know that sin is forgiven. We know that mercy has been dispensed. We know that a person is fully reconciled with God.

And the person who has approached us in the confessional knows that God has acted through the priest. They know that the words of absolution which we pronounced have effected all that they have declared. They can go in peace with the assurance that forgiveness has been granted.

The priest has been able to do something wonderful for that penitent. Our words and actions have been the means of grace flowing upon the soul of the person. They have been set free from their sins. They have been restored in their relationship with God. They have received encouragement to move forward in their Christian life.

All this because God has acted through his priest. It is not hard to understand why Jesus said those extraordinary words to his disciples at the Last Supper – “I do not call you servants any more, I call you friends”. Jesus has drawn them into the most intimate circle of his ministry. He now looks upon them and he now looks upon us as “friends” and not just servants. The apostles and now ourselves as priests will be his agents as they faithfully do what he has asked them to do. They – and us – are the means by which his ministry continues.

This reaches its high point when he says to them, “Do this in memory of me”. This most sacred action, this parting gift, the Eucharist is entrusted to them and now to us. When we extend our hands over bread and wine and call down the Holy Spirit we know that this epiclesis prayer transforms material substances into the presence of the risen Lord among us.

We are agents of heavenly work being accomplished. We are agents of the saving and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers who come to us for spiritual nourishment. We are most intimately united with Christ the priest at this moment. We are doing what he wants most to do – that is, to feed those who believe in him with his body and blood. The significance of this is captured in the sixth chapter of St John, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, lives in me and I live in him”.

Brothers, we have these moments at this Chrism Mass to savour the gift and mystery of the priesthood in which we share. We have these moments to renew in our own hearts the desire to be a priest according to the mind and heart of Christ. We renew our own intention to live out our priestly life with dedication and gratitude.

Brothers, this night may the Lord visit each of you in the depths of his heart to renew his priestly charism within you.
Amen.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 12 April 2014