Effecting the ongoing work of our redemption - Chrism Mass 2020

Decrease font size
Increase font size
Print this page
Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Effecting the ongoing work of our redemption - Chrism Mass 2020

The celebration of the Chrism Mass each year invites reflection on the gift and mystery of the ministerial priesthood in the Church.

This year the extraordinary times through which we are passing gives a very particular setting for reflection on the priestly ministry in the Church. When a priest is denied the opportunity to celebrate the Mass and sacraments with his people, it poses the question: what does it mean to be a priest and what is the essence of his ministry?

Priests understand their ministry as pastoral involvement with the people they are called to serve. They are pastors working within a parish community. The image of the Good Shepherd inspires priests to see their life as intimately tied to the lives of the people. They want to have the “smell of the sheep”.

The Lord taught that a good shepherd will know his own and they will know him. The priest reaches out to the people of his parish. He knows their name, their history and their joys and their sorrows. He lives among the people and wants to walk with them.

The threat of the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus has required governments, following advice of health professionals, to impose strong measures restricting social interaction. This has meant that priests cannot say Mass with their parish community. They are being asked not to visit the infirm and the sick in nursing homes. Their usual sacramental ministry is reduced almost to nothing. They cannot mix with the people in normal social interaction over a cup of tea or coffee.

Having to say Mass alone is not an easy thing for a priest whose whole orientation to towards serving the community and offering the Mass with and for the people. Priests know that the Eucharist is the "the source and summit of the Christian life", as the Vatican Council taught. Priests are also conscious, as the Catholic Catechism teaches, that "the other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it". (CCC 1324).

In speaking of the life and ministry of priests, the Vatican Council taught that “no Christian community can be built up unless it has its basis and centre in the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist”. (PO 6) We are a sacramental Church and the heart of its sacramental life is the Mass.

Pope St John Paul II taught, “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist” (EE 1), adding, “This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church.” This mystery is that on her pilgrimage through history Christ has been with the Church in this most tangible of ways.

The experience of recent weeks when priests cannot celebrate public Masses invites us to reflect on what the Mass is. Indeed it invites priests to reflect on their role as the celebrant of the liturgy.

The Council taught that “the ministerial priest, acting in the person of Christ, brings about the Eucharistic Sacrifice”. The priest is not merely acting in a role but he expresses a sacramental identification with Christ, the eternal High Priest. In this the priest links the act of consecration of the bread and wine with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

The Vatican II document on the priesthood states: “In the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which priests fulfil their greatest task, the work of our redemption is being constantly carried on,” and says, “And hence the daily celebration of Mass is strongly urged, since even if there cannot be present a number of the faithful, it is still an act of Christ and of the Church.” (PO 12)

The priest may be saying a Mass in an empty church, but that Mass is a powerful sacramental moment: grace and mercy flow forth from the altar and spread across humanity. Like the waters that flow from the side of the temple, described by the prophet Ezekiel (Ez 47), so salvation flows forth from the altar where the priest celebrates the sacred mystery which is the Mass.

Words from the Letter to the Hebrews are most appropriate at this time; “During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death.” (Heb 5:7) The priest, at every Mass, when he stands in the person of Christ offers up prayer and entreaty to Almighty God. They are aloud and also in silent tears, crying out for the mercy of God for humanity and calling down the saving power of God.

Tonight in this Chrism Mass we reflect on the role of the priest every time he celebrates Mass. Acting in the person of Christ, he effects the ongoing work of our redemption.   

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Tuesday 7 April 2020

View the celebration of the Chrism Mass at St Mary's Cathedral by clicking here