Thursday 28 March 2024

Chrism Mass 2024 - Diocese of Elphin

I grew up with the idea that everybody has a first name and a family name, but it is not as simple as that. How we name people varies quite a lot from one culture to another. 

I have to confess that, when I meet people from Africa and Asia, I have never been entirely clear which is their given name and which name relates to their family of origin.  

In our Irish tradition, many of the family names are connected with who our parents and grandparents were and what they did for a living. There is an old shop not far from here and the name over the door is ‘MacGiollaEaspaig.’ Nowadays we would translate that as Gillespie, but it actually means ‘the son of the Bishop’s servant’
In the Bible, we are familiar with ‘John the Baptist’, so called because of his mission.  It is much the same with Jesus.  At a certain stage, He begins to be referred to as ‘the Christ’, which refers to His mission. He is the ‘anointed one’; meaning the One who is sent by God.
It is not entirely clear if the idea of anointing was unique to the Hebrews, or if other nations also had that tradition.  But as far back as the Book of Exodus we read that Moses was instructed to anoint Aaron as high priest, using a mixture of olive oil, herbs and spices.  

A few centuries later David, was called out from minding the sheep and anointed by the prophet Samuel as King of Israel.  You might ask “Why Olive Oil?” If you haven’t done so before, I encourage you to open a bottle of olive oil and just smell it, pour some out in the palm of your hand and let it run through your fingers; taste it. It is an excellent symbol of fruitfulness and of the richness of God’s creation. 

When Jesus got up to read in the synagogue at Nazareth, the passage that He read was chosen from the Book of the prophet Isaiah.  It celebrates the return of God’s people after years of exile in Babylon, led by someone on whom the Spirit of God rests. The language of Isaiah is the hopeful language of good news, healing and liberation.  

The Spirit of God is at work.  

Almost six hundred years later, Jesus uses this passage to define His own ministry. There is no suggestion that Jesus was anointed with oil, but remember that anointing is a physical ritual to symbolise a deeper spiritual reality.

Jesus clearly implies that the action of God’s Spirit, which was present in the mission of the prophets and kings of the Old Testament, is now powerfully at work in a new way in Him.  “Today these words are being fulfilled even as you listen”.  

He is the Christ, the anointed one. His mission is all about proclaiming good news and about setting people free, both physically and spiritually. The Spirit working in Jesus is good news for the poor, liberty for captives, new sight for those who lost their vision, the lifting up of those who are downtrodden.
The same Spirit who was given to Jesus is also given to the Church, to each one of us who has been Baptised, and to all of us as a community of faith. In the power of that same Spirit we too are sent to continue the mission of Jesus. The oil which we bless, like the bread and wine we use at Mass, is the fruit of the earth; the work of human hands, but also the gift of God.  

In the Sacramental life of the Church, this simple olive oil becomes a symbol of the ministry of Jesus and a way of extending His ministry in the world today, through us who are His disciples.  

It is used in four of the seven Sacraments, speaking to us of healing, of the triumph of good over evil, and of being entrusted with a share in the mission of Jesus.

  • Encouraging 

The Oil of Catechumens is a sacramental symbol of protection and strength for those who are new in the faith and who are preparing for Baptism.  Through the anointing, they are helped to reject what is evil and to choose what is good.  

As I bless this oil in a few moments, I hope we can be renewed in our awareness that faith is not something private.  

Both the first reading (Isaiah) and the second reading (Revelation) point to the universal mission of all God’s people. Like the first disciples, we are not called in isolation.  

We are invited into a family of faith and that involves encouraging one another in faith, in every situation and every stage in life. That includes protecting and nourishing the faith of those who are recently Baptised. The discipleship business is not just a private thing between me and God.

  • Healing

Our care for the most vulnerable among us is a measure of our humanity.  We see this very clearly in the healing ministry of Jesus. Down through the ages, the ministry of healing has always been an integral part of the mission of the Church.  

Doctors and nurses, chaplains and carers, family members and friends form communities of care around those who are sick at home or in hospital.  

Alongside the dialysis, the chemotherapy, the scans and the stents, people who are sick need to know, above all, that they are loved and that they will not be abandoned, whatever happens. That becomes especially important when there is nothing more that medical science can do.
It is understandable that people facing chronic or terminal illness sometimes feel that they might be better off if they were dead.  

But a society which has nothing more to offer to people than to assist them in ending their own lives, has really lost its way. Through the time we spend with the sick, listening to them, providing essential care, sharing memories, and, perhaps, praying with them, that we continue the healing ministry of Jesus. In this way, we bear witness in action to the fact that there is no such thing as a life without value.
The anointing of the sick is the Sacrament that Jesus left us as the visible sign of His healing presence among us. It is a source of healing and encouragement, not just to those who are sick, but also to those who are close to them. This year, as we bless the oil of the sick, I invite you to remember all those throughout our diocese who are sick or frail due to old age, and all those who care for them. As we celebrate the Sacrament of Anointing for them during the coming year, we are not simply going through an empty ritual; we are invoking the healing presence of Jesus who continues to live and work among us through his Holy Spirit.

  • Taking Responsibility – Mission

As children growing up, my sisters and I were introduced at an early age to doing the dishes and keeping our rooms tidy.  

In Summer time we were also expected to weed the flowerbeds and cut the grass.  Everyone in the family has some responsibility.  

The Christian family is no different.  The Oil of Chrism is the symbol of being entrusted with responsibility in the Church. That responsibility – or mission – begins with Baptism and it is renewed or ‘confirmed’ in the Sacrament of Confirmation. It finds expression in all the different ways in which we serve one another as Christians; in our service within the parish community and in our wider society, in our prayer for one another, in the liturgy, on parish committees and in community organisations, in caring for the earth, and through the works of charity and mercy.  

Today is a good day for us to remember our Baptism and our Confirmation and to renew our commitment to be missionary disciples.
The same Oil of Chrism is used to anoint the hands of a priest at ordination, as a sacramental sign of his mission to stand in the person of Christ. It is unlikely that the Oil of Chrism will be used for that purpose in our diocese this year. For that very reason, I would suggest that the oil should serve as a reminder to us to take individual and collective responsibility for mediating the call to priesthood in our own families and faith communities, and also to pray for the priests that we do have.  

As I bless the Oil of Chrism, I invite you in a particular way to pray for the priests who are unable to be here because of ill health. We pray for Father John Cullen who is serving the sick and the homeless in London. We remember our colleague Father Tony Conry who died during the past year, after many years of service to young people in the suburbs of Sao Paolo, Brazil.
It is worth asking ourselves this evening, when the lay faithful gather with the priests, and witness the renewal of our priestly commitment, what exactly priests are called to be.  

Many of us who are older grew up in communities where the priest was expected to do everything, be everywhere, and in the process to control everything. In a Church where all of us are anointed with Chrism and entrusted with mission, that was an unhealthy and unbalanced view of things. It tended to block the development of so many of the gifts and fruits that the Spirit brings. In more recent times, especially in the context of our synodal conversations, it has become increasingly clear that what is called for in the Church is what is being described as differentiated co-responsibility.  

Priests are anointed in the Spirit of Isaiah and of Jesus to proclaim good news and to celebrate that with the people in the Eucharist and in the Sacraments. But the anointing of priests is not at odds with the anointing that is given to all of us, using the same Chrism, in Baptism and Confirmation.  

In fact the mission entrusted specifically to priests, is to serve and to promote what Pope Francis calls the missionary discipleship of all of God’s people, so that together we build up the Body of Christ, becoming a holy people, and making present in the world today the liberating power of God’s love.