Mass of Chrism by Archbishop O’Brien

Homily by Archbishop Brendan O’Brien

Chrism Mass 2017

Our Catholic faith in its liturgical expression uses material things – gifts of creation – to express its spiritual content.  It takes them up, and makes them instruments of our encounter with the divine.  Simple things, ordinary elements, such as water, bread, wine, and olive oil, are given new meaning; they are used to express the deep spiritual relationship which the death and resurrection of Christ has made possible for us.

Tonight it is olive oil which is the focus of our attention.  Olive oil has a range of purposes:  it is nourishment; it is medicine; it beautifies; and it is associated with strengthening.  In the Old Testament, kings and priests were anointed with oil to signify their dignity and responsibility, as well as to indicate that their power came from God.

The very name we bear of ‘Christian’ is derived from Christ, the Messiah or anointed one.  To be a Christian is to belong to him, who God has anointed, not with oil, but with what the oil symbolizes: the power of the Holy Spirit.

The fact that we celebrate the Chrism Mass during Holy Week allows us to see that what we are celebrating is the power that was released by Christ’s death and resurrection.  It was the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on the apostles at Pentecost that gave the Church the spiritual force which continues to sustain it today.  In blessing the oils and consecrating the Chrism this evening, we are taking this natural gift of God and transforming it into a sign and instrument of God’s grace – a pledge of the Spirit’s assistance to help us to live our lives as followers of Christ.

We ask God to bless the Oil of Catechumens, so that those who are anointed with it will understand the Good News of Jesus Christ and will be ready for the new life of baptism.

In blessing the Oil of the Sick, we ask our compassionate God to grant to those who are anointed with this oil healing of mind, body, and soul.  Finally, in the consecration of the Chrism, we ask God to pour out the Holy Spirit upon this perfumed oil, which will strengthen those who have been baptized, and will be used in the outpouring of the Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation, and also in setting apart for worship altars and church buildings.

Chrism also plays an important role in the ordination of bishops and priests. The bishop’s head is anointed with Chrism, as are the priest’s hands, signifying that, by virtue of the gift of the Spirit given in the laying on of hands, the bishop and priest participate in the priesthood of Christ in such as way as to act in the person of Christ, the head of the Church.  In the sacramental actions of the priest, it is Christ himself who acts; the priest is the privileged instrument.

As you can see, oil, this simple element of nature, has a rich significance and symbolism in our Christian tradition.  In the various sacraments, we are anointed not just with it but with what the oil symbolizes – namely, the power of God’s Spirit who consecrates, strengthens, and heals the members of Christ’s Body, so that the mission of the anointed One may continue in our place and our day.

The Mass of Chrism is the annual reminder that pastoral work is not all about us, but, rather, about how we participate in Christ’s mission through the presence of God’s Spirit working within us.

To gather together, as we do tonight, for the Chrism Mass is a very important way for us to express the shared mission which is ours.  When we take back to our parishes and other communities the oils which have been blessed and consecrated tonight, we demonstrate the connection which exists between the bishop and the sacramental life of each parish and community.  We show how that ministry is rooted in God’s grace conveyed to us in the sacraments.  This is an important part of our Catholic identity and spirituality, and that is why I am always pleased to have so many take part in this Mass of Chrism.  It reminds us of who we are together.

In a particular way tonight, we recognize how those involved in ordained ministry are situated in relationship to Christ and to the people they serve.  While all of us are called to be what Pope Francis calls “missionary disciples”, bishops, priests, and deacons have a particular role to guide and serve, in the name of Christ, all who share in the Church’s mission.

The Chrism Mass is one of but a few times in the year when all the members of the presbyterate concelebrate the Eucharist with the bishop, thus signifying the communion that priests have with the bishop in exercising the priesthood of Christ.

Also during the Chrism Mass, priests and deacons are given the opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to priestly and diaconal ministry.  This renewal of promises also gives all present an opportunity to pray for them and to acknowledge the importance of their ministry for the mission of the Church.

I hope that, by being present here tonight, all of us will be helped to have a renewed sense of our place and responsibility for the Church’s mission, and will be strengthened and comforted by the knowledge that we are not alone in this; we have so many good and dedicated people throughout the Archdiocese, and we can count on the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us as we strive to continue Christ’s saving work.