Homily of Bishop Noel Treanor for the Mass of Chrism – The Blessing of the Holy Oils in St Peter’s Cathedral

09 Apr 2009

9 April 2009

Homily of Bishop Noel Trenor for the Mass of Chrism – The Blessing of the

Holy Oils in St Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast, Holy Thursday 9 April 2009

The Annual Mass for the Blessing of the Holy Oils was celebrated on Holy Thursday at 11.00am in St Peter’s Cathedral.Belfast. The Principal Celebrant was the Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Noel Treanor, and concelebrating with him were the two auxiliary bishops, Bishop Anthony Farquhar and Bishop Donal McKeown, also Bishop Emeritus Patrick Walsh together with a large representation of priests from throughout the diocese, manifesting the communion of the priests with their bishop.
During the ceremony the priests solemnly renewed their commitment to the priesthood in a crowded Cathedral consisting of representatives of all the people of the Diocese whom the priests have the privilege to serve.
During the Mass of Chrism, the oils to be blessed were carried by priests, with the balsam, a fragrant essence which was mixed with the oil for Chrism, carried by a religious sister. At the Mass today the gifts of bread and wine were carried by relatives of the late Fr Noel Fitzpatrick and the late Fr Hugh Mullan who were to be commemorated at the Mass. The gifts were also carried by members of the Diocesan Youth Team who assist the sick on the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes and also students from La Salle College, Belfast.
New Ambry in memory of Fr Hugh Mullan (RIP) and Fr Noel Fitzpatrick (RIP)
Towards the end of the Chrism Mass, following the Post-Communion Prayer, Bishop Treanor led by the priests carrying the Sacred Oils processed to the newly constructed Ambry.  He blessed the new Ambry to hold the Holy Oils in the Cathedral. This Ambry has been constructed in memory of two priests of the Diocese of Down Connor, Fr Hugh Mullan and Fr Noel Fitzpatrick who, during the height of civil strife on the streets of Belfast in 1971 and 1972, were both shot dead while administrating the Sacrament of The Anointing of the Sick to those wounded.

The Mass of Chrism
For the first centuries of the Church most baptisms were celebrated at the Easter Vigil.  It was therefore necessary that fresh oils be blessed for the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation at this time.   Around the year 215AD the author, Hippolytus writing in Rome refers to the preparation of the oil of exorcism (now called the oil of Catechumens) and the oil of “thanksgiving” or Chrism.  By the fifth century it became the established practice that the local bishop would bless the Oils, necessary for these sacraments on the morning of Holy Thursday, the last day the Eucharist was celebrated before the Easter Vigil.  In time this Mass also became associated with a manifestation of the unity between a bishop and the priests of the diocese in which they served.
Following the renewal of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI desired that the Mass of Chrism should be recognised as a Feast of Priesthood when priests would renew before their bishop and people the promises of service that they had made on the day of their Ordination.
The practice of storing the Holy Oils in a special niche within church buildings is recorded from the fourth century.  In a Cathedral Church, an Ambry has special significance; for it is here that the Holy Oils are blessed each year, and then sent from here to every parish in the diocese.
Blessing of The Ambry
Gracious and loving God, you anointed Priests, Prophets, and Kings of old with the oil of Gladness. You infuse your Church with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, heal, comfort and sanctify those anointed with oil in your name.
Today we recall that you choose our brothers Noel and Hugh to serve your people as priests, and to share the joys and burdens of their lives. Grant that they, who as your servants and priests, committed themselves so zealously that they laid down their lives in the service of your name, may rejoice for ever in the company of your saints.
May this Ambry remind us always of your sacramental mysteries.
May the holy oils kept here, the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of Catechumens, and Holy Chrism, confirm our unity in faith and prayer within our Diocese that we may be effective signs of the love that you pour into our hearts.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Homily of Bishop Noel Treanor for the Mass of Chrism
We assemble here today in St Peter’s Cathedral at this Chrism Mass to celebrate the gift and ministry of Priesthood and to bless the Holy Oils. As we renew our commitment to priestly service and bless the oils, we remember Fr Noel Fitzpatrick and Fr Hugh Mullan who were killed as they anointed the wounded in the dark days of the Troubles.  In the concluding moments of this celebration we shall bless the Ambry, dedicated to their memory, and place within it the newly blessed Oils – Chrism, the oil of catechumens and the oil of the sick.
As I welcome all of you – my brother priests, the bishops, the religious sisters, brothers and priests, the representatives of parishes and organisations throughout our diocese – I also greet the family members, relatives and friends of these our two deceased brothers in the priesthood. The contribution of the Priests’ Provident Fund to realising this Ambry, commissioned by Bishop Patrick Walsh, emeritus bishop of our diocese, expresses the deep affection, the honour and respect evoked in our presbyterium by their names and their heroic self-sacrifice, to the point of giving their lives in the service of Christ and the people entrusted to their pastoral care.
Today, my dear brothers in the priesthood, we renew once again our dedication to Christ in the sacrament of our Ordination. In the presence of our people, of our fellow baptised “who are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood” (L.G. n. 10), we resolve to be faithful ministers of the mysteries of God in our preaching, in celebrating the Eucharist and the sacraments and in our teaching of the Christian faith. The passages from the Word of God, proclaimed by the readers, anchor our ministry in the life of the Triune God.
The verses from the Book of the Apocalypse greet us across the centuries of Christian tradition in the name of Jesus Christ, “who has washed away our sins with his blood” and has called us to be “priests to serve his God and Father”. This same Jesus, quoting at the outset of his ministry the lines from Isaiah to which we listened in the first reading, signals that his ministry – and therefore ours – is empowered by the Spirit. Furthermore, having cited Isaiah, he took that disturbing step too far for his listeners in the synagogue in his hometown, Nazareth, when he said: “this text is being fulfilled today even as you listen” (Lk. 4.21). This claim, this hint at the mystery of divine incarnation in the human order, shocked his people to the quick of their being. It would lead to his crucifixion, death and resurrection which we shall commemorate and relive in the Easter Triduum, beginning this evening. As men and women, especially as priests and religious, ever and at once capable of being sinful and saintly, we are summoned to incarnate the life and grace of God in both the smooth and harsh realities of life, even when this disturbs and questions the seemingly unquestionalble.
As heralds of God’s Word and celebrants of the sacred mysteries of salvation, we as God’s priestly people, and particularly priests who are set apart by Ordination to ensure the proclamation and the celebration of the mysteries of salvation, are called in the words of Isaiah to:

Bring the good news to the poor

To bind up hearts that are broken

To proclaim liberty to captives

Freedom to those in prison

To proclaim a year of favour from the Lord

To comfort all who mourn.

In short, like Jesus of Nazareth, the priest is called to bring the saving hope of God’s love and the light of Christ’s gospel into the broken world, into the opaque, contradictory and sin-beset human condition. In its many and sometimes unforeseeable facets, the priestly ministry is challenging and demanding work, often unseen, rarely quantifiable, yet always ennobling and spiritually formative, particularly through the example of the lay faithful whom we serve. For the quality of human life in our contemporary society and for the sake of human happiness, recently become a subject of study and research, the priestly ministry is as necessary as ever it was. We pray on this Holy Thursday that more men, young and not so young, will be moved by the Holy Spirit in and through their family lives to respond to God’s call to take up this at once humble and noble way of life.
In this celebration we honour the memory of two of our priests who gave their lives as they brought the hope of God’s love, the comfort of divine mercy mediated by their prayerful and sacramental actions and the incarnate proximity of God’s self-sacrificing love to the wounded – priestly service that cost their two lives.
Both worked in St John’s parish here in Belfast, when they were murdered. As you know, Fr Hugh Mullan was a native of Portaferry. He was ordained on 21 June 1959. He was shot in Ballymurphy on 9 August 1971, while administering the Last Rites to the wounded. Fr Noel Fitzpatrick, was a native of Holy Family parish in Belfast. Ordained on 18 June 1961, he too was a curate in St. John’s parish, when shot whilst administering the last rites in Westrock Drive, Ballymurphy on 9 July 1972.
We recall and honour their supreme sacrifice and their witness to Christian love. Inspired by their heroic witness, we, their brothers in the presbyterate of Down and Connor, – many of you strengthened by cherished memories of them:  we also pledge ourselves today to further the work of promoting peace, justice and reconciliation in or society.
In a few moments now we shall renew the promises with which we bound ourselves to Christ on the day of our Ordination. Before we do so, allow me to express my appreciation and abiding thanks to the priests, bishops and religious of the diocese for the support and encouragement you have given me since my ordination as bishop here in St. Peter’s some ten months ago.  I thank you also for your faithful and dedicated work in our parishes, in the special ministries, in hospitals and prisons, in schools, colleges and universities, in your work in the world of culture and the arts, with public authorities and with voluntary organisations: as God’s people and as priests and religious women and men, may we continue to sow the seed of God’s kingdom and open eyes to the mystery of God in our midst.
As I express my admiration for the work of the clergy, experienced when visiting parishes for Confirmation, I count on your support as we pursue the mission entrusted to us here and now by Christ. Before the summer, I trust, we shall hold the first meeting of the Priests’ Council. Its advice will be of great importance in the forthcoming years as we address immediate issues, such as the provision of pastoral care to our 88 parishes with a dwindling number of clergy and the re-organisation this will entail. Equally its counsel and insight will be vital on more long-term issues such as adult faith formation, pastoral care of our youth, and indeed the presentation of the Christian faith option. To a certain extent our proclamation and witness to Christ may have to span more dynamically and imaginatively the apologetic and the kerygmatic modes. Explaining the Christian faith, handing it on within the cultural milieu of our parishes, families and schools, indeed defending the nobility of Christian way of life, when necessary: all of this remains essential. More and more though, we must meet with courage and imagination the challenge of presenting and proposing the Christian faith in a society which has forgotten God, which has marginalised the divine. A central priority for our time therefore, and one to be pursued in numerous keys, is that of presenting anew the basic vocabulary of the faith, with its scriptures, its saints and martyrs, its symbols, its imperative of charity and service of the poor.
With all of you, my dear people, I pray that as we bless the Holy Oils, to be brought to the parishes throughout the diocese for use in the celebration of sacraments, we shall in the year ahead continue to incarnate in our persons, in our work and actions the self-sacrificing love of Christ. I pray that we will bring healing and support to those imprisoned in suffering and deprivation. I pray that we will bring hope to those who are despondent. I pray that we will work to consolidate peace in our society.
As we your priests, religious and bishops, now renew our priestly commitments, I ask you, my dear people, to pray that we may pursue holiness in our lives and in our work. I ask you to do so during the Year of the Priest, to be launched by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday 19 June next to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of the Cure of Ars.
As we now renew our promises, I invite you to pray that all priests and religious may discover daily the pleasure of living to the full the beauty of the priestly ministry, following Christ and joyfully dedicated to serving Him as we serve our fellow men and women.