21 April 2011
Homily of Bishop Christopher Jones for the Mass of Chrism
It is a joy to see priests, religious, lay people, and especially the boys and girls who will be confirmed this year from all over the diocese gathered in the Cathedral for this celebration. Tonight we celebrate and thank God for the gift of priesthood which Jesus gave to His Church at the last supper. It is because of the gift of priesthood that we can not only remember but relive the events of the first Holy Week.
On the 6 June 1994 seventy-year-old veterans of World War II jumped from planes flying over Normandy. Fifty years before they did the same thing when they joined 170,000 allies to surprise Hitler’s army in North France and eventually liberated Europe from Nazi conquests. They were trying to relive the events of D Day but of course they could not because the events of D Day which they were remembering are locked away in the vaults of history.
Thank God, because of the great gift of priesthood, we can remember, re enact and relive today the events of the first Holy Week. Jesus is as truly and really present in the great celebrations of this Holy Week as He was in Jerusalem two thousand years ago.
Throughout the first Holy Week Jesus was very much the centre of attention of the people from His entry into the city of Jerusalem, through His last meal with the apostles, through His agony in the garden, His trial, His scourging and crowning with thorns, His carrying of the cross and His death on Calvary.
It is because of the gift of priesthood at the last supper that the same Jesus is as really and truly present in all our liturgical celebrations as He was present in the great events of the first Holy Week. It is because of the gift of priesthood that Jesus is present and offering Himself to the father in this Holy Eucharist. It is because of the priesthood that Jesus will be present during the Chrism Mass in every Eucharist all over the world as He was present at the Last Supper giving Himself totally to us in the bread that is broken and the blood that is shed for our salvation. And of course Jesus will be very much alive and present on Friday afternoon when we gather to reflect on His Passion and journey to Calvary.
So tonight we thank God for making it possible for people of all nations and generations in history to participate in these great events of salvation – history because through His priesthood all of us have the great privilege and opportunity of being close to the living Jesus in all our celebrations. Those of us who enter as fully as we can into the living presence of Jesus at the Last Supper, at His trial and Passion on Good Friday will certainly be close to Him as we celebrate His Resurrection on Saturday night. It is the resurrection of the Risen Christ that conquers sin and death and makes it possible for all of us to share forever in the eternal life and glory of Christ.
It is, of course, good to remember that all baptized people are priests. This may surprise you because when you think of priests you think of men who dress in black suits and white collars and preside at Mass. All of you are priests because through baptism you share in the life and love of Jesus Christ and therefore in His ministry and mission.
You exercise your priesthood by praying and uniting yourself with Jesus in every Mass. You exercise your priesthood by offering your daily work to the Father through Christ. You exercise your priesthood by caring daily and lovingly for your wife, your husband, your parents, your children and your neighbours. And of course you exercise your priesthood when you take part as Reader or Eucharistic Minister in every Mass.
However from the very beginning Jesus has called forth men from all the baptized – men through whom Jesus would continue to preach, teach and offer sacrificeMen are called forth to what we call the ministerial or ordained priesthood. They are called ordained because there are three orders in the priesthood – the orders of bishops, priests and deacons.
Tonight we thank God especially for the ordained priesthood because it was at the Last Supper on the first Holy Thursday night that Jesus called forth the apostles as the first priests – that Jesus said “Do this in memory of me”. The ordained priesthood is rooted in the New Testament and has developed more fully over the centuries through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Yes through His ordained priests the living Jesus is present offering Himself to the Father in every Mass, giving Himself totally to us in every Eucharist and encountering each one of us in every Sacrament. Jesus is of course alive and present in every ordained priest as He reaches out in mercy compassion and love to His people.
I am very fortunate as bishop to see the significance of the priesthood as I carry out parish visitation in every parish. I see Jesus reach out through His priests to the sick, the old and the lonely in the Holy Eucharist. I see the living Jesus present in every priest as he reaches out to comfort the bereaved and the depressed – the sick and the suffering. I see the joy on the faces of the people as the priest approaches and their sorrow when he chooses to remain in the car during the bishop’s visit.
I am always genuinely amazed as the local priest drives through the highways and byways of his parish at the unique knowledge every priest has of his parish and his people. He knows every member of every family by name. He knows where they live at home and abroad. He knows who is ill and the family that have experienced bereavement or depression. He knows the secrets of every mother, father and indeed child of his parish because they trust him totally with their concerns and anxieties. Yes indeed when Jesus gave His Church the gift of priesthood He made it possible for Himself to continue preaching, teaching and healing as He did in Palastine 2000 years ago. That is why to this day parishioners are terrified of losing their priest. And of course we celebrate and thank God for good people who have such love and welcome for their priest.
It is true that the priesthood has suffered severe set-backs because of priests who betrayed their priesthood. This was a huge shock for the people of God who trusted all priests. Thank God the vast majority of people, however hurt by the sins and scandals of some, have been able to understand that Jesus continues to live and act in the lives of the vast majority of priests who have remained so faithful to their priesthood and their Church through very difficult times. I believe our priests have persevered in their fidelity through the most difficult times ever in the history of our Church. May the Lord reward them for their goodness.
Today the Church calls on us, bishops and priests, to renew our desire to serve Christ, our determination to serve those in our care, to celebrate the sacraments with reverence and to try daily to unite ourselves more closely to Christ through prayer. Today I ask all of you present and all the faithful of our parishes to pray for our priests.
Consecration and Blessing of Oils
I began by expressing joy that tonight priests, religious and lay people have gathered from every community in the diocese for this celebration. Your coming tonight from every corner of the diocese helps to remind all of us of every community that we all belong to the bigger community of faith that is the diocese. This gathering speaks volumes about the life and love of Jesus that unites all of us brothers and sisters in Christ.
This unity and community of the diocese is symbolized very powerfully here tonight when we consecrate and bless here in this Cathedral here in this sanctuary the Holy Oils that will be used in every area of the diocese through the coming year – in every sacrament of baptism, in every sacrament of confirmation, in the ordination of deacons and in every sacrament of the sick.
And this unity of all the diocese is powerfully expressed and symbolized tonight as priests leave this Cathedral to bring the Holy Oils from this sanctuary to every Church Community of the diocese. The Holy Oils are used in the sacraments because they symbolise and make present the nourishment, the strength and the healing that the Holy Spirit brings to us in every sacrament. Indeed through Old Testament days oils were used to anoint kings, prophets and priests as signs and symbols of God’s blessing and healing.
Olive oil has a wide range of meaning. It is nourishment for people, it has strengthened people for sport or battles. Kings and priests have been anointed with oil. Indeed we are called Christians which comes from the Greek work Christos which means the anointed one. Jesus Himself was anointed not by material oil but by the Holy Spirit. Oil in the Sacrament of baptism, confirmation, ordination and of the sick symbolises the healing, the strength and the nourishment that the Holy Spirit brings to all of us in every sacrament.
Let us listen very carefully to the words of consecration and blessing which illustrate beautifully the history and significance of Holy Oils in salvation history.
The holy oils blessed here tonight in this Cathedral and in this sanctuary will reach out from here to people in every community of the diocese.
Tonight we remember Frs. Eddie Prendergast, M.H.M. and Brendan Sherry who died recently. May they rest in peace Amen.
20 April 2011
* Bishop Christopher Jones is Bishop of Elphin
* The Chrism Mass is a very special Mass where Catholics from across
the diocese, together with their priests and Bishop, gather to join in
the Celebration of this Mass, during which our diocesan priests renew
together their commitment to priestly service, and receive the prayers
and support of the people. At this Mass the oils for the coming year
– oil of catechumens
– oil of the sick
– oil of chrism
Oil of catechumens is used for adult catechumens and infants, oil of
the sick for anointing the sick, and the sacred oil of chrism for
baptism, confirmation, the ordination of priests, and the consecration
of altars. All three are based on olive oil with added spices and
perfume, traditionally balsam
*Further information Martin Long, Catholic Communications Office, 00353 861727678