Homily by Cardinal Séan Brady for the Mass of Chrism

21 Apr 2011


21 April 2011

Homily by Cardinal Seán Brady for the Mass of Chrism

I am sure that many of you watched the programme “Michaela – Finding Peace” which was shown on RTE last night.  I did so and I found it to be a powerful and wonderful piece of television.

What a consolation and a grace to see people speak so clearly, and so convincingly, about their faith in God and their faith in life after death and their faith in the communion of saints.  How refreshing to find prayer and love and moderation treated with such respect and such dignity.  What an example of community concern and care for those who are in trouble and broken-hearted.  There are so many great and positive qualities about this programme that I hope it will be watched over and over again.  I would like to offer my congratulations to all involved in its production, especially the Harte and McAreavey families and Tommie Gorman – the producer and presenter.

As I watched and reflected on this amazing programme, a number of thoughts struck me.  It was – in my opinion – an outstanding example of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has been given to those people to give them the strength to speak about this terrible tragedy.

In fact, it is amazing how tragedy has struck two families – the Harte family and the Kerr family – in neighbouring parishes in the north-western part of our diocese here in Armagh, within the space of a few weeks.  These tragedies have plunged the families concerned into the depth of grief and loss.  But, these tragedies have also flung them into the glare of tremendous publicity. But, with the help of each other, and of their families and friends and the local community they somehow got the strength, not only to cope but to present a wonderful example of deep spirituality. I could not help but remember the words of Isaiah in today’s First Reading:

The Lord has anointed me and sent me to bind up hearts that are broken.

To comfort all those who mourn and to give them for ashes, a garland;

For mourning robe, the oil of gladness,

For despondency, praise.

What a challenge it is to replace the ashes of death and destruction with the garland of the victory of hope.  It is not easy to see beyond the mourning to the oil of gladness which lies at the heart of the Christian message – Dying he destroyed our death – Rising he restored our life.  It is not always easy to dislodge despondency and to replace it with praise.  Yet, that is what we have seen happen:

·       When Mickey Harte gave thanks for the twenty-seven happy years of Michaela’s life, and

·       Nuala Kerr called for the tragedy of Ronan’s death to be transformed into an incentive to strive ever more earnestly for the garland of a just and lasting peace.

I spoke to Father Andrew McNally earlier this week.  He had hoped to be here this morning but a change in the time of some medical appointment has ruled that out.  I said that we would remember, in a special way, him, and all our brother priests who are unwell or in distress at this time.

Father Andy told me that he had been anointed recently in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital.  That put me thinking of the many places and circumstances to which these oils will be carried over the coming year.  How many of us will be actually anointed?  Who knows?  The important thing is that we thank God for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our decisions.  The important thing is that we pray for the ability to be aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

From April 1989 until July 1991, Pope John Paul II gave a series of talks at the Wednesday audiences on The Spirit – Giver of Life and Love.  At the General Audience on 24 October 1996, his topic was Anointing – Biblical Sign of the Spirit.

I am delighted to see so many young boys and girls here today who, this year, will be receiving the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation.  The sign that the Spirit is really coming to you is the anointing which each one of you will receive on the forehead.

What does this anointing mean?  Pope John Paul II – in my opinion – gave a good explanation when he said:

The symbol of anointing with oil was to express the strength needed to exercise authority.  But someone may ask – What authority do I have?

Well we were all anointed in Baptism.  We were anointed with the anointing which comes from the Holy One and it remains.  St John adds:  ‘You have the anointing which comes from the Holy One and you all have knowledge’.

Each one of us knows how God is present in our lives and how God helps to keep us alive.  This anointing gives us the strength to recognise that presence.  It gives us the courage to speak about, and bear witness to, that presence.  It gives us the authority to speak about the power of God helping us, as we heard people speak so eloquently in that programme last night.

You see God has given, to each one of us, some good to do this in this life.  We have been chosen and prepared and sent into the world to do this good.  So, the anointing of Baptism and Confirmation and Ordination all refer to giving us the spiritual strength to fulfil the mission and task given to us.

Jesus Christ was anointed with the Holy Spirit to prepare him and give him the strength to do what the Father wanted him to do on this earth.  A share in that same anointing is given to all those who accept Christ in faith and love.  That is why today we renew our faith in God’s plan for each one of us.  According to that plan, Christ gives the dignity of priesthood to the people he has made his own by Baptism.

From among those he chooses some to share his sacred ministry – by the Laying on of Hands.  Today we remember Ryan McAleer who takes an important step on the road to priestly ordination when he will, please God, be ordained Deacon on Monday next and also Thomas McHugh who will also be ordained Deacon next month.

Today we priests and bishops remind ourselves that God has called us to lead His holy people in love; nourish them with God’s word and strengthen them through the sacraments.

Today we acknowledge how great a task that is.  We readily recognise that we could not begin to face that task without the love of you, the people whom we are called to serve.  Today we give fervent thanks to God for all that love and support which you give us so generously.

Today we ask the grace to see that the source of knowledge and of understanding is found in the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is also the source of the Senses of the Faith which is the inheritance of the whole people of God.  As St John says:  ‘All of you have knowledge’. It is very important that we clergy recognise this truth and take account of it as we set up and provide the Pastoral Areas Resource Teams.

All of this is very important as today we priests celebrate the birthday of the Priesthood.  We give thanks for the great gifts  given by Jesus –

·       His body and Blood;

·       The washing of the feet;

·       The great commandment to love one another, and

·       The priesthood.

We priests remember that we do not substitute Jesus Christ.  We try to be the visible and effective sign of his presence.  We pray and we ask the prayers of all here present that we may give, at all times, an example of faithfulness and generous love.

We ask for the wisdom to know how to bring the Good News of God’s love, in an attractive way, to a generation that is starving for that very love – without realising it.

We ask for the courage to proclaim the ugliness of sin and evil.  We ask for the ability to proclaim liberty to those who are captive to sin and to direct them to find that liberation in the Sacrament of Confession.  We too must ask for the strength to exercise our authority – without being authoritarian.  That grace has been given to us in the anointing of Ordination.  Perhaps we need to rekindle it and this is the day to do so.

For those who love God all things work together unto good.  We have seen how the Holy Spirit has managed to draw good out of tragedy but, underlying all of that, lay the life of faith – articulated so well by the baptised:

·       Who have led you in love;

·       Been nourished by your sermons and prayer

·       Have been strengthened through the sacraments which you have celebrated.

Long may it continue.

I gladly make my own the greeting in today’s Second Reading.

Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ

The faithful witness – the first born from the dead

The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth.

He loves us and has washed away our sins with His blood.

At this Mass we commemorate the giving, by Christ, to us of a share in his priesthood.  We renew our promise to be faithful servants of Christ, the great High Priest.

We bless the Holy Oil which will be used for the next year in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination and the Anointing of the Sick.  They are signs of our sharing in the power of Christ to do the will of the Father.


* Cardinal Seán Brady is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland

* 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 are blessed:

– 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