Chrism Mass Homily of Bishop Philip Boyce, Bishop of Raphoe , St. Eunan’s Cathedral
• Bishop Boyce delivered his homily on Wednesday 4 April 2012
“Though we are many, we are one body, we who come to share this living Bread.” These are opening lines of the Refrain of the Hymn commissioned for the International Eucharistic Congress to be held in Dublin next June. They point to the main theme of the congress: “The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another.” I asked that this Hymn be sung at every Confirmation ceremony this year, and so far the choirs in nearly all the parishes I have visited have learned it and sung it.
“Unity”, “Communion” – these words remind us of the unifying power of the Holy Eucharist of which we were ordained the ministers and which was put in our anointed hands. Today is a special day for us. It brings us back to the Last Supper in the Upper Room. It was the night on which Christ was betrayed, the eve of his sacrificial Death on the Cross. He took bread and then wine, changed them into his own Body and Blood and then added: “Do this in memory of me”.
Dear Brother Priests: We all have our personal anniversary of priestly ordination, but today, Holy Thursday, is the common birthday of our priesthood. The Bishop concelebrating with a great number of priests from the Diocese is a manifestation of the bond of communion that unites us. Our coming together around the altar, with the Blessing of the oil of the sick, just before the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, with the Blessing of the Oil of Catechumens and the Consecration of the Chrism after Communion, expresses very powerfully the common purpose and the unity of the presbyterate of the Diocese in the service of Christ and of his people.
Holy Communion, the fruit of Christ’s Sacrifice in the Mass, deepens our union with Him. Indeed the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “the principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus” (CCC 1391). St John, in his Gospel, gives us the Lord’s teaching on the Bread of life, where we read: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6: 56). Indeed the foundation of our life in Christ is in this Eucharistic Banquet: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me” (Jn 6: 57).
Not only does the Eucharist and Holy Communion unite us with Christ our Saviour, but they also bind us all together in a deeper communion of life and love. For example, the priest prays in every mass for the Pope: “Since he has the ministry of Peter in the Church, the Pope is associated with every celebration of the Eucharist, wherein he is named as the sign and servant of the unity of the universal Church” (CCC 1369). In the cupola or dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the words “Hinc Unitas” are written: “From here, unity.” “Without communion with the successor of Peter, there is no firm unity within the Church, since “the Roman Pontiff, as the successor St. Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of the Bishops and of the multitude of the faithful” (Vat. II, Lumen Gentium 23). Therefore, every valid celebration of the Eucharist expresses this universal communion with Peter and with the whole Church, or objectively calls for it, as is the case of the Christian Churches separated from Rome” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, No. 39).
In the same way, unity and communion with the local bishop is demanded and fostered by each celebration of the Eucharist. For this reason, the name of the local Bishop is mentioned and he is prayed for in each celebration of the Mass. As the Pope is for the whole Church, so is the Bishop for his own Diocese – the visible principle and the foundation of unity within his particular Church. Therefore, Blessed John Paul II wrote: it would be “a great contradiction if the Sacrament par excellence of the Church’s unity were celebrated without true communion with the Bishop” (Ibid.). For one of the main effects of the Mass is the communion it builds up between the members of the Church.
In the same way, the Eucharist creates communion and fosters communion with and among the faithful. Saint Paul censured his community at Corinth because of the lack of love and the divisions that had crept in among them when they came together for the Eucharist. He told them that this disunity contradicted what they were celebrating at the altar. His words are strong and in substance they mean that there can be no fruitful Eucharist in a community whose members do not love one another. A social class division had also inserted itself between the wealthier and the poorer members of the community at Corinth. In the Church where the Mass is celebrated, we are all one and all equal. The Lord makes no distinction. If we are offering our gift at the altar, we have to examine our daily conduct and if we have something against a brother or sister, we should first forgive and be reconciled, and then offer our gift (cf. Mt 5: 23-24). This shows us how important it is to prepare well for Holy Communion, for the Lord wants those whom he nourishes with his Body and Blood to be one in mind and in love.
This communion and oneness with others, fostered by the Eucharist, not only unites us with Pope and Bishop and each other, but also with the Saints in Heaven and the holy Souls in Purgatory. It is in communion with and commemorating the Blessed Virgin and all the Saints, our local Patrons and the Saint of the day,that the Church offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice, on whose constant intercession in God’s presence, ‘we rely for unfailing help.’ The Eucharist also establishes communion with our departed brothers and sisters, pleasing to the Lord at their passing from this life, and we pray that they may be admitted into God’s kingdom of joy and peace. This is of great benefit to the souls of the faithful departed for we offer ‘the holy and tremendous Victim’ (St. Cyril of Jerusalem) for them , and so render favourable, for them and for us, the God who loves everyone he created.
We are made one with each others by the Eucharist because Holy Communion makes us one with Christ in a close communion of love. This is a long tradition in the Church going back to St Augustine and the early Fathers. We become what we receive. “This Sacrament transforms us into the Body of Christ, in such a way that we become bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh, member of his members. Each time two things unite in such a way that one is completely transformed into the other, the one which is more powerful transforms the weaker into itself.” Therefore, Christ’s Body and Blood transform our weak nature into Himself, so that we are vivified with his divine life and made holy.
Pope Benedict compares this transforming process to “nuclear fission in the very heart of being.” It is like an explosion of goodness that can affect many people, conquering what is sinful and evil, transforming little by little the world. As the priest raises the consecrated host and chalice at each Mass, it is as if invisible rays of spiritual power go out over his parish, pushing back evil, encouraging all that is good and holy.
Dear Brother Priests: I thank you for your fidelity to your daily Mass. Live your Mass ever more personally and generously. Be conscious that it is your greatest moment every day, that it is a powerful unifying force that counteracts al the dividing and segregating forces of sin and evil. The main theme of the Eucharistic Congress focuses on one of the principal fruits of the Eucharist: ‘Communion with Christ and with one another’. May it become for all of us the powerful means of a new evangelisation, now and in the year of faith that lies before us.
And you Brothers and Sisters, present in the Cathedral this morning with your priests, I thank you for being with us. You share with us the common priesthood of all the baptized. We all offer prayers and spiritual sacrifices to God. I thank you for the support you give to your priests. Do pray for good vocations to the religious life and to the priesthood, so that we may have a sufficient number for all the needs of our parishes.
May the Mass bring us all closer to Christ and to one another, for the glory of God.