Chrism Mass Homily of His Excellency Archbishop Charles J Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland

17 Apr 2014

Christ the King Cathedral, Mullingar, Diocese of Meath

· “This is what it means to be a Christian: to spread the fragrance of Christ, symbolised by the fragrance of the Chrism … by the way we live, by the choices we make, by our courage in professing our faith, by our love for others, by our forgiveness of injuries”

· “Let us also tonight thank God for the gift of the priesthood, for the men who have been called by Christ to serve the Church as priests … At times, it is not easy for them. And so, for your witness of faithfulness, you, the priests … have our sincere gratitude”

· Bishop Michael Smith offers prayers of thanksgiving for the ministry of Archbishop Brown and presents him with a special gift marking the silver jubilee anniversary of the Apostolic Nuncio’s ordination to the priesthood

It is indeed an honour for me to be with you this evening for the celebration of the Chrism Mass in this beautiful Cathedral of Christ the King in the Diocese of Meath. I thank Bishop Michael Smith for his kind invitation. I feel doubly privileged to be with you tonight because this year your Cathedral celebrates the seventy-fifth anniversary of its consecration. In reflecting upon the significance of this Mass, it occurred to me how appropriate it is to link these two moments: on the one hand, the Chrism Mass tonight and, on the other, the commemoration of the consecration or dedication of this magnificent Cathedral seventy-five years ago. But what is that link, that connection?

Our Catholic faith is rich in signs and symbols. Indeed, our faith is based upon the encounter with Jesus Christ, God made man, and for us that encounter takes place principally through the sacraments, which are signs which “confer the grace they signify” (CCC, 1127). That means that every sacrament has a meaning, a significance which we seek to grasp with our minds and hearts. In tonight’s holy liturgy, in keeping with the ancient tradition of the Church, the Bishop blesses or consecrates three different forms of holy oil, which are used by the Church in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, and the Anointing of the Sick. These three oils will be presented in a few moments to be blessed and consecrated: the Oil of Catechumens, to be used in Baptism, which will be presented by members of the Cathedral youth team; the Oil of the Sick, to be used by priests in anointing people who are seriously ill and dying, which will be presented by the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal based in Drogheda; and finally, the third oil, which is called Chrism, which will be presented by priests of the Diocese who this year are celebrating jubilee anniversaries of their ordination. This final oil, Chrism, is very important and it provides the link that I mentioned earlier, between tonight’s Mass and the consecration of this Cathedral seventy-five years ago. Chrism, like the other two oils, is essentially olive oil, but it has the addition of balsam, a kind of aromatic resin, which gives the Chrism – unlike the other two oils – its distinctive perfume. In a few moments, I will mix that balsam into the oil as part of the ritual of its consecration.

Every Catholic who is baptized is anointed with Chrism, this perfumed oil, immediately after the cleansing waters of Baptism have been poured over the person. In fact, it is absolutely the first thing that is done in the ceremony of Baptism after the pouring of water. The word for this special aromatic oil, Chrism, comes from the Greek language and simply means anointing; it is the same root word in Greek that is used to translate the Hebrew word Messiah, which means the Anointed One. This is, of course, how we refer to Jesus. He is the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. Christ and Chrism are variations of the same word, reflecting the same reality. We, as Catholics, are anointed with this holy Chrism both on the day of our Baptism, and then again on the day of our Confirmation. In fact, the entire sacrament of Confirmation is simply the anointing with Chrism, this aromatic oil. In the Eastern Churches, the sacrament of Confirmation is called “Chrismation” because it is the anointing with Chrism.

It was just one year ago, at the celebration of the Chrism Mass in Rome, that Pope Francis, who has so amazed the world with his spontaneity and his radiant love for marginalized people, famously stated that priests ought to have “the smell of the sheep” about them, meaning that they should be completely identified with their people and their people’s struggles. Reflecting on the symbolism of Chrism this evening and on the fact that every baptized Catholic has been anointed with this fragrant oil, leads us perhaps to think of a similar image. Saint Paul, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians has an insight that is similar to Pope Francis’ appeal to priests to have “the smell of the sheep” about them. Saint Paul writes that we, as followers of Jesus, possess “the sweet fragrance of Christ” which is detected or recognized by those who are being saved, but for those who have rejected God, Christians have a nasty odour of death about them (cf. 2 Cor 2:15-16). On a spiritual level, all of us carry the scent of Christ, the perfume of the Holy Chrism with which we were anointed at Baptism and Confirmation. We need never to be ashamed of that aroma. We need to allow that fragrance to fill the world around us, just as the Gospel of John tells us that the entire house of Martha and Mary in Bethany was filled with the fragrance of the precious oil with which Mary anointed the feet of Jesus (cf. Jn 12:1-8).

The Sisters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who have been such an influence on me in my priesthood, pray every morning after receiving Holy Communion in the following words: “Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go. Flood our souls with your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly, that our lives may only be a radiance of yours. Shine through us, and be so in us, that every person we come in contact with may feel your presence in our soul […] Let us preach you without preaching: not by words, but by our example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do, the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear for you”. This is what it means to be a Christian: to spread the fragrance of Christ, symbolised by the fragrance of the Chrism with which we have been anointed; by the way we live, by the choices we make, by our courage in professing our faith, by our love for others, by our forgiveness of injuries.

We have been reflecting now on the significance of Chrism, but I still haven’t explained what the link is between Chrism and the anniversary of your Cathedral.

Chrism is used not only in Baptism and Confirmation, but also in the sacrament of Holy Orders. Just as in Baptism, where the first thing which happens after the sacramental pouring of water is the anointing with Chrism, so too in the ordination of a priest, the first thing which happens after the Bishop lays his hands upon the head of the man to be ordained is that the Bishop then anoints the priest’s hands with Holy Chrism. Finally and crucially, Chrism is used as well in the consecration of every Church, including of course this Cathedral Church of Christ the King. When a new Church has been constructed, but before it is used to celebrate the mysteries of our faith, it is consecrated in the ritual of dedication. In that ceremony, after the prayer of dedication, the first thing the consecrating Bishop does is to anoint the altar and the interior walls of the new Church with Chrism in twelve places, symbolizing the twelve Apostles.

Imagine what it was like that day in 1939, here in Mullingar Cathedral, as described on page three of the beautiful Chrism Mass booklet you have all received this evening. Two days earlier, Germany had invaded Poland. The Second World War had begun; in fact, it was on the day of the consecration of the Cathedral that France and Great Britain declared war on Germany. We can only imagine both the joy of the people of the Diocese of Meath on the completion of their Cathedral, but at the same time surely the fear and uncertainty about the future which was so powerfully present in those days of September 1939.

Perhaps our times are not so different. There can be fear and uncertainty about the future. But tonight’s liturgy gives us the answer to the question of how to go forward. Let us always remember that each of us has been anointed with Christ. We, like the Cathedral in which we find ourselves this evening, have each been consecrated by Christ and to Christ. Let us never forget our identity: we are not our own, we have been redeemed by Christ and he will take care of his own. Let us live our baptismal anointing by spreading the fragrance of Christ in the world. Let us also tonight thank God for the gift of the priesthood, for the men who have been called by Christ to serve the Church as priests, whose hands, anointed with Chrism, bring us the sacraments of eternal life in Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, and the Anointing of the Sick. Tonight we say “thank you” to our priests. At times, it is not easy for them. And so, for your witness of faithfulness, you, the priests serving in the Diocese of Meath, have our sincere gratitude.

The Diocese of Meath is well known in Ireland for the presence of a good number of young priests. I urge everyone here tonight to pray for vocations to the priesthood, and not only to pray, but also to ask. Do you know a man who would make a good priest? Tell him that. Encourage him to think about the priesthood. Your voice, your suggestion, could well be the way in which Christ will speak to his heart and say “Come, follow me” (Mt 4:19). Let us also ask Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, to watch over our Church and this Diocese, and to inspire young men to respond with the generosity of heart which is her characteristic: “Let it be done unto me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Now, I ask the priests here present to renew their commitment of service to Christ and his Church.

Notes to Editors

· Photographs are available from the Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth. Bishop Michael Smith is Bishop of Meath. The Diocese of Meath includes the greater part of Counties Meath, Westmeath and Offaly, and a portion of Counties Dublin, Louth, Longford and Cavan. The Patron Saint of the Diocese is Saint Finian, and his feast day is 12 December. The diocese has a Catholic population of over 250,000, contains 69 parishes and 149 churches.

· Before the final blessing Bishop Smith will address the congregation and make a presentation to Archbishop Brown, saying: “I am delighted to welcome the Apostolic Nuncio to the Chrism Mass on this occasion as we mark the 75th anniversary of the consecration of this Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar. During the Chrism Mass, the renewal of priestly vows is a central element of the celebration. Twenty-five years ago, the young Father Charles Brown was ordained and, for his first appointment, he was assigned by Cardinal O’Connor to the Parish of Saint Brendan the Navigator in the Bronx, in the Archdiocese of New York. The Cardinal may or may not have been aware of how providential that appointment, with the example of Saint Brendan, would turn out to be. The very essence of Saint Brendan’s mission was reaching out to other shores, which tradition tells us may have included your own native shores in America. For 25 years, first as an assistant pastor, then as a student, later as a Vatican official and now as Archbishop and Nuncio, Your Excellency has sailed to many shores in service of the Gospel. This evening, we thank Your Excellency for your faithful ministry. I am delighted to present you with this sculpture by Mullingar Pewter of Saint Brendan the Navigator and, with it, we offer you our prayers that, in your service to the Holy Father, you may continue to reach out to humanity and offer to all people ‘the joy of the Gospel’.”

· The Chrism Mass is a very special Mass where Catholics from across the diocese, together with their priests and bishop/s, 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.

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444