Homily of Bishop Seamus Freeman for Mass of Chrism in the Diocese of Ossory

24 Mar 2016

“For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all;”
Cor. 5:14

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I greet all of you with affection, especially you, dear priests, who, like myself, recall the day of our ordination and the anointing of that day. I welcome all gathered for this liturgical celebration for the annual renewal of our priestly promises and the change and renewal of the Holy Oils.

These two liturgical priorities merit our special attention at this Eucharistic Celebration. At the heart of this evening’s liturgy is firstly, the blessing of the Holy Oils, the Oils for the celebration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick, and secondly,  when we, priests of our diocese, celebrate our Ministerial Priesthood with the renewal of our Priestly Promises.

Priesthood is a call and a gift. A call to serve the people of God and a gift that the almighty Father has bestowed on each one of us, priests of our diocese – anointed on the day of our ordination with the Oil of Gladness – let us give thanks and rejoice.

The priest is the person of Christ. The Alter Christi – another Christ. We are called to put on Christ, to serve, to heal, to nourish, to forgive, to bless, as Jesus would, in His name. In the name of all the lay faithful and religious men and women of the diocese, I thank you, the priests of Ossory for your faithful service. I also thank you for your collaboration on the many Diocesan Committees and various other ministries of consultation in our diocese.

It’s not the easiest time to be a priest, but it’s not the worst of times. Being a priest can be challenging – but nothing that’s worthwhile in life comes easy – quite often life can be a challenge and a challenge can teach us something too. Each one of us gathered here this evening in this Cathedral, have our own personal struggles in life – our own personal challenges – nothing in life that is of such goodness comes easy. A life of service requires on-going dedication, commitment, perseverance and renewal.  However we must place our trust in the Lord and allow his love urge us on.For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all;”  Cor. 5:14

As priests we give thanks to the Lord for our calling. It’s always a tremendous joy when we are able to help others in need, in pain, in difficulty, those who are suffering. As priests we must always make ourselves available to the people we are called to serve. That’s a quality that people in parishes very much appreciate. We must make ourselves available. We give thanks to God for the good we have achieved in our ministry and with His help, we thank him for the good we will continue to do, for His people, to whom we are called to serve.

This evening we gather to hear the call to holiness, to be renewed, to re-commit ourselves to the life and duties of our priestly life and ministry. It is also an opportunity for the faithful gathered here this evening to pray for our priests.   We are most grateful for your presence and for your prayers. Let us continue to pray for one another.

Also, let each of us dedicate some time to praying for vocations to the priesthood in our diocese. Last year was a significant year in Ossory, with the Ordination of our new priest, Father Brian Griffin. I welcome Father Brian who joins with us, the priests of our diocese, to concelebrate his first Mass of Chrism. Father Brian’s Ordination was the first in fourteen years in Ossory. The lack of vocations to priesthood in our diocese has reached crisis point with the average age of the priest 67 years. As Bishop of our diocese this concerns me greatly.   We pray for vocations to priesthood and to religious life and we ask the good Lord to send labourers into His Vineyard, that is, the Diocese of Ossory.

Fidelity and commitment for each of us is not something that automatically happens to us throughout life. Our priesthood has to be constantly nourished by a prayer-life that is set out for us by the Church. Today is a precious occasion for a review of our fidelity to that prayer-life, and to review our fidelity to the pledges we made on our Ordination day. The objective of such review is to strengthen our identity as priests, and to renew our commitment of evangelical service to the People of God – being mindful at all times, that we priests are called to serve – we are called to serve the people of God.

In the Seven Holy Sacraments the Lord touches us through the elements of creation. The unity between creation and redemption is made visible. The Sacraments are an expression of the physicality of our Faith, which embraces the whole person, in mind in body and in soul. Bread and wine are fruits of the earth and work of human hands. The Lord chose them to be bearers of his presence.  Oil is the symbol of the Holy Spirit and at the same time it points us towards Christ.

The word “Christ” Messiah means “the anointed one”. The humanity of Jesus, by virtue of the Son’s union with the Father, is brought into communion with the Holy Spirit and is thus “anointed” in a unique way, penetrated by the Holy Spirit.

What happened symbolically to priests of the Old Testament when they were instituted into their ministry by the anointing with Oil, takes place in Jesus in all its reality: his humanity is penetrated by the power of the Holy Spirit. He opens our humanity for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The more we are united to Christ, the more we are filled with his Spirit. We are called “Christians”: “anointed ones” – people who belong to Christ and hence have a share in his anointing, being touched by his Spirit. Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “I wish not merely to be CALLED Christian, but also TO BE Christian.

Let us allow these Holy Oils, which are consecrated at this time, remind us of the task that is implicit in the word “Christian”, let us pray that, increasingly, we may not only be CALLED Christian but that we may actually BE Christian. The Oils are the tools we priests use in the ministry we share, but just as important is our own renewal, as we gather as priests,   in communion with the people we are called to serve, to recommit ourselves to follow Christ and to shepherd His people.

These new Holy Oils, consecrated at this Eucharistic Celebration this evening, will be used for approximately fifteen hundred Baptisms, fourteen hundred Confirmations and many of the faithful will receive these Sacred Oils in the Anointing of the Sick during this year in the Diocese of Ossory. We, as priests will administer these Sacraments. Your service, your generosity, your holiness,   and your availability as priests,   is what brings the Sacraments to the people of God.

In the Second Reading (Apocalypse) we heard these words: “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.” This is the place given to Jesus in our Catholic Church.   Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life”.   He is the corner stone. He is the Good Shepherd. In our search for the truth, in our search for the true vision, in all our decision-making as Christians, the essential source is Jesus. Jesus is the Door. In the words of Pope Francis, “There is only one way that opens wide the entrance into the life of communion with God: this is Jesus, the one and absolute way to salvation. To him alone can the words of the Psalmist be applied in full truth:‘This is the door of the Lord where the just may enter’. (Ps. 118:20).”

2016 is a significant year for the Catholic Church throughout the world as we celebrate the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Pope Francis elaborates the theological understanding of God’s mercy, explaining the role of mercy in the life of people and of the Church, who are both the beneficiaries and the witnesses to God’s mercy in the world.

The Holy Father asked each bishop all over the world to include a Holy Door of Mercy in the Cathedral in the diocese in which he serves. On 13t December 2015, we inaugurated the Jubilee Year of Mercy in our diocese, with the opening of the Holy Door here in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, dedicated to Mary the Mother of Mercy. My prayer is that all who enters through this Holy Door during this Year of Mercy, will rediscover the infinite MERCY of the Father, who welcomes each of us and goes out personally to encounter each one of us.   Pilgrims pass through the Door as a gesture of leaving the past behind and crossing the threshold from sin to grace and from darkness to light. ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2. Cor. 4.6).  However, the door finds meaning only when the believer associates the door with Christ. Jesus is the door.

Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life, the Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.  The motto chosen by the Holy Father for this Year of Mercy is “Be Merciful like the Father.” Wherever the priest is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. Priests, called by the almighty Father, to serve the people of God, must do so, by showing merciful and compassionate love.

In the First Reading and in the Gospel, we heard a passage from Isaiah, and quoted by Jesus in the Gospel Reading of today – Luke Ch. 4.  It reads: “He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison.” Having concluded the reading Jesus added: “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.”

This is the mission of all the baptised, and fidelity to this mission is, in the juridical sense, the responsibility of priests, and is, in the charismatic sense, the responsibility of all the baptised, each one of us gathered in prayer this evening.

Since the Second Vatican Council, in particular, a new emphasis on the co-responsibility of all the members of the Church has evolved. In an address to a Pastoral Convention of the Diocese of Rome in 2009, Emeritus Pope Benedict said: “It is necessary to improve pastoral structures in such a way that  co-responsibility of all the members of the people of God in their entirety is gradually promoted, with respect for the vocation and for the respective roles of those of consecrated life and of lay people.” He added that lay people must “no longer be viewed  as “collaborators” of the clergy, but truly recognised as “co-responsible”, for the Church’s being and action.”  2016 we will see the introduction of our Diocesan Pastoral Plan, a Plan brought about by the faithful and for the faithful in our diocese. A true example of co-responsibility in our Church in Ossory. A true example of dedication, commitment and perseverance, by so many of the faithful, in bringing this Plan to its fruition. And yet – this is just the beginning.   However a good beginning. This Plan is not the Bishop’s Plan, nor indeed is it the Priest’s Plan; it is a Pastoral Plan for each and every one of us, all eighty five thousand baptised members of the Catholic Church that is, the Diocese of Ossory.

This year I would like to focus on the Sacrament of Reconciliation and priesthood. Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Misericordiae Vultus, asks us to rediscover for ourselves and to help others to rediscover the beauty of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In recent times for a variety of reasons, this Sacrament has passed through something of a crisis. On the other hand, I cannot fail to acknowledge the positive signs which, in this Jubilee Year of Mercy especially, have shown that this Sacrament, when suitably presented and celebrated, can have a broad appeal, even among the young.

Its appeal is enhanced by the need for personal contact, something that is becoming increasingly scarce in the hectic pace of today’s secular society, but which for this very reason is increasingly experienced as a vital need. Certainly, this need can be met in various ways. But how can we, as priests, fail to recognise that the Sacrament of Reconciliation offers an extraordinarily rich response to this need.

It does so by bringing the penitent into contact with the merciful heart of God through the friendly face of a priest. Great indeed is the wisdom of God, who by instituting this Sacrament has made provision for a profound and unremitting need of the human heart. We priests are meant to be loving and enlightened interpreters of this wisdom through the personal contact we are called to have with so many brothers and sisters in the celebration of Penance. With joy and trust let us rediscover this Sacrament. Let us experience it above all for ourselves, as a deeply-felt need and as a grace which we constantly look for, in order to restore vigour and enthusiasm to our journey of holiness and to our ministry.  At the same time, let us make every effort to be authentic ministers of mercy.    We know that in this Sacrament, as in others, we are called to be agents of a grace which comes not from us but from on high and works by its own inner power.

In other words, and this is a great responsibility, God counts on us, on our availability and fidelity, in order to work his wonders in human hearts.  In the celebration of this Sacrament, perhaps even more than in the others, it is important that the faithful have an intense experience of the face of Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Our preaching and our witness of a priestly life is what makes the Sacraments credible and meaningful to the people we serve. The role of the priest is crucial even for the priesthood itself.   It is most likely that everyone here this evening was helped in discovering his priestly vocation because of the witness, the friendship and possibly, the advice, each of us experienced in a priest whom we knew and whose ministry touched our lives. Now it is our turn, our duty, to cultivate vocations for the future. If we truly love our people, the people we are called to serve, we will want them to have the blessings of the Catholic priesthood.

In the first reading the Prophet Isaiah says: “You yourselves shall be named priests of the Lord.Your descendants shall be renowned among the nations.”

Your priestly ministry will produce other priests, priests who will serve the next generation of Catholics and then, their vocations will inspire the next generation. The way we express our thanks for our faith and our priestly vocation is to pass these gifts on. We felt a love for the priesthood because we saw the vocation embodied in a priest, a curate, a brother, a teacher, a missionary. We were drawn by the idealism and generosity of men and women who were good shepherds, who loved Christ and loved the people they served.

Today we have another chance to be renewed together with our brother priests. With gladness we will pronounce our Ordination promises. They are the vows of love and fidelity that we made to Christ and to the people we are called to serve. Together let us embrace this renewal. And often stirring the gifts into flame, like the Apostles, let us go back to our people to announce Christ’s victory and the Joy of the Gospel.

Dear lay faithful, Pope Francis recommends you to be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart. It is important also for us to bear in mind, that all of us, in virtue of our Baptism, are called to be apostles of Mercy and Compassion,  called by the Lord to be sent to preach the Gospel good news, and to have power over evil (cf. Mk. 3:13-15). The love of God is described by other words in the Bible, namely Mercy and Compassion.  The biblical references of the words mercy and compassion are to be found in the Bible at least 350 times.    So,   they   are  very  significant words of evangelization.
Dear Priests, Pope Francis prays: “May God the Father, renew in us, the Spirit of holiness with whom we have been anointed. May he renew his Spirit in our hearts, that this anointing may spread to everyone, even to those “outskirts” where our faithful people most look for it, and most appreciate it.May our people sense that we are the Lord’s disciples;  may they feel that their names are written upon our priestly vestments and that we seek no other identity;  and may they receive through our words and deeds the Oil of gladness which Jesus, the Anointed One, came to bring us.

I wish to conclude with a brief prayer that each of us will have the courage to be like Christ in the more difficult moments of life, making them fountains of new life, as Jesus did, when betrayed at that Last Supper.

Lord Jesus Christ, grant that our priesthood may be renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit;

that it may be ever vibrant with a humble and solid certainty of our vocation and mission, and

that our readiness for the sacred service may increase.

And we ask this through Christ our Lord.


And finally, I wish each and every one gathered here this evening,  a Blessed and Holy Easter.

God bless you all.

+ Seamus Freeman

Notes to Editors:

  • Bishop Séamus Freeman, SAC. is Bishop of Ossory.
  • The Chrism Mass in the Diocese of Ossory was celebrated at 7.00pm last night in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny.
  • The Chrism Mass is held during Holy Week in every Catholic diocese. During this Mass, the priests, deacons and representatives of the entire diocesan community gather around their bishop, who blesses the Holy Oils for use in the coming year. These are: Oil of the Sick, Oil of Catechumens, and Sacred Chrism. Whenever the Holy Oils are used in a diocese, the ministry of the Bishop who consecrated them is symbolically present. The Chrism Mass reminds us of our oneness in Christ through Baptism and its holy anointing, made possible by the ministry of the bishop and his priests. The Chrism Mass is also a key moment in which the unity of the Bishop with his priests (together, they form the presbyterate) is manifested and renewed. During the liturgy, the entire assembly is called to renew its baptismal promises; deacons and priests also renew their vow of obedience to the local bishop and their commitment to serve God’s people. At the end of the Chrism Mass, the Holy Oils are brought back to parishes of the diocese for use in the coming year.

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