Saint Mary’s Cathedral Kilkenny
I welcome you all – priests and lay people who have joined with us for the celebration of the Chrism Mass. Because of the Covid-19 crisis and its impact on movement and gathering, most are confined to their own homes this year. This circumstance should not prevent us, however, from being in communion with one another through God’s word and spirit. We may be at home, but we are not alone. Although we are physically separated from each other, we are one in Christ. As we participate in this Eucharistic celebration, there is an in-breaking of God into our lives as we join together in “a universality of prayer.” Our Catholic imagination empowers us to connect to this annual sacramental celebration in a way that is very different from watching just another programme on television.
After his testing in the desert (Matt 4:1–11; the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent), Jesus began his public ministry by reading his mission statement as proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison, to comfort those who mourn” (Isa 61:1–2). This passage speaks plainly to us. We are still sent by God; the mission is still the same. We are called continually ask ourselves: What does the Spirit of the Lord demand of us at this time? Like Jesus, we are called to look with compassion into the eyes of the sinful or suffering woman or man.
In the context of this Liturgy – the Mass of Chrism, when priests renew their priestly commitment, these words of Isaiah cast light not only on Jesus and on the mission of the Church, but they are a particular call to those who have been anointed with holy oil, upon whom the Spirit of the Lord has been invoked, and who are sent by the Father to continue Christ’s mission – by embodying his way of life and making him visible among the people of God they serve. In short, priests, act in the person of Christ as they proclaim the Gospel to the faithful – and we do well to remember that this is our first responsibility – to celebrate the sacraments, to respond to people’s needs, as well as taking initiatives in the community that leadership requires.
The role of the priest as a religious leader in the community is still very important, but the manner in which it is exercised in these days is changing in harmony with the demands of this silent but vicious virus that is finding its way into every part of our world, and every corner of our lives. Priests are close to their people: just as the Lord remains with us, we remain with the people we serve. Let us all ‘play our part’ in keeping each other safe and secure, and let us ‘pray our part’ as we live each of these days in trust and hope.
No corner of the world is untouched by this deadly virus, no life unaffected. In our common vulnerability in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are more aware of our need for a shared solidarity. As the current crisis reveals, communion with one another is a deep reality. In fact, it is the struggle of our lives. As priests, it requires of us to be with our people, to find creative ways to reach them, especially at the time of a death of a loved one. More than ever we are called to be the eyes and ears of the Risen Lord. Furthermore, our closeness to those in need is also a mandate that challenges us to interpret the newness we face and to engage in new and creative ways of being Church. Where some churches are closed, or Masses are celebrated without a congregation, this should prompt us to reflect constantly, and ever more deeply, on what constitutes the true essence of the Church and priesthood. Many, including some clergy are overjoyed with the use of modern technology that allows people to ‘watch’ Mass in their homes, and they do not see any issue!
Over time the perception of the Church has been reduced to something sacramental with very little pastoral activity to nourish the faith and life of the people who are after all the Body of Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit. It is hardly adequate for the priest to consider being “pleasing to God” to be sufficient (see Letter to the Hebrews). From the beginning of the biblical story, God has asked about our response to the needs of our sisters and brothers. Responding that we were “not our brother’s keeper” was never deemed acceptable. Lent draws to a close today and we enter the Easter [Paschal] Triduum. Our Lenten journey has been punctuated by the constant call to compassion and justice: as Isaiah calls out, “is not this the sort of fast that pleases me: to break unjust fetters, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break all yokes? Is it not sharing your food with the hungry, and sheltering the homeless poor; if you see someone lacking clothes, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own kin? (Isa 58:6–7)
The state of emergency forcefully reminds us that the Church cannot remain isolated from the parish around it, but also has to assist those who are suffering in mind or body. While the Church building may be closed or empty, the words of the Easter Gospel are ringing in our ears: “He is not here. He has risen. He has gone ahead of you to Galilee” (see Matt 28:6). The question we must face up is: Where is Galilee today?
Our people still look to us who have been with them in the faith throughout their lives – in good days and in difficult days. In some ways, our experience in ministry and in handing on the faith permits us to accompany people in a manner which is only possible for those who have been in ministry over many years.
These changed circumstances bring home that the renewal of our priesthood must start and end in our prayer. “If we’re too busy doing other things,” Pope Francis asks that “we put those aside; we pray, and we preach, and we serve our people.” Prayer is many things, it has many dimensions, but prayer is nothing if it is not honest. In prayer, we experience honest self-examination. Prayer awakens us to the fact that we don’t have our own priesthood, but the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Each one of us has been chosen for this great calling by the Father: we can refresh our lives only in his presence, awaiting his touch. In our prayer we are sustained by hope, nourished by faith and love.
As we renew the priestly promises of our ordination, we pray that we will realise that we are chosen, anointed and sent to minister to all the people in our pastoral care. We are not alone, however, as “the Risen Jesus accompanies us on our way and enables us to recognize him, as the disciples of Emmaus did, ‘in the breaking of the bread’ (Lk 24:35). May he find us watchful, ready to recognize his face and run to our brothers and sisters with the good news: ‘We have seen the Lord!’” (Jn 20:25). (Saint Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, par 59).
Notes to Editors
- Bishop Dermot Farrell is Bishop of Ossory.
- 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.
- A special Holy Week feature is now available on www.catholicbishops.ie highlighting: Mass Readings for Holy Week and Easter 2020; details of Pope Francis’ schedule for Holy Week and the Easter Triduum; Bishops’ Homilies and Messages for Holy Week and Easter; details of online broadcasts of services in dioceses; details of Easter Services on Television and Radio; a special Holy Week series of Bishops’ Faithcast podcast; and additional resources to creatively mark Holy Week at Home.
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long +353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm +353 (0) 87 310 4444.