Dear brothers and sisters, before I consecrate the chrism today in communion with the priests present, I will breathe over the oil: firstly, to symbolise the calling down of the Holy Spirit; and secondly, to emphasise the life-giving, sanctifying character of the sacraments where chrism will be used.
Holy Chrism belongs to the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and ordination because these are the sacraments which impart an indelible character – they seal us with a particular calling and service in mind, and they set us apart to serve as God’s witnesses in the midst of a busy world.
In the early Church people noticed something different about the ‘Christians’ – their prayerfulness, charity, and sense of joy, their willingness to suffer for their faith, their peaceful nature and communion with one another. People observed: ‘See how these Christians love one another’.
Two thousand years later, as people anointed by Chrism, we are still called to be a ‘people set apart’, women and men who are recognised as witnesses to Christ, the Anointed One. Sometimes daring to witness openly to our sincerely held Christian convictions can be countercultural and bring upon us ridicule and condemnation – just one example is our strong belief in the sacredness of human life from the first moment of conception until the moment of natural death. Sometimes it is challenging for priests and bishops to speak clearly and courageously about the truths of the Gospel and about the riches of the faith handed down to us. That is why, as today’s liturgy puts it, we need you, ‘dearest sons and daughters’ to ‘pray for your priests and bishops, that the Lord may pour out his gifts abundantly upon us and keep us faithful as ministers of Christ, the High Priest’.
The Second Vatican Council spoke about the distinctiveness of the ministerial priesthood, but it also richly reminded us of the common priesthood of all the baptised, and emphasised that the ministerial priesthood serves the common priesthood of the faithful.
At Baptism and Confirmation you also, my dear brothers and sisters, were anointed with Chrism and again at Confirmation you received the gifts of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. The catechism is very clear that the laity “share in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly office of Christ; you have therefore, in the Church and in the world, your own assignment in the mission of the whole People of God.” (CCC 873).
The life of the Church is much richer and dynamic when all baptised Catholics find ways to answer God’s call, bringing a great variety of gifts to the service of all. We priests should never block the Spirit’s call to you, our lay faithful, by selfishly holding on to some outmoded sense of priestly power or control. Together, priests and people, we must all strive to become closely united to Christ.
In recent months we have been engaging in the first phase of the synodal pathway for the Church in which we are called by Pope Francis to consider how best to spread the Gospel amidst the challenges of life in the 21st century.
I want to thank the members of the Dromore Diocesan Synodal Core Group and all who have helped them engage in the consultation of lay people, religious and priests over the past six months. I welcome the members of the Synodal Core Group who are participating in this Chrism Mass. Already a great number of responses have been received from individuals and groups, from families and members of our parish communities. The Core Group has begun to collate the key themes that are emerging with a view to preparing a ten page report from our Diocese to go through to the next phases of the synodal process at national, continental and universal Church level.
We live today in a very challenging secular environment, where, sadly, many people do not know the joy of encountering, believing in, and following, Jesus Christ. Some have lost their sense of being part of the Church and others, for various reasons, may feel they no longer wish to be involved. A challenge for the synodal process as it continues will be to be as inclusive as possible, and open to hearing many different perspectives.
I am conscious today that it is now three years since Pope Francis asked me to oversee the diocese of Dromore as apostolic administrator. It has been a joy for me to work with you during this time and to discover the deep sense of faith in the people, religious and priests of this historic diocese. It’s time now to start thinking about the future of the diocese of Dromore. And today I wish to invite all the people of the diocese to join me in reflecting about the needs of this diocese and how we can best serve the future of the Catholic faith in these parts.
The first fruits of the recent synodal conversations will certainly help us in preparing options for the future of the diocese. It is important for us to consider if the diocese of Dromore will be best able to continue to journey as a distinct diocese in its own right, or if the needs of the faith will be better served by our linking with a neighbouring diocese or dioceses in the coming years.
I invite you to join me in considering how we should best move forward. Please pray that the Lord will walk with us on the journey as we consider the future of the diocese of Dromore together. May the word of God inspire our reflection and may the Holy Spirit give us all the gifts we need of wisdom, understanding, knowledge and right judgement.
The mission and challenge that we share as priests, religious and lay faithful – all anointed with Chrism – is to speak into a world that is darkened by violence, war, greed and despair; a world that is divided more than ever into those who have and those who have not. Into this world the Spirit anoints us, gifts us, sends us out as ‘priests of the Lord’, ‘ministers of our God’ to renew the face of Earth, and as today’s readings remind us:
to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up hearts that are broken;
to comfort all those who mourn;
to proclaim liberty to captives,
freedom to those in prison;
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.
May God bless us all in this task and give success to the work of our hands!
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore. This Chrism Mass will take place in Saint Colman’s Cathedral Newry at 10.30am today.
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