Bishop Fintan Monahan’s homily for Chrism Mass on Spy Wednesday

27 Mar 2024

Homily by Bishop Fintan Monahan

He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father; to him, then, be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen (Apocalypse, 2nd Reading)

Our focus on this special time of prayer is on two main things:
Firstly: the blessing of the Oils to become the Sacred Oils of Chrism, Catechumens and the Sick.
Secondly: the renewal of commitment to pastoral ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.
I am always intrigued by the great classical and traditional symbol of healing which is the serpent coiled around a staff.  It is the standard symbol embraced by the medical profession. 
The symbol journeys right back in time to Asclepios, the mythical Greek god of medicine.  In Ancient Greece the sick went to be healed at shrines called ‘asklepieia’ where priests often used sacred serpents in their ceremonies. 
This classical symbol is taken up in both the Old and New Testament and we have reflected on it in the liturgical texts of Lent, most recently in Vespers on Monday of this Holy Week. 
The image used is from Mount Nebo, a Christian site in Jordan.  The sculpture there combines the story of Moses with the words of Jesus, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  (John 12:32)
All so apt to focus our minds on the cusp of the celebration of the paschal mystery these Triduum days ahead with the conquering of the great serpent by the saving act of Jesus dying on the Cross.
The Sacred Oils
The other great instrument of healing in the bible is that of Oil, sacred oils.  We hear specific mention of Cedarwood, Cinamon, Frankincense, hyssop, Balsam Fir, Myrtle.
During this ceremony, this Chrism Mass we will bless the different oils to be used in the Sacraments.  Holy Chrism, Oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick.  May the Lord bless the healing hands of all who pastorally administer them and the many medical personnel who work around healing, complementary and alongside this important healing ministry.  May God also bless those who are anointed with the oil of Chrism at important sacramental moments to set them apart, by holy lives, witnesses to the Gospel, disciples of Jesus.
Renewal and Prayer for Ministerial Commitment
And we focus also on the renewal of our zeal and commitment to minister in general terms, whether that be priestly, religious or various forms of pastoral ministry.
In February of this year a remarkable pastor came from the United States, to speak and offer inspiration at a youth gathering called Connect 4 in the University in Cork, Monsignor James Shea.  He is based in the University of Mary in the United States and he sprung to international prominence in writing a most inspiring book called From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age.  He has thought filled and enlightening recommendations or ideals for priestly ministry and I offer today that these can be easily applied and expanded not just for priesthood, but to aspects of ministry and the many apostolates and helpers in our diocese, Ministers of Pastoral Care, Catechesis, Youth, Pastoral Councils, Liturgical Music, Sacristans, Finance, Maintenance, Safeguarding and many other areas.
From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age
According to Monsignor Shea: The priest needs to live in and be animated by a Christian vision and a pattern of practices that touch every aspect of life, a pattern:

  • ordered to loving obedience to counter the perennial idol of pride;
  • ordered to chastity to counter the aggressive eroticisation in the wider culture;
  • ordered to poverty to counter rampant greed and debasing consumerism;
  • ordered to fraternity and common life to counter isolation and fragmentation endemic to modern life and to provide a witness of fraternal love;
  • ordered to prayer, liturgy, and the unseen world to stay in touch with the most important aspects of reality;
  • ordered to austerity to fight the enervating push toward comfort and to maintain missionary zeal;
  • ordered to charity and to effective preaching to reach hearts with the Gospel;
  • ordered to love of the Scriptures and to theological study to be able to catechize and teach the Faith and to meet the intellectual challenges of a highly sophisticated age; and
  • ordered to common initiatives to spearhead a new evangelistic mission.

And running through all is a vision:

  • ordered to the deep joy of a life given for love of Christ and in imitation of him, configured to him in priesthood, consecrated entirely to him and to his service…

Such comprehensive advice and ideals put before us by Monsignor Shea.

The Centrality of Prayer
In all this I emphasise the core, the lifeblood of both healing and ministry is prayer.  With God on our side, who can be against us?  As an illustration of this – I will finish with the insightful comments of the English Newman scholar that I love to read, a man called Roderick Strange.  In a recent article with clear Holy Week resonances, he says:
Pure Nard
I can lay claim to no extraordinary spiritual experiences. But being faithful in prayer is essential. My friend, Tony Philpot, reflecting on the precious ointment, the nard, poured by Mary of Bethany over the feet of Jesus, has identified it with time: “In the modern world, time is the most precious thing we have.” Time is our nard. Giving prayerful time to the Lord, even when it seems unrewarding, is the greatest compliment we can pay him. I try to pay him that compliment.”
May this constancy of prayer and time given to it unleash the aromatic fragrance of pure Nard as we serve the Lord in all our pastoral efforts of healing, consecration and bringing the presence of Jesus Christ into the lives of those to whom we minister.


  • Bishop Fintan Monahan is Bishop of Killaloe.  This Mass of Chrism will be celebrated at 7.30pm in Saint Mary’s Church, Nenagh, Co Tipperary, in the Diocese of Killaloe.
  • Chrism Mass is celebrated during Holy Week.  During the Mass, three types of oils are blessed for use in each parish in the diocese for the coming year.  All priests and the bishop also publicly renew their commitment to priestly service at the Mass.
  • Wednesday of Holy Week is also known as ‘Spy Wednesday’ – the day that Judas betrays Jesus.  The pain of his betrayal is to be felt in the account of Saint Matthew’s Gospel.