Archbishop Wilson offered the Homily at the Chrism Mass, which took place on 5th April 2023 in St George's Cathedral. This important service incorporates the renewal of clergy promises, made at their Ordination, and the blessing and Consecration of Oils that will be used for anointing in the administration of the Sacraments within parishes throughout the year.
Chrism Mass 2023
Homily by Archbishop John Wilson
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Dear brothers in the priesthood
Together, we are, each one of us, disciples of the Lord Jesus. Together, we are members of his holy Church, his body. Together, we are each called to evangelise; to share the truth of God’s love by a personal witness to the hope, forgiveness, and new life given by our Saviour. Our unity in Christ is precious. Our shared mission to bear fruit for the sake of God’s kingdom is vital. Our cooperation in putting faith into action is so necessary. All of this is reflected in our Mass of Chrism today. Here, together, we sing of the Lord’s love, ‘he who is, who was, and who is to come.’
Dear friends, our belonging to Christ, together in the Church, has a sacramental foundation. The baptised and confirmed have something fundamental in common with those ordained as priests. At different moments, and in different ways, we – priests and people – have all been anointed with the Oil of Sacred Chrism. This is the Oil we consecrate today, as well as blessing the Oils of Catechumens and of the Sick.
Chrism is pure olive oil, fragranced with the perfume of balsam. It signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit, the ‘aroma of Christ,’ which fills our soul. (cf. CCC 1289; 2 Cor 2:15). The name Chrism comes from the Greek Chrîsma (χρῖσμα) meaning ‘anointing.’ As Chrīstós (χρῑστός), the name of Christ means ‘the anointed one,’ so every Christian is anointed by the Holy Spirit; anointed to belong and to believe, anointed for mission and for service.
This holy anointing unites us to Christ and the Church. It marks us with the strengthening seal of the Holy Spirit. Not a seal that keeps something closed, but a seal which guarantees the authenticity of our commissioning by Christ. The Roman Missal instructs the bishop today to preach from the Scriptures, but also to speak explicitly to the people and the priests about priestly anointing.
When the Lord Jesus stepped forward to read in the Synagogue at Nazara he was given the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. It was chosen for him as each vocation is given to us by God. The Lord Jesus accepted the scroll, as we accept our particular calling. But the Lord found for himself the place from where he wanted to read, the text that makes clear his identity and the purpose of his mission. ‘The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me,’ he proclaimed, ‘for he has anointed me and sent me out.’ These are familiar and important words for us to consider today.
Through baptism we all share in Christ’s priesthood; ‘the whole community of believers is… priestly.’ (CCC 1546) We speak, rightly, of the entire People of God as a priestly people. In fact, all the baptised participate, each according to their own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. (cf. CCC 1546) Every disciple is a priestly evangelist. Every disciple is a priestly missionary. Every disciple is a priestly servant. All are essential for the conversion of the world.
It was for the sake of this saving mission, and to serve the baptised, that God gave us the gift of the priesthood through his Son, ‘a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church.’ (CCC 1547) The Second Vatican Council teaches that while ordered to one another, there is an essential difference between the priesthood of the faithful and the priesthood of the ordained. (cf. LG 10) This unity and diversity should never be a source of tension or confusion in the Church. It is not, and never should be, a power struggle. It is, rather, a servant-charter for the sake of communion: a relationship of mutual and complementary mission, a collaboration of mutual and complementary service towards Christ and his Gospel. Thank you to laypeople, religious and deacons in our parish and school communities who work together with our priests to build up our common life in Christ.
In a particular way today, as you renew your priestly promises, I want to thank you, the priests of our Archdiocese; those incardinated and those who minster as diocesan or religious priests from elsewhere. I want to thank our priests who hold full-time pastoral office, and those who have retired, but remain active in ministry. Thank you for saying ‘yes’ to the call of the Lord Jesus to act in his very person, not least in the celebration of the Sacraments. Thank you for renewing your ‘yes’ each day, for your commitment and generosity to the Lord and his Church and his people. Thank you, sincerely, for your collaboration with me as your bishop, assisting the apostolic service to which I have been called despite my inadequacies. Thank you for being shepherds, teachers, and fathers in and of our beautiful faith.
Today, dear brother priests, I invite you to hear again the words spoken when your hands were anointed at your priestly ordination: ‘The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.’
When I read prayers aloud in the liturgy, I often confuse the words preserve and persevere. It could just be my varifocals; but it’s not an insignificant mistake. Sometimes, as priests, what has been entrusted to us to preserve can feel more like perseverance, even endurance. Whatever our age or experience, it is challenging to be a priest today. We try to care for parishioners, but also face consumers who approach the Church as if she were an event company. We know that every pastoral encounter is an opportunity to evangelise. Yet, sometimes, even while doing our best, we are left feeling used and bruised. It takes perseverance to preserve the faith, to teach, preach and minister faithfully and compassionately. And to persevere, we must be men of real faith. We must believe and trust the Lord Jesus. We must know him and love him if, truly, we are to serve him.
My brothers, our hands, anointed to reach out over bread and wine, to impart absolution, and to bless the dying, are just as likely also to be busy photocopying, changing light bulbs or unblocking sinks. None of us was ordained for a rarefied existence. We are called to get our hands dirty with the smell of the sheep. Ordained as pastors, we know that along with being effective preachers and teachers, we also need to be stewards of the Church’s goods. But sustaining our priestly identity and ministry can feel more like perseverance than the preservation of holiness for our people and for ourselves. An incarnational, pastoral priesthood must always be lived on the ‘front line,’ caught up with the real demands, needs and emergencies of human existence. In this, how might we keep attentive to the heart of our priesthood?
Perhaps we might consider three different dimensions of our priestly living, reflected in what could be described as three different ‘levels’ of anointing.
First of all, there is what we might call the ‘surface shine’ level of anointing. This is where we experience our priesthood predominantly exteriorly, taken up with what seems like perfunctory and superficial realities. If we are ever tempted to ask the question: ‘Was I really ordained for this?’ then we are experiencing this level. And it comes to all of us at some time or another, maybe often. If we only live our priesthood on the surface, we need to pause. We need to pray and discern, and review how we work. Most of all, we need to go deeper spiritually, to reawaken our sense of what it means to ‘sanctify the Christian people and […] offer sacrifice to God.’
Then there is a second possible level to our priesthood, what we might call the ‘sinking in’ level of priestly anointing. Here, what is happening on the outside connects with what is happening on the inside, interiorly in our heart. We know our need for the supple action of the Holy Spirit to replenish our spirit. We seek nourishment for our priestly living. We understand and yearn for what keeps body and soul running smoothly and open to grace. We live in growing friendship with Christ as his priestly presence to others.
Finally, there is possibly a third level to our priesthood, the ‘seeping down’ level of our priestly anointing. Here, the Holy Spirit inhabits our humanity and priesthood most profoundly, both spiritually and in our pastoral ministry. Here, we find spontaneous joy in our priesthood and in our sacramental and pastoral encounters. Our service moves us deeply: when we support someone in make a life-changing confession; when we help someone realise they are loved unconditionally by God; when we know ourselves to be Christ’s presence in person in times of pain, hurt, sickness and dying.
Dear brothers, at different times in any one day we can experience all these levels; the ‘surface shine,’ the ‘sinking in’ and the ‘seeping down’ realities of the priesthood, and more besides. The American spiritual writer, Fr Edward Farrell, commented that it takes years for the anointing at priestly ordination to sink down and filter within us. Sometimes, we feel frustrated, even that we have failed. At other times we can feel honoured, humbled and grateful. Other times still, we will be overawed and reduced to silent gratitude. We live as priests between preservation and perseverance, continuing to believe that we are called and sent to bring the Good News of salvation to others.
My brothers in the priesthood, thank you. Thank you because the gift of Christ’s anointing grace is made real through your service.