He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood and made us…priests to serve his God and Father.
For every bishop it is a remarkable privilege as well as an important duty to preach each year to his priests at the Chrism Mass. On this yearly occasion, when we come together during Holy Week, we are on the point of celebrating the Easter Triduum for the parishes and communities entrusted to our care. The Chrism Mass unites us and the liturgy once again brings us face to face with the reality of our lives as priests and with the precious gift of the priesthood that continues to form us year by year.
As I address principally the priests of the Archdiocese and the Religious who serve as priests alongside them, I know that the Permanent Deacons, Religious brothers and sisters and the lay faithful united with us in prayer will also reflect on their baptismal sharing in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
The Blessing of the Oils and the Renewal of Priestly Promises fixes the action of Christ the Priest, within us and through us, at the heart of this celebration. It is a moment when he calls us in the witnessing presence of his Church to remember the self-sacrificing service that is the foundation of our lives as priests. It is also a moment when, as bishops, we must make an examination of conscience about how we exercise the precious gift of serving and leading which our Lord has placed in our hands.
A fortnight ago Pope Francis announced the Holy Year of Mercy which begins on our patronal feastday of the Immaculate Conception this coming December the eighth. He did so in his homily for the Penitential Service at St Peter’s Basilica, emphasising the link between the Sacrament of Penance and the abundant mercy of God. He asked us not to forget that God forgives all and God forgives always. During these last few days of Lent you will be offering your time to reconcile sinners to God and your words will help many to experience the loving mercy that is the fruit of the Cross of Christ.
Pope Francis explained what had moved him to announce this special Jubilee Year. He said: I have often thought of how the Church may render more clear her mission to be a witness to mercy; and we have to make this journey. It is a journey which begins with spiritual conversion. Therefore, I have decided to announce an Extraordinary Jubilee which has at its centre the mercy of God. It will be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live in the light of the word of the Lord: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”. And this especially applies to confessors!
The three oils which we bless and consecrate today will each be used in their different sacramental contexts as an expression of the outpouring of God’s mercy through the priesthood we have received from Christ. The words of the liturgy will explain our actions to those we anoint and we are challenged to see that our way of life is in keeping with the gesture of pouring oil upon the heads and hands of those we serve.
These three oils also emphasise dimensions of God’s mercy that are channelled through our priestly ministry as we seek to strengthen the faith, hope and love of those called to be disciples and anointed for this mission. As we celebrate and administer the sacraments we deepen in our appreciation of the way each particular sacramental grace is also at work in us as disciples and priests.
The Oil of the Catechumens anoints those preparing for baptism as they take their first steps in faith. God’s mercy brings men and women to a life of faith as they are united with our Lord in his death and resurrection. The prayer of blessing recalls the gifts of wisdom and strength which every believer needs to come to a deeper understanding of the Gospel and to accept the challenge of Christian living.
As priests we too are called to a deeper understanding of the Gospel so that we may preach more effectively, and to meet the challenge of Christian living in our own lives so that we preach with integrity. We should never hesitate to ask those we anoint to pray for us to have wisdom and strength since we too need these gifts of faith.
The Oil of the Sick strengthens and sustains those who turn to Christ in their sickness in search of hope. God’s mercy kindles the flame of hope in those who long for health or for the wholeness of eternal life, the ultimate healing. In this blessing we ask for freedom from pain and illness to be made well again in body, mind and soul.
In our priestly ministry we are often affected by the pain of those we serve as we stand alongside them in their anxiety, emptiness and grief. There may also be times when we long for personal healing, to be relieved of some physical, mental or spiritual discomfort. Today we pray especially for our brother priests who are ill or recovering from illness, knowing that their compassion for others is deepened through their own experience. We also pray for all our hospital and healthcare chaplains as they awaken the hope of God’s mercy in those they serve.
In the Oil of Chrism we recognise most clearly the loving-mercy of God, calling us to be inwardly transformed through Baptism and Confirmation and configured to Christ the High Priest through Ordination. The prayer of consecration affirms that this oil makes us radiant with joy since our anointing comes from God our maker, the source of all growth in holiness.
When we were ordained our hands were anointed, like Christ, with the oil of gladness. When we anoint others with Chrism it is received by them as a sign of life and salvation and we teach them to believe that it will wash away the evil they have inherited from sinful Adam. Our priesthood has already transformed us inwardly so that our lives themselves can become a sign of life and salvation, opening up the limitless prospect of God’s love for those we serve.
As priests we are conscious of the power entrusted to us for the good of each other within the presbyterate. Our fraternal love, demonstrated in patience, understanding and forbearance and our call to sustain and strengthen the faith and to restore the hope of one another are each symbolised in the blessing of the oils today. I offer my thanks for the many messages of fraternal love at the recent death of my father, and for the many prayers and Masses offered by you for the repose of his soul.
When you are entrusted with the oils today or in the days to come may they awaken in you a fresh awareness of the mercy of God. At the Renewal of Priestly Promises in a few moments may you renew your commitment always to be bearers of God’s mercy to those who are close to you, and to those in your community as well as to the world.
Pope Francis wants us to prepare for the coming Jubilee Year of Mercy with enthusiasm and confidence in the power of God at work through our priesthood. I offer you now his words of encouragement and his invitation to turn to the Mother of the Lord in prayer: I am confident that the whole Church, which is in such need of mercy for we are sinners, will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time. Do not forget that God forgives all, and God forgives always. Let us never tire of asking forgiveness. Let us henceforth entrust this Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey: our penitential journey, our year-long journey with an open heart, to receive the indulgence of God, to receive the mercy of God.