Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This Chrism Mass highlights the two themes of our Diocesan Year of Prayer and Vocation. The Chrism Mass is truly a prayer of thanksgiving to almighty God. We give thanks that through the grace of God our Father we are brothers and sisters of his Son, Jesus Christ, the Anointed One. Jesus is our brother, our friend and Redeemer. Through Christ and with Christ we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. This is our vocation, weak and sinful though we are.
As the Deacons process with the vessels containing the Oils of Catechumens and of the Sick and the Oil of Chrism, we can give thanks to God that, in that brokenness and sinfulness, God has called us and anointed us for his service, called us to be channels for his Holy Spirit to renew the face of the earth.
Because of the many challenges that face us in our parishes and schools, in our families and in our own lives, we can feel weighed down and overwhelmed and unable to function. But, that can be a moment of grace because then we can only place ourselves in God’s hands and let him work through our weakness.
What I am wanting us to do during this Chrism Mass and during these sacred days in the life of the Church is to be positive and hopeful, as priests and people, especially when we are with family and friends and parishioners who have stepped back from the Church. Do not berate them or argue with them. Love them and let any challenge to them be our own lives of faith and hope and love. Put your trust in God working in and through you.
So, let this Chrism Mass be a tonic for us all. For, together we represent the local Church in the Diocese of Northampton. May you take with you from this Mass, not just the oils blessed and consecrated for use in our parishes, but the reality they symbolise and effect, that we are a people of hope, called to serve the Church and the world.
Listen to the Prayer of Blessing of the Oil of the Sick – “Send forth, we pray, your Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, upon this oil ….. so that by your holy blessing everyone anointed with this oil may be freed from all pain, all infirmity and all sickness.” Yes, in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, Christ is reaching out to us in our weakness.
Listen to the Prayer of Blessing of the Oil of Catechumens – “O God, bless this oil, and grant courage to the catechumens ….. so that they may understand more deeply the Gospel of your Christ and undertake with a generous heart the labours of the Christian life.” While we think especially of those who are to be baptised around the Diocese during the Easter Vigil, we remember, too, that all of us have been anointed with the oil of catechumens and that we can rejoice that we have been born anew and live in God’s Church.
When the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens have been blessed, the Sacred Chrism is consecrated. With the Sacred Chrism, all of us who are born again in the cleansing waters of Baptism are strengthened by the anointing of the Holy Spirit and conformed more closely to Christ, sharing in his prophetic, priestly and kingly office. As I pray the Prayer of Consecration, all the priests extend their right hands towards the Chrism as a concrete expression of their sharing with me in the ministerial priesthood of Jesus Christ.
Those hands were anointed with the Sacred Chrism during their ordination to the Priesthood, just as all of us who are baptised and confirmed were anointed with chrism. The Church truly is the Body of Christ, the Anointed One.That, surely, is the message we received loud and clear as we listened to God’s word. Jesus, in the synagogue at Nazara, reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, the same words we heard in the first reading – “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me.” And Jesus concludes with the words, “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.” Christ is the Anointed One.
And from the Book of the Apocalypse, we heard how the Anointed One “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."
Whatever cross we may have to carry, I pray that our hearts may sing today and throughout the Sacred Triduum the reality of our vocation as God’s anointed people, and that that reality may spur us on at home and at work to be positive and joyful members of the Church alive to the spirit of God present in everyone we meet.
Within our parish communities can we consciously engage our candidates for Confirmation including the 360 of them who will be gathering with me for a day of preparation at the end of April. Within our parish communities there are so many faithful workers who have given of their time and skill over many years. May I encourage them to draw into their work those who can be trained to succeed them. Can we work at building bridges and connections with our schools. Can we link up with fellow Christians and people of other faiths and no faith especially in the work for peace and justice. Can we move from our tablets and our iphones to tables where we meet and talk and pray. For we are God’s people anointed to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken, and to comfort those who mourn.
As we thank God who has called us to be his anointed people, I want to thank you for your goodness, for your generosity, and for the witness you give to Jesus and his Church.
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I want to thank especially you, my dear brother priests, who, assisted by the invaluable ministry of our brother deacons, are my principal co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord. The annual Chrism Mass marks the completion of another year of our priestly service. Our years of service may be in single figures, but how quickly they mount up! Is it really fifty years ago this year that I stood at the sacristy door waiting to process out for the Mass of Ordination wondering whether God was really calling me to serve him as a priest? I shudder to think how I preached as a twenty-four-year-old. But then I shudder now!
Key to our priesthood, in which we accompany so many people on the journey of faith especially at critical moments in their lives, is that we, too, are accompanied - by friends and parishioners and especially by fellow priests, priests who stop me from taking myself too seriously, priests with whom I can relax and have a good time, priests who forgive me in the sacrament of Reconciliation, priests who can cope with me and can lift me up when I am not worthy, priests who teach me, pray with me and concelebrate Mass with me as you are doing today.
Having worked in parishes for thirty-seven years, I have been shocked during the past twelve months to realise how much that ministry has changed. Our brothers and sisters from overseas have brought strong faith and new life to our parishes but harmonising different cultures and customs requires great skill. The pastoral care of third and fourth generation lapsed Catholics whose expectations are coloured by a secular outlook especially in regard to the funerals of loved ones is demanding as is the preparation of their children for the sacraments. The norms of our Catholic faith are not understood, and nothing can be taken for granted. Add to that mix same sex and gender issues and the shadow of abuse which we are all working so hard to combat and you can understand the great admiration I have for our priests, our Diocesan priests, our retired priests, our religious priests, our missionary priests from abroad and the priests of the Polish Mission.
The vocation of the priest to gather together God’s people, to preach and teach the Word of God, to celebrate the Mass and the sacraments, to be the shepherd of the flock on our pilgrimage to heaven is a wonderfully rich calling – a calling which is only possible with the gifts of the Holy Spirit with which we were anointed at our ordination.
Earlier I said that I wanted this Chrism Mass to be a tonic for us all. I want it to be a tonic especially for you, my brother priests, as we prepare for the Sacred Triduum and another year of priestly ministry. With a brother’s kindness Jesus has chosen you and me to become sharers in his sacred ministry. As all eyes were fixed on Jesus in the synagogue, may our eyes be fixed on him now as in a moment of silence we ready ourselves to renew our priestly promises.
Bishop of Northampton