March 17, 2008
Tonight, in its basilica cathedral of St. Joseph, the Church of Edmonton is assembled for the solemn Mass of Chrism. This gathering of praise and worship gives visible and beautiful expression to the communion we share as members of the Body of Christ.
We celebrate this liturgy in Holy Week, when the saving events of the Lord’s paschal mystery are commemorated. Yesterday the Church recalled his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which initiated the final events of his saving work. At the end of this week, the rites of the Sacred Triduum will immerse us in the mystery of his death and resurrection. These sacred celebrations are both a proclamation and a summons: they announce the truth that Jesus is the Son of God and unique saviour of the world; they call us to a profound renewal of the act of faith, to surrender our lives anew into his hands, and to commit ourselves once again to the accomplishment of the mission that he entrusts to his Church.
It is precisely this mission that is the focus of our celebration tonight and the reason for our gathering in praise and petition. The mission that Jesus entrusts to the Church is his own. In the Gospel for this evening, we hear him teach that He is the one who has been sent from the heavenly Father for the accomplishment of God’s saving purpose. Listen again to his words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Here Jesus takes the words of the prophet Isaiah and applies them to himself. When first spoken by the prophet centuries before, they were words of promise, giving rise to hope in the hearts of all who heard them, hope for a final and definitive deliverance from evil by one anointed with the mighty Spirit of God. Now pronounced by Jesus, they are words of fulfillment, giving rise to peace in the hearts of all who believe that he is the Christ, the one sent by God and anointed with the Spirit to both proclaim and accomplish the good news of salvation.
In the mystery of God’s design, Christ associates the Church with Himself in the accomplishment of his saving mission. From the Father He sends the Spirit upon the Church, and thus anoints us with the same messianic Spirit with which He was anointed. Through this outpouring of the Spirit, we are united to Christ, given new life in Him, and made one with Him in his mission of salvation to the glory of the Father.
This gift of the Spirit is sacramentalized, i.e. made visible and effective, in the act of anointing with sacred oil. Many years ago our ancestors in the faith used oil to consecrate kings, priests and occasionally prophets to the service of God. In continuity with ancient biblical practice, the Church also uses oil to set her members apart for God’s service, but the essential meaning of the act has profoundly changed. In the light of our faith in Christ, we now recognize that the ancient offices of priest, prophet and king were a foreshadowing of the saving work to be accomplished in Christ. In virtue of his anointing with the Spirit and of his death and resurrection, Jesus is the High Priest, the mediator of a new and everlasting covenant between God and humanity; He alone is the Prophet par excellence, the Word of God made flesh; and He is the one and only King, the risen Lord and ruler of the universe. His is a mission which cannot be surpassed; it can only be shared. By the anointing with holy oil, members of the Church are made participants in his priestly, prophetic and royal dignity and sharers in his mission of salvation.
This evening, in a spirit of humble and joyful anticipation, the Church asks Almighty God to bless the oil He has given us and to use it as a visible instrument of his saving love. We ask him to bless the oil of catechumens, so that its recipients will comprehend the good news of Jesus Christ and be made ready for the gift of new life in Baptism. With us tonight are some of our catechumens, as well as candidates for admission to the Catholic Church. You are especially dear to the Church and we surround you with our love and support as we look forward to sharing with you the beauty of the Christian life. We ask our tender and compassionate God to bless the oil of the sick. May all who are anointed with it experience deep healing of body, mind and soul. Finally, we ask God to pour out the Holy Spirit upon the perfumed oil we call chrism, a name taken from Christ. It is used to signify the priestly, prophetic and royal dignity of all who are reborn in the waters of Baptism, and to bestow Christ’s messianic Spirit in Confirmation.
The grace of these two sacraments is visibly at work in the lives of the laity who serve the mission of the Church in this Archdiocese. Everywhere I visit I meet many women and men who take very seriously their call to participate in the mission of the Church and do so with joy and enthusiasm. Fully engaged in ministry are the lay staff and volunteers of our pastoral centre, our parishes, our educational and healthcare institutions, and those in outreach through prison ministry or the various agencies of Catholic Social Services. We also are blessed with the presence of various ecclesial movements, as well as associations of lay faithful who seek to encounter Christ and study the teaching of the Church precisely so that they may infuse both their daily lives and professional activities with the beauty of the Gospel. I am edified by your witness and grateful for your service. Only by God’s grace, of course, can we accomplish what He asks of us. Therefore, as we implore God to bless and consecrate the oils, let us pray that He enable us to live ever more truly in accord with the dignity that is ours as Christians, and keep us faithful to the mission He entrusts to us.
Together with its use in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, the sacred chrism has another important function in the life of the Church. It is employed in the rite of ordination to the ministerial priesthood to anoint men called by Christ to follow him as priests. The anointing signifies that, in virtue of the gift of the Spirit given by the laying on of hands, the priest participates in the priesthood of Christ in such a way that he is able to act in the person of Christ the head of the Church. In the sacramental actions of the priest, it is Christ himself who acts. The ministry of the priest is indispensable to the life of the Church. Therefore, the Church has the tradition of using the Chrism Mass as an occasion to give particular thanks to God for this gift that Christ has given us.
To the thanksgiving offered by the Church for the ministerial priesthood, I add my personal prayer of thanks to God for the men who fulfill this ministry in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. Over the past number of months I have been able to visit many of our parishes, and it is very clear to me that the people of this local Church love their priests. Our faith communities are blessed with good and dedicated pastors. In the name of all who are gathered here this evening, on behalf of all parishioners, and certainly in my own name, I want to say to all of you, our priests: “Thank you.” Thank you for your presence, your availability and your generous service of God’s people.
My brother priests, as we do each year, we now pledge ourselves anew to the Lord. He has entrusted to us a wondrous gift and mystery. May he make us good and faithful stewards. To our eyes, it is always astonishing that he has chosen us, who are very well aware of our weakness and fragility, to serve as his instruments. Our confidence does not come from ourselves, of course, but from the mercy and power of the Lord. As you now renew your commitment to priestly life and service, do so with the conviction that the Lord who calls us remains always faithful. May he make of our lives, together with those of the deacons, religious and lay faithful, a continuous act of praise to the glory of His name. In the words of St. John: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his Blood, who has made us into a Kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.”