Given at the Chrism Mass on 27 March 2018 at Westminster Cathedral
This Chrism Mass is my favourite moment in our year. It is so important and special. There is something very wonderful about this full Cathedral, about the feeling of a gathered diocese, a diocesan family. And I am always deeply touched by the support and love for the priests that is so evident today. Thank you all for being here.
Now here is a question for you. Have you ever been to the source of a river? To the spot where the water seeps up from the earth and wriggles its way down a hill or mountain side? I have, just once. As I recall it was a desolate spot, high up, just below a peak, desolate and a bit boggy. But I could identify a persistent flow of water, coming up through the ground and quickly being joined by other tiny streams. I stood there, amazed that this tiny stream was to grow, gradually at first but with increasing speed and power, into a strong river, flowing inevitably into the sea.
On that occasion, I thought of the image of a stream, used by the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47:8-12) and the Book of Revelation (Revelation 22:1-2). I remembered the description we are given there of the 'river of life', flowing from 'the right side of the Temple', 'down into the Arabah and to the sea; and flowing into the sea it makes its waters wholesome'. I remembered the description of that river that gave wondrous growth and fruitfulness to the trees that grew on its banks and 'whose leaves were medicinal for the people.' Indeed, in the prophecy of Ezekiel we read: 'wherever the water goes it brings health and life teems wherever the river flows' (Ezekiel 47:11).
Today, in this ceremony, we gather at the source of that stream, the river of God's grace. From its source, this river flows into our world, bringing the promise of healing, of health, of life in its fullness. Here too we see that the river flows from the right side of the Temple, that is, from the wound in the side of the body of Jesus, the new and everlasting Temple. Through his death on the cross, through his wounds, his pierced side, this great gift of grace, the transforming action of the Holy Spirit, flows into our troubled world and into our troubled hearts. This is a place at which to stop, to be filled with wonder, to be filled with joy.
Let us look more closely at the source of this river of grace. Our liturgy is made up of actions and words. On their own they are indeed quite remarkable. But it is not our actions and words on their own that matter. Indeed some find them rather clumsy! We have to always see beyond these actions and words, not be constrained by them. We must see with the eyes of faith and listen with the ears of a disciple. Then we can know that our words and actions, whether simple or of great dignity, are the means that God chooses to use to bring about this river of grace. Grace flows from here not because of our words alone, but because in this liturgy, by the power of the Holy Spirit, there is a great coming together of the human and the divine that produces a unique synergy, a radically different source of power and change.
The human and the divine come together in a single unity, each in their fullness, solely in the person of Jesus Christ, he who alone is truly God and truly man. Only Our Blessed Lord can bring about our salvation, the forgiveness of our sins and the fulfilling of our potential as children of our Heavenly Father, to be with him forever. This salvation can be achieved only through the power of God, which is fully present in Jesus. It can be ours only because Jesus is fully one of us and carries our human nature with him through his victory. If he were not God, the victory is beyond his power; if he were not fully human, the victory is beyond our reach. But he is truly God and truly man and, truly, he is our salvation.
It is from his side that this water of new life flows. It flows and is celebrated most fully in the sacraments of the Church. Many of those sacraments are signalled and made effective in the use of the oils, which we bless today: Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination of priest and bishop, the Sacrament of the Sick. Today this oil flows, as it were, from the very side of Christ into every parish, every home, every family and into every place of illness.
In each of these Sacraments, the use of this oil is accompanied by the words of the ordained minister, priest or bishop. Together, word and action unlock for us the saving power of God, enabling the 'water of life' to flow into our lives, bringing its healing and renewing in us the fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit. This is the cause of our joy in our priests, so vividly expressed in this Mass.
My brother priests, ours is an immensely privileged way of life. Despite our failings and sinfulness, so many people give us their trust and look to us for encouragement as well as to the grace of the Sacraments. This is the challenge to which we priests must rise: to be worthy of that trust, to be gracious in our ministry, never to take for granted the position we are given but always to strive to serve, not just the parish or particular ministry entrusted to us, but also the greater good of the whole.
I thank God for every pair of anointed hands, which will administer these oils in the year ahead. I thank God for the heart of every priest in this Diocese, a heart which has been dedicated to this service of grace and which today seeks to be renewed in its purity of intention and largeness of compassion.
I thank every one of you today. Thank you for your innate goodness, for your effort when tired and for your patience when over-stretched, not least by me and my immediate colleagues. Thank you for sustaining your clear identity of a priest of Jesus Christ, witnessing to him, through your faithfulness and perseverance. I thank God for you all.
Now we must continue with this great liturgy. But first, I ask all priests present to stand and be ready to renew the promises of your ordination day, sustained, buoyed up by your faithful people, who, in their turn, promise you their prayers today. And please do not forget to pray for me.
X Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster