Given at the Chrism Mass at Westminster Cathedral on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, 14th September 2020
Every celebration of the Eucharist is an act of thanksgiving; today’s Mass especially so.
I thank my brother priests joining in this celebration through its live-streaming; I thank all the faithful supporting and sharing in this Mass with their prayers, wherever you may be; I thank all who are present: Bishops John, Paul and Nicholas, the Vicar General and the Provost of the Cathedral Chapter. I thank, in a special way, the deans of the diocese, present today, who have done so much to keep all the priests of the diocese together, giving mutual support, help and encouragement, in these difficult months of the pandemic. It is through their hands, too, that a fruit of this Mass of the Chrism, the Sacred Oils, will be distributed across the parishes of the diocese. Fathers, I thank you most sincerely.
The annual Chrism Mass is a moment when the fraternity of the priesthood is visibly expressed by a great gathering of priests in this cathedral, accompanied by the love and prayers given to and for our priests by so many of the faithful disciples of a Jesus in support of his priests.
Today these visible expressions are missing, but their source and sustenance are not. We are bound together in Christ Jesus, by the power of his Holy Spirit. This is an unshakable, unbreakable bond, one that gives enduring life to all who embrace it. For this, above all, we give thanks to God in this Eucharist.
This bond of shared discipleship, which holds us in its invisible way, gives us participation in Jesus’ own life, a life that is stronger than death. That is something that the world cannot give.
This bond gives us, through him, access to the very life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to the mercy and forgiveness of God when we repent - something that the world can never give.
This bond brings into our very being a nourishment and a strength that the world cannot give.
This bond with Jesus gives us a purpose and a mission, a share in his mission, which the world cannot find of itself and yet so evidently needs.
Today, before our world we hold up Jesus, holding him up with his triumphant Cross, on this Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. We do so because we are filled with his Spirit, as the First Reading from Isaiah reminded us. We do so because he is the faithful witness of the Book of Revelation, who alone gives lasting hope and a secure future, as we heard in the Second Reading. We do so because we are his Bride, for he has come to share his holiness with us, giving us liberty from our captivity, sight in our blindness, and bringing his good news to us in our poverty. To him, then, be glory and power for ever.
Among the strongest and most powerful ways by which the Lord binds us to himself are the sacraments of the Church. And these Sacred Oils, blessed today, are the most effective and creative signs of that work of salvation.
These oils are effective because they bring to us the power of the Holy Spirit.
These oils are creative because they bring about a new reality, a new creation, within us: the new life of Baptism; the building up of that life in Confirmation; its growth in transforming moments of priestly consecration; their strengthening of us in our weakness and ill-health, for that too is to be brought to Jesus, embraced with him, so that it becomes a sharing in his own redeeming suffering for the world’s salvation. Through these creative oils, in the sacraments of the Church, a radically new purpose and meaning is given to human life, to our work and lifetime dedications, to our suffering and death. Such transforming creativity the world can never give. Given by Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one, this creativity of the Holy Spirit is our joy and our salvation for our wholeness lies with him alone.
But I must not go on too long.
This is our day of rejoicing in the great gifts of the Sacraments. It is a day to remind us all to return to these well-springs of true life, despite our current anxieties, and fears, and the practical difficulties we face. It is a special day of joy for all of us privileged to share in this presbyteral ministry of the Lord, one in which, as we shall shortly proclaim, we are called to ‘to renew in his name the sacrifice of human redemption, to set before your children the paschal banquet, to lead your holy people in charity and to strengthen them with the Sacraments’ (Preface).
May the Lord preserve us all in our unity in him. May he sustain us in our weariness. May he inspire in us priests, each day, a renewed generosity in the privilege of our lives: our ministry to all God’s holy people. Amen.