Mass of the Chrism
Celebrated by the Most Revd Geoffrey Jarrett, Bishop of Lismore
at All Saints’ Church, Kempsey
21 March 2005
My dear Priests and Deacons, Religious Brothers and Sisters, and Catholic people,
“The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me.” This is not the only celebration in Holy Week nor indeed in the Church’s liturgical year, when words spoken in prophecy in the first reading or responsorial psalm, are heard a second time, now quoted in their fulfilment in the Gospel. What Isaiah said of himself Christ our Lord could most truly appropriate to Himself: a text fulfilled that day in the listener’s hearing.
What was true in the Nazareth synagogue that day is true tonight in this Kempsey church, as indeed it has been in every assembly of the Christian people across the centuries. Tonight we especially recall that we are an anointed people, and on each of us the Spirit rests through our baptismal consecration and sealing in Confirmation. For some of us, your priests, another sacramental seal has further consecrated us from among you and for you, so that those other words of Isaiah have a telling appropriation to us: “You will be named ‘priests of the Lord’, they will call you ‘ministers of our God’, . . . you are a race whom the Lord has blessed.” A special moment of this Chrism Mass is when your priests renew their promises of ordination.
The Mass for the blessing of the holy oils and the consecration of the Sacred Chrism is an annual event for the whole diocese, for from this sacred liturgy tonight, grace flows out to every parish and person joined in the communion of Christ’s Church in our diocese. Ordinarily celebrated in the Cathedral Church, as it will be again next year, in the intervening years it has been good to enable it to come to the experience of more of of our people, and we thank the parishioners of All Saints’ for their hospitality tonight. As every year since Bishop Doyle was appointed bishop of Grafton in 1887, the oils have been blessed to be used in the sacramental signs, and the holy Spirit called down as we recall that the same Spirit lives in us in such a way that in communion with God and with one another we, as our parents and grandparents were, and going way back in the story of our diocese, are the living presence, the living Body of Christ. We are His Church, His People. For this occasion the fifth bishop holds the same pastoral staff as the first bishop received one hundred and eighteen years ago as a gift from the people of his new diocese. Newly refurbished and restored to use, it is a precious symbol of the continuity of the faith in our Diocese, and the presence of Christ the Good Shepherd among his people.
Nobody who has ever tried to live their Christian calling faithfully has ever found it easy. Being called to be Christ’s saints in the world in which we live is hard today, but I suspect no harder, than in any age past. Being called to be a priest in today’s world may well be considered by some to be a call to the superheroic, not to say the impossible. The call to holiness of life apart, huge expectations are made of our priests. There seems in every parish to be a human expectation that the parish priest will be an efficient administrator, an inspiring leader and wise adviser, a patient listener, an ingenious problem-solver, not to say miracle worker, the celebrant of perfect liturgy, great with the young and old alike – and I almost forgot, the preacher of the most riveting, the most memorable, and the shortest homilies.
Of course, desirable as these things may be, they do not have much to do with the essence of being a priest, which centres on being, and being holy, not on doing and on human abilities in which many others in the parish may well excel. If Christ is the model of the priestly life, the first and only quality we find in Him is that holiness which unites Him intimately with His Father, and then with sinful humanity, a holiness which culminated in His embrace of the cross, despising the shame, and being exalted through His humble obedience.
Over the years I have known many parishes where people have had great respect for their priests, and shown the most amazing loyalty. In very few did superficial considerations play a part, and only where the people themselves tended to have a superficial understanding of the Church and the priesthood. Deeper than human respect was a special love – and the reason for that special love was that they knew from observation and experience, in moments great and small in parish life, that their priest was a man of faith, a man of prayer, a man of charity, a man of obedience, a man who lived his calling in total genuineness in his responsibilities to the Church and to his people as priestly shepherd and friend.
Of course you too, my dear people, have known such priests, in this diocese and beyond, and you thank God for what they have meant to you and your family. Let us express this gratitude in continuing prayer for new vocations from our families to come forward to answer Christ call to be His priests. The appearance of young men of idealism and Christian faith ready to give their all in succession to the ranks of faithful priests of generations past will be the clearest sign that what we are doing in our families, parishes and schools, is bearing fruit – that the New Evangelization is taking effect and conspicuously under way in our midst.
A final word: in recent months the media picked up on calls from some quarters for a change in the connection between priesthood and singleness of life. This is a matter that periodically comes up for discussion, and these days the idea, among others, is advanced that allowing priests to be married might be a way of attracting more men to the priesthood. My Anglican and Orthodox priest and lay friends who are married assure me that this has not been the case in their churches over centuries, and they respectfully advance caution on our part in adopting such thinking. As in other questions, if one adopts a secular way of thinking one cannot come to a Christian, far less Catholic, way of seeing things. Priestly celibacy only makes sense, and in fact is eminently reasonable and most fitting only when one follows a Christian understanding of it, theological, spiritual and historical. The same with marriage, because celibacy and marriage are related, two sides of the same coin. That is why it should be said that the men whom the Church is really looking for as priests are the men who would, if their calling was otherwise, make the very best husbands and fathers. As Christian married couples treasure their consecrated love, so as priests, in our living of a consecrated love, do we treasure ours. The Church sees singleness of life as a noble and sacred unity with the priestly life, and by every means strengthens and intends to continue that unity. I believe that it does us priests a great disservice by calling it into question.
Let us go on now, gratefully, as the priests are invited to renew their ordination promises, and you bring forward the bread and the wine, and the oils which give this Mass its name and its unique character in the Church’s year.
Grace and peace be with you, and my blessing in Christ.
+ Geoffrey Jarrett
Bishop of Lismore.