Tuesday 4th April 2023, St Aidan's Cathedral, Enniscorthy
My friends, today we gather here in the Cathedral of Saint Aidan together with those who are joining us on a delayed broadcast on RTÉ, to celebrate the Chrism Mass and to continue our Holy Week ceremonies which began last Sunday – Palm Sunday.
The Chrism Mass is the great Diocesan Gathering of people, priests, and Bishop to reflect on the meaning of our all being anointed with the oil of Chrism as Christ’s ministers of the Good News. Ministry is about service and our Christian ministry is one of loving service to one another.
Chrism is a lovely word, and it is the root word for “anointed one” and for Christ. Replace the “m” in Chrism with a “t” and you have Christ. Our individual baptisms were our first encounter with Chrism as we were strengthened by the Holy Spirit to be followers of Christ. We cannot overlook the fact that Chrism aligned us to Christ from that day forward. More significantly, we were also marked out as “priests, prophets and kings! – real builders of the Kingdom of God, not simply interested bystanders.
If ministry is love, then in Jesus own words, no one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. When Jesus resolutely turned his face towards Jerusalem, He was fulfilling the goal of ministry, the salvation of the other and the sacrifice of the self in doing so. He left behind people who had grown and flourished by His ministry, not least the people of his own village.
Jesus inspired everyone that He encountered, and it is our hope on this day of the Mass of Chrism that we his followers will continue to be inspired in whatever form our Ministry takes.
As we gather here today we invite you at home to join us in pondering two things. One is our own experience of sacrifice and courage that we experienced as other people ministered to us. Secondly, we reflect on the ways in which our own frail and weak humanity is used by Christ as a channel of His grace to others. We share in the ministry of Christ when we try to see deeper into the other persons story and to respond to his or her needs. Listening deeply is the step that synodality demands.
In particular, the Chrism Mass is a time when priests gather to reflect on their unique ministry, as celebrants of the Eucharist, the supreme gift of Christ to His Church at the end of His life. This year we are marking a year of work and prayer for religious vocations. As God’s anointed people we are making a special effort to create a culture of religious vocation in our parishes, our homes, and our Diocese.
At this Chrism Mass and on behalf of the people of the Diocese I thank you the priests of the Diocese who have courageously and faithfully lived out your generous offering of your lives’ work whether it is of 20 or 70 years duration or any time in between. I thank those priests who are celebrating significant jubilees and pray that the years ahead will be filled with blessings and happiness. I also want to acknowledge and thank the religious of the Diocese in all their different ministries and every person who in any way and in any group brought people closer to Christ.
Each of our 96 Church areas is a Christian community. In the past, their existence and their flourishing was based on a resident priest. You don’t need me to tell you that this is no longer the case. But already in many of our Church communities, the shoots of the Church of the future are visible. Like the winter barley which is now showing more and more each fine day here in our countryside, the shoots of the new Church are the generous people who are taking responsibility for the wellbeing of parishes in Pastoral Councils, Finance Committees, Chairs and members of school boards and many different initiatives with young people, with scripture groups and with music and prayer and adoration.
In the pastoral letter at the start of Lent, encouraging people to rebuild and reform in the wake of the pandemic, I strongly urged parishes to re-establish the ministry of altar servers. This is now a role for the whole believing community - not just the priest - and it is our direct response to Christ’s command: “let the children come to me”. This is part of our culture of vocation.
Today, as we celebrate a diversity of ministry and when we bless the oils for the anointing rituals of the Church, we remember that Christ Himself was anointed by Mary. And it wasn’t just a human gesture, Jesus accepted it as a ritual for His death and His passing to his Father in heaven.
I want to finish with our call to a way of synodality. We have not always been a synodal Church, where the gifts of all were welcomed or accepted. This must changed, but old habits die hard. Change is always challenging and in taking up the challenge our failures will be more obvious than our successes. But that doesn’t mean we should give up. No, we are anointed ones and the Chrism of our baptisms, confirmations and ordinations is still fresh because it is the Chrism of the Holy Spirit continually at work in us – inspiring us, urging us on, motivating us to be better ministers and servants of Christ in this life.
It is my Easter wish for all of you that the Chrism of your baptism, the Chrism of your confirmation, and the Chrism of ordained priests and religious, will never get a chance to dry and that it will remain vibrant and fresh in your minds and hearts as followers of Christ in this 21st century. Amen.