The Chrism Mass is held during Holy Week in every Catholic diocese. During this Mass, the priests, deacons and representatives of the entire diocesan community gather around their bishop, who blesses the Holy Oils for use in the coming year. These are: Oil of the Sick, Oil of Catechumens, and Sacred Chrism. Whenever the Holy Oils are used in a diocese, the ministry of the Bishop who consecrated them is symbolically present. The Chrism Mass reminds us of our oneness in Christ through Baptism and its holy anointing, made possible by the ministry of the bishop and his priests. The Chrism Mass is also a key moment in which the unity of the Bishop with his priests (together, they form the presbyterate) is manifested and renewed. During the liturgy, the entire assembly is called to renew its baptismal promises; deacons and priests also renew their vow of obedience to the local bishop and their commitment to serve God’s people. At the end of the Chrism Mass, the Holy Oils are brought back to parishes of the diocese for use in the coming year. The Chrism Masses in Irish dioceses have been taking place these past few days.
In his homily at the Chrism Mass on 24 March in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, Archbishop Eamon Martin said the following:
Mercy is the beginning and the end of the story of salvation. And as Pope Francis reminded us in his papal letter to launch the Year of mercy:
“Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy.’ (MV10)”.
I know that many of you have reached out lovingly to many families who experienced tragic, sudden or violent death in their homes. Just last night when I visited the family home in Derry of those who lost their lives at Buncrana pier on Sunday, I could see first-hand the merciful outreach of the local priest and community at a time of unspeakable pain and loss. No doubt in Brussels today priests and pastoral workers are holding the hands of the injured, whispering comfort to the bereaved, lifting up the sorrowful.
This is the work of mercy that is at the heart of our calling as priests.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the following in his homily at the Chrism Mass in Dublin on 24 March:
We all like what Pope Francis says and we like him even more when he says things we like. But Pope Francis also says things which challenge us and which challenge us to change our hearts. I was very struck by one thing he said at the conclusion of the Synod last October. He spoke of:
“Closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings in order to judge others, sometimes with superiority and superficiality”.
Strong words: we can only bring the message of Jesus with hearts that are truly loving. As priests we must preach the message Jesus Christ in its integrity, but never our own judgementalism.
Pope Francis challenges all of us to go out beyond ourselves. He describes the work of the Spirit as “a powerful – and thus at times restless – breath”. The power of the spirit generates not conformity, but restlessness. The missionary disciple of Jesus is always restless to bring the Good News and the mercy of Jesus Christ to others.
Our Church in Ireland must become more restless in bringing the message of Jesus into our society.
In his homily at the Chrism Mass in the Archdiocese of Tuam, on 23 March, Archbishop Michael Neary reflected on the centrality of the cross:
Each year we celebrate the Chrism Mass in the shadow of Good Friday and the cross. In so many ways this is very appropriate. The whole mission and ministry of Jesus is never far from the cross. Indeed the cross casts a long shadow back to the very beginning of the gospel. Here in the Archdiocese we have had a very clear reminder of the way in which the cross impinges on all of us in the past few weeks. Yet as men and women of Easter hope we recognise that the cross can never be separated from the resurrection. The tomb of death has been transformed by Jesus Christ into the womb of new life. And so it is with courage that we are all reminded that if we wish to be a follower of Jesus we must take up the cross every day.
Bishop Donal McKeown, in the homily for the Mass of the Chrism in the Diocese of Derry, 24 March, spoke on God’s call to serve:
For our two saints, their calls meant a break with their plans. It was an insistent voice that said, “Forget your dreams, I need you for other tasks.” Human brutality dragged the young Patrick from his home – and it was in his desert rather than in the land of his dreams that he met the God of his fathers. Joseph had his life arranged for himself and Mary – but God intervened with apparent lack of common sense. Take this pregnant girl to be your wife – and the child will not be the fruit of betrayal but an unimaginable grace.
Vocation is a call to serve God’s dream not mine. It is a call to feed God’s flock and not merely to nourish our own egos. It means ensuring that people see Jesus, the face of the Father’s mercy and not just my face. But it comes with the reassurance that I will be most myself when I try to follow the often strange ways of the Creator.
Bishop William Crean drew upon the ‘Testament’ of Dom Christian de Chergé, one of the monks of Tibhirine killed in 1996, for his homily at the Chrism Mass in the Diocese of Cloyne, 23 March:
“It would be too high a price to pay for what will be called, perhaps, the “grace of martyrdom” to owe this to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam. I know the contempt in which the Algerians as a whole can be held. I know, too, the caricatures of Islam which encourage a certain Islamism. It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience in identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: they are body and soul. I have proclaimed it enough, I think, seeing and knowing what I have received from them, finding here so often that direct line bringing the gospel that I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first church, finding it precisely in Algeria, and already in the reverence of believing Muslims.” – Spiritual Testament of Christian de Chérgé
Bishop Kevin Doran included the following in his homily for the Mass of the Chrism in the Diocese of Elphin:
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up hearts that are broken;
to proclaim liberty to captives,
freedom to those in prison;
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord,
This evening, once again, the words of Isaiah are spoken in this community and, in this ancient ritual of the blessing of oil, we are reminded that here, now, in this time and place, we are the ones to whom the Spirit has been given, we are the ones who are anointed. Like Isaiah and like Jesus, we are called to bear witness to the fact that, in spite of all the chaos in the world around us, the Spirit is at work. He is at work in us.
In his homily at the Chrism Mass in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin on 22 March, Bishop Denis Nulty reflected on the image of the base stone:
A base stone gives solidity and strength to what is built on it.
For me, it was very important that the base stones representing the different parishes should be placed here at the environs of the ambo. It’s from here the mercy of God is preached; it’s from here the mercy of God is lived; it’s from here the mercy of God is broken down for all of us to understand.
As I stand at the ambo here in the Cathedral, the Mother Church of our Diocese, with the four evangelists in a bronze cast taken from the former pulpit, as the mountain of mercy emerges from those parish base stones, I’m reminded of the early lines of Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Scaffolding’:
“Masons, when they start upon a building,
are careful to test out the scaffolding:
Make sure that the planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.
And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone”
The full texts of these homilies and more information on Holy Week and Easter celebrations can be found here.