Chrism Mass homily of Archbishop Eamon Martin
11.00am at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh
Sometimes daring to witness openly to our sincerely held Christian convictions can bring upon us ridicule, condemnation or even persecution. I am thinking, for example, about our strong beliefs in the sacredness of human life from the first moment of conception until the moment of natural death; our Church’s understanding of marriage and the family; our Catholic social teaching about the fair distribution of goods, care for creation and concern for the weakest and most vulnerable – Archbishop Eamon Martin
It is an honour and a great joy for me to celebrate the Chrism Mass for the first time as Archbishop of Armagh, to consecrate the holy chrism and bless the other oils and to renew, in communion with you, my brother priests, our commitment to priestly service.
It is fitting that we do so in the presence of representatives of the people, deacons, and consecrated persons of the Archdiocese, because it is before you, my brothers and sisters, that we do our best every day to bear witness to Jesus Christ, the Anointed One, who, by His Cross and resurrection, redeemed the world.
On the day of Baptism, when we were all first anointed with the Oil of Chrism, these words were spoken:
“As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life”.
At Confirmation we were again anointed with chrism, this time with the words: “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”.
On the day of our ordination, we priests were once more anointed with chrism – this time on the palms of our hands by the Bishop, saying:
“May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God”.
And at my episcopal ordination here in the Cathedral two years ago this month, Cardinal Seán, as principal consecrator, poured the oil of chrism over my head, saying:
“God has brought you to share the high priesthood of Christ. May he pour out on you the oil of mystical anointing and enrich you with spiritual blessings”.
When I consecrate the chrism today in communion with the priests present, I will breathe over the oil: firstly, to symbolise the calling down of the Holy Spirit; and secondly, to emphasise the life-giving, sanctifying character of the sacraments where chrism will be used.
Chrism marks us out for special service – by Chrism we are consecrated, set apart to serve God. Holy Chrism therefore belongs to the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination because these are the sacraments which impart an indelible character – they seal us with a particular calling and service in mind, so that we may be God’s witnesses in the midst of a busy world.
But what does this ‘setting apart’, this ‘consecration for special service’ mean for us nowadays? In the early Church people noticed something different about the Christians. The followers of Jesus were remarkable because of their prayerfulness, charity, joy, their willingness to suffer for their faith, their peaceful nature and communion with one another. People observed: ‘See how these Christians love one another’.
Two thousand years later, our challenge, as baptised, confirmed, and in some cases ordained Christians, is to be just as ‘remarkable’, to be a ‘people set apart’, known and recognised as people who are not afraid to witness to Christ, the Anointed One.
Of course, to be like Christ in an increasingly secularised world often means being different, counter-cultural, and not easily swayed by the prevailing attitudes and opinions around us. This is not easy. The pressure on us to conform, to become just like everyone else is often immense and overpowering. Sometimes daring to witness openly to our sincerely held Christian convictions can bring upon us ridicule, condemnation or even persecution. I am thinking, for example, about our strong beliefs in the sacredness of human life from the first moment of conception until the moment of natural death; our Church’s understanding of marriage and the family; our Catholic social teaching about the fair distribution of goods, care for creation and concern for the weakest and most vulnerable.
It is equally challenging for us in our ministry as priests and bishops. At ordination we promised to become more and more closely conformed to the Lord Jesus, and to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching. But we know how difficult it can be sometimes to speak clearly and courageously about the truths of the Gospel and the riches of the faith handed down to us. The world in which we minister is inclined to shun moral absolutes, or any talk of God’s law and the natural order of things. That is why, as today’s liturgy puts it, we need you, “dearest sons and daughter”’ to “pray for your priests and bishops, that the Lord may pour out his gifts abundantly upon us and keep us faithful as ministers of Christ, the High Priest”.
The Second Reading speaks of us being “a line of kings, priests to serve our God and Father”. But how can we meet the challenge of being like more like Christ as Priest, Prophet, King in today’s world? Perhaps the answer lies in the deep symbolism of the oil with which we have been anointed at Baptism, Confirmation, and Ordination. The oils used in our sacraments come from olives that have been crushed and pressed, that same fruit which grew abundantly in the Gethsemane garden of Christ’s agony, on the Mount of His Ascension into glory, oil which the ancient peoples used to soothe, to comfort, to strengthen. It is interesting that the Greek word for ‘olive oil’ and the Greek word for ‘mercy’ share the same language root: eleos. Thus Kyrie eleison, ‘Lord have mercy’ evokes also: ‘Lord soothe me’, ‘Lord comfort me’, ‘Lord anoint me with your steadfast love’.
Pope Francis wrote in his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel):
“The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.”
To emphasise this he has called an extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy to begin in December on the theme: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”. It promises to be indeed a ‘year of the Lord’s favour’. For what better message can God’s holy people, God’s ‘people set apart’ bring to the world than: Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful This is the Good News that proclaims liberty to captives, new sight to the blind; that sets the downtrodden free:– to pour the oil of God’s mercy and steadfast love into the wounds and broken lives of those around us, never excluding or condemning the sinner, but instead accompanying and welcoming them with the compassion of Christ who died to save sinners like us and bring back the lost.