By Peter Jennings.
The Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, was the Principal Celebrant and Preacher at the Chrism Mass, held at the Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad, Birmingham, on the Wednesday of Holy Week, 27 March 2013.
It was a bitterly cold morning and there was still some snow on the ground outside the Cathedral but this did not deter the priests from making their way in procession outside from the crypt into the welcome warmth of the packed Cathedral.
This is the one occasion in the year when the priests from across the 224 parishes and many varied chaplaincies in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, gather together, and are the central figures, filling much of the Cathedral; with the deacons, religious and lay faithful in a supporting role.
The Archbishop of Birmingham, the auxiliary bishops and the Metropolitan Chapter also braved the unseasonal spring weather and processed from Cathedral House into and through the West Door of this Pugin gem, to the great hymn “Praise to the Holiest”, by Blessed John Henry Newman.
During a thought-provoking Chrism Mass homily, Archbishop Bernard Longley said: “It has been an eventful year since we came together in Holy Week 2012 to celebrate the Chrism Mass.
“Last October Pope Benedict inaugurated the Year of Faith as part of the Church’s celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the twentieth anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Throughout this year we have been reflecting on the major teaching documents of the Council and asking how we have understood, interpreted and responded to them.”
The Archbishop of Birmingham said: “The very fact that we gather together in this way, to celebrate the Chrism Mass and to witness the blessing and consecration of the Church’s oils, is itself one of the liturgical fruits of the Council.
“The liturgical reforms begun by Sacrosanctum Concilium have made the ceremonies of Holy Week, and especially the Sacred Triduum, more accessible to us and to all the faithful. Those same reforms permit and encourage us as priests to concelebrate this Chrism Mass in a way that both expresses and strengthens our unity as a presbyterate.
“The ancient tradition of consecrating the Chrism and blessing the Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of the Sick was enhanced and enriched by setting it in this Mass which also highlights the Priesthood of Christ and our sacramental share in that priesthood.
“During his three years of preaching and healing our Lord’s human understanding of the mission entrusted to him by the Father grew and deepened. But even from the earliest days, following his baptism by John the Baptist, he knew himself to be the beloved Son with a message to communicate and a mission to fulfil.”
Archbishop Longley said: “This year when we come to bless and consecrate the oils we shall do so for the first time in communion with Pope Francis as Bishop of Rome and Successor of St Peter. His ministry has already touched and inspired us.
“In a simple and direct way Pope Francis has emphasised the precious gift of our anointing for the service of others. He has reminded us that as priests and deacons we must reflect the concerns and priorities of Christ if our faith is to be authentic.”
Archbishop Longley said: “The circumstances of the conclave leading to the joyful election of Pope Francis also reminded us that the Church is in constant need of purification and renewal if she is to remain true to the mission of her Lord.”
The Archbishop of Birmingham stressed: “In the midst of scandal and adversity we ourselves need the balm of holy oil before our vision is clear enough to reach out with these oils to others. Sacramental anointing highlights the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love which we receive as gifts of grace. In our priestly ministry, when we anoint others, we are privileged with the task of enabling these virtues to deepen in the lives of those we serve.”
The Archbishop said: “Of all the beautiful ceremonies of this Holy Week, when we participate in the sacred drama of the Lord’s passion and resurrection, the Chrism Mass deserves to stand out for its unique focus on the Priesthood of Jesus Christ and on the way that he has chosen to make his priesthood available to the people of our own time and place.
“Each moment of the Sacred Triduum, which we begin tomorrow, expresses some facet of the Lord’s priesthood: as he institutes the Eucharist at his Last Supper and offers the sacrifice of his life on the cross – as he rises from the dead at Easter and promises us new life through the outpouring of his Holy Spirit.”
Archbishop Bernard Longley concluded: “As we celebrate this Mass of Chrism and come to renew our Priestly Promises we also pause to pray for vocations – to married life, to religious life, to the permanent diaconate, but especially today for vocations to the priesthood.
“With so many of us praying for this intention we should feel encouraged by Blessed Dominic Barberi, our diocesan patron for the Year of Faith, who said: I consider it should be held as a maxim that when God stirs the hearts of many to ask for any one thing it is an evident sign that he wishes to grant it.”
At the Renewal of Priestly Promises, Archbishop Bernard Longley asked his priests if they were ready to renew the promises they once made. They responded with a great “I am”. The word of each was the resolution of all. It was a deeply poignant moment.
The Procession and Blessing of the Oils followed. The oil of the sick was accompanied by a doctor from the Lourdes Pilgrimage. The oil of Catechumen was accompanied by a Catechist. The oil of Chrism was carried by a deacon, who will receive the Sacrament of Ordination to the Priesthood later this year and was accompanied by candidates preparing to be confirmed.
The Chrism Mass is an important and memorable occasion in the life of the Archdiocese of Birmingham each year.