Homily by Archbishop Bernard Longley
He is God…of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.
We gather today for a special moment of prayer on the third weekend of the current lockdown in England. We are especially conscious of the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the lives and wellbeing of our fellow men and women and today has been dedicated as a special day of prayer for deliverance from this pernicious virus.
We hold in our prayers all those who are currently ill at home or in hospital because of Covid-19, as well as those who are caring for them – the members of their families, friends and neighbours and all the healthcare professionals, ancillary staff and carers in our hospitals, nursing homes and hospices. They too deserve our prayers as they give of their best to assist all those who are most in need at this difficult and unsettling time.
At the recent meeting of the Bishops’ Conference a special mention was made of our healthcare and prison chaplains who have faced particular challenges over the last nine months. They also have a special place in our prayers at this Mass.
We are approaching the conclusion of the Church’s liturgical year with tomorrow’s Solemnity of Christ the King and the season of Advent just a week ahead – and we are celebrating today the Presentation of Our Lady. This ancient feast unites the Churches of East and West in commemorating the dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary built near the Temple in Jerusalem in 543.
We recall Our Lady’s dedication of her life from her childhood, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to serve God as the handmaid of the Lord. She gave birth to the Lord of Life so that he could share his risen life with us. As today’s Gospel reminds us: He is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive. We ask his mother to unite her prayers to ours today.
So it is fitting that on this special day of prayer, supported by Our Lady and preparing for tomorrow’s great feast of her Son as prophet, priest and king, we bless and consecrate the three oils which will be used in their different sacramental contexts as an expression of the outpouring of God’s mercy upon the world that he loves. The words of the liturgy will assist those who will be anointed to experience the presence of Christ who strengthens and heals and consecrates our lives to be his disciples today.
These three oils symbolise and channel the life-changing effects of God’s mercy as we seek to strengthen the faith, hope and love of those who are called to be disciples and to be anointed for this mission. As we celebrate and administer the sacraments we deepen our appreciation of the way that each particular sacramental grace is also to be at work in us as disciples and evangelisers.
The Oil of the Catechumens anoints those preparing for baptism as they take their first steps in faith. God’s mercy brings men and women to a life of faith as they are united with our Lord in his death and resurrection. The prayer of blessing recalls the gifts of wisdom and strength which every believer needs to come to a deeper understanding of the Gospel and to accept the challenge of Christian living.
The Oil of the Sick strengthens and sustains those who turn to Christ in their sickness in search of hope. God’s mercy kindles the flame of hope in those who long for health or for the wholeness of eternal life, the ultimate healing. In this blessing we ask for freedom from pain and illness and to be made well again in body, mind and soul.
In the Oil of Chrism we recognise most clearly the loving-mercy of God, calling us all to be inwardly transformed through Baptism and Confirmation and inviting those who are ordained ministers to be configured to Christ the High Priest. The prayer of consecration affirms that this oil makes us radiant with joy since our anointing comes from God our maker, the source of all growth in holiness.
We pray for all those who will be anointed with these oils in the months ahead: those who are preparing for baptism alongside those who are waiting to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church; those who are suffering from illness and disease as well as those who take care of them; and all those who are looking forward to being confirmed together with those in formation to be ordained for service in the Church.
As we bless and consecrate these oils prepared before the altar we pray for God’s deliverance from the coronavirus pandemic:
Merciful God, come to the help of your people. Be our shelter in this time of peril and strengthen the bonds of our community. Bring healing to all who suffer the ravages of disease and assist those whose skill and art can put an end to this affliction. Through Christ our Lord. Amen