Homily by Archbishop Bernard Longley:
ST CHAD’S CATHEDRAL, BIRMINGHAM
He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood.
The celebration of the Chrism Mass is a very special moment in Holy Week preparing us for the Easter Triduum which begins tomorrow. Over the next three days the liturgy invites us to accompany our Lord on his final journey from death to eternal life. Each day we re-commit our lives to the mystery we shall celebrate in the life of Christ.
On Maundy Thursday we commemorate his last meal with his friends and the gift of the Eucharist which unites us sacramentally with all the events that we are recalling. On Good Friday we solemnly proclaim the Gospel account of the Lord’s full and final sacrifice on the cross, the outpouring of his precious blood out of love for us, and we venerate his cross.
On Holy Saturday we recall the entire history of salvation into which the story of our own lives is forever woven. With the light of the Paschal candle to guide us, we witness the dawning of the Lord’s resurrection into the darkness of a world in need of forgiveness and salvation. We renew our baptismal promises and commit ourselves to live this new life as disciples of Christ at the service of others.
The journey of Holy Week follows a familiar pathway every year. But this year is significantly different because of all that we have experienced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This year we are especially conscious of our parishioners who will commemorate the final moments of our Lord’s life while recalling those of loved ones who are no longer with them.
We pray that they may be comforted and strengthened by the knowledge that Christ – who gladly shared his life sacramentally with them through baptism and the Eucharist – now invites the faithful departed to enter into the eternal life of the resurrection. This Chrism Mass remind us that those who were sealed with the holy oils will always bear the resemblance of Christ and share forever in his risen life.
We celebrate today’s Chrism Mass in very unusual circumstances. Because of the current restrictions we can only welcome a representative group of clergy and faithful within the Cathedral this morning. I am grateful that all the Deans from across the Archdiocese are present to represent the clergy of your deanery, together with the Canons of the Metropolitan Chapter.
It is good that a number of our more recently ordained priests are also here today, participating for the first time as priests at the Chrism Mass as members of the presbyterate. Although their numbers are restricted today, I am very grateful that a group of our Religious and lay faithful are able to take part in this Mass, representing the parishes, schools and Religious communities that constitute the diocesan family of the Church.
At the heart of this Chrism Mass are the person and actions of our Lord Jesus Christ who has gathered us here through his Holy Spirit. He now prepares us to follow him from the upper room of the Last Supper, through the garden of Gethsemane along the way of the cross – out of the shadows of Calvary and the empty tomb into the light of Easter.
This is no fictional journey – it is the most important event of history in which we share sacramentally whenever we eat his body and drink his blood. As priests it is our privilege to assist the people we serve in making this journey and to find salvation in the precious blood of Christ. The Book of Revelation, which is the final utterance of the Word of God, tells us: Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the First-Born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth. He loves us and has washed away our sins by his blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father.
Today we are invited to renew our commitment to that service, through the renewal of the promises we made at our ordination. I have invited all the priests of the Archdiocese who cannot be here in the Cathedral today to renew their promises with us via the live-streaming of this Mass or on another suitable occasion with their parishioners.
As we approach this personal moment of renewal let us each open our own hearts to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. May the Holy Spirit enable us to let go of those things that hold us back from the fullest and most active participation in the liturgy – the irritations and resentments, the arguments and the petty jealousies which remind us of our fallen human nature.
When I was newly ordained, forty years ago this year, I was appointed to a parish with four priests (two Irish priests, a French priest and me). Occasionally I would come back to the presbytery feeling deflated or cross or frustrated by some encounter. My French colleague, Fr Armand Carré, would listen to me complaining about a difficult parishioner and say: “but why are you surprised? Poor human nature! He is not perfect yet – and neither are you.”
In place of our imperfections we are invited by our Lord to receive and to offer the fruits of redemption signified by the holy oils which will be blessed and consecrated today – some of the tools of our ministry:
Through the oil of catechumens wisdom, strength and a deeper understanding of the gospel pave the way towards fullness of life in Christ.
Through the oil of the sick come healing, freedom from pain and wholeness of body, mind and soul.
Our hands have been anointed by the oil of chrism so that we might be inwardly transformed – and made temples of God’s glory, radiant with the goodness of life that has its source in him.
We are celebrating the Year of St Joseph. We should invoke his intercession and follow his example, especially as we help each other to emerge from the pandemic restrictions of the last year. In his Apostolic Letter Patris Corde, inaugurating this special year, Pope Francis writes: In Joseph, Jesus saw the tender love of God: “As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him”. St Joseph quietly witnessed to the power of forgiveness, leaving an impression that lay deep within the Sacred Heart.
As we prepare for the Renewal of Priestly Promises, may the intercession of St Joseph strengthen us to act with fatherly love, the prayers of St Chad inspire a missionary spirit within us, and the example of St John Henry Newman and Blessed Dominic Barberi encourage us for another year to be faithful pastors of the flock entrusted to our care.