Chrism Mass, 2018
Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One. He affirms this in the synagogue of Nazareth when He reads from the scroll the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me.” At the Chrism Mass, we celebrate Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One, and we give thanks that we share in His anointing and so can be called Christians, the anointed ones, who share in His life and mission. The Lord consecrated us in Baptism and Confirmation to bear witness in the world to His Redemption. And He consecrated our priests through Holy Orders, a special anointing of the Holy Spirit, to be the stewards of the mysteries of His Redemption. At this Mass in which our priests renew their priestly promises, we pray especially for them through whom, in communion with the bishop, Christ our High Priest builds, sanctifies, and shepherds His Body, the Church.
At this Mass, I will consecrate the sacred chrism which will be used in the administration of the sacraments that communicate this share in Christ’s consecration: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. These are the three sacraments that can only be received one since their effect is permanent. In each of these sacraments, there is an anointing with chrism. Old Testament priests, prophets, and kings were anointed with oil, a sign of dignity and responsibility and of the strength that comes from God. After a baby is baptized, he or she is anointed with chrism, signifying that the child is now a Christian, belongs to Christ, the anointed one of God. Later, anointed with the sacred chrism in the sacrament of Confirmation, the Christian is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, strengthened by His seven-fold gift to bear witness in the world to Christ and His Redemption. In ordination, the hands of the newly ordained priest or the head of the newly ordained bishop, are anointed with sacred chrism, a sign of their anointing by the Father with the Holy Spirit to act in the name of the Son, in the person of Christ, the Good Shepherd and Head of the Church. In all these sacraments, there is an outpouring of God’s grace, a special configuration to Christ, and a strengthening for the Christian mission in the world.
Since in chrism the olive oil is mixed with balsam, it has a sweet and pleasing fragrance. Recall the words of Saint Paul to the Corinthians: “In every place, we are the aroma of Christ.” All of us are called by our Baptism and Confirmation, and our priests also by Holy Orders, to spread this aroma of Christ in the world, to spread the fragrance of true life, the love of God that overpowers the stench of despair, greed, hatred, and all the powers that bring harm to people and to the world. We are called to disinfect the world by bearing witness to the Redemption, by living the anointing with the Spirit we have received. Love, joy, and peace are the first fruits of the Holy Spirit. They are the evidence that we are Christians, that we belong to Christ, that we share in His consecration and His mission “to bring glad tidings to the poor.” Love, joy, and peace reveal our identity as Christians. These fruits of the Spirit demonstrate that the title we bear, the title “Christian”, is not just a label, but a reality. When we spread Christ’s love, bear witness to our faith with joy, and bring Christ’s peace to others, we are living our anointing. This is our mission: to offer Christ to the world and the world to Christ. This is what evangelization means: bearing witness to Christ and His Redemption, thereby opening the hearts of our neighbors to the beautiful gift of salvation that God longs to give them. This is what we, priests, religious, and laity, have been anointed by the Holy Spirit to do. We are to be the aroma of Christ right here in the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
At this Mass, I will also be blessing the oil of catechumens. The anointing with this oil is given to infants prior to Baptism and during the catechumenate to adults preparing for Baptism. Why this anointing even prior to becoming Christian? It’s a prayer of blessing for one preparing for the Christian life, preparing to receive the grace of Baptism. In ancient times, olive oil was used by soldiers preparing for battle. The oil of catechumens helps those preparing for Holy Baptism with the power to battle the devil and renounce sin. The exorcistic power of Christ disarms Satan and his power and strengthens catechumens on their journey to Christian liberation.
The other oil to be blessed this evening is the Oil of the Sick. In ancient times, olive oil was also used for medicinal purposes. Even today, we know the good health benefits of olive oil. A sick person who receives the Anointing of the Sick receives God’s medicine. This medicine from the Divine Physician offers the sick person strength and consolation, and, at the same time, points beyond the moment of the illness towards the definitive healing, the resurrection. It is a remedy for the body and the soul, strengthening the sick person called to share in the sufferings of Jesus. Let us remember in our prayers this evening all the sick and the dying who will be anointed by our priests with the Oil of the Sick that I will bless at this Mass.
God-willing, I will be using the sacred chrism that is consecrated at this Mass to anoint the hands of five new priests for our diocese on June 2nd, the largest number in over 30 years. And the hands of three new Holy Cross priests will be anointed with this chrism on April 7th. I look forward to confirming over 2,000 young people with the chrism consecrated at this Mass.
After Mass, the sacred chrism, the oil of catechumens, and the oil of the sick will be entrusted to our priests for use in our parishes. My brother priests, I know you will be anointing many people with these oils through your sacramental ministry. Together with preaching the word of God, there is nothing greater that we can do for our people than bring them the grace of God in the sacraments. We are true shepherds of Christ when we anoint our people with the holy oils, when we do so not in a mechanical way, but with love and prayerful devotion. We should never downplay the importance of our sacramental ministry or consider it as secondary. I suggest thinking about our sacramental ministry this way: the Lord whom we have been ordained to serve came to give us life. He did so by His death and resurrection. It is by the sacraments that His life is communicated. That’s why our sacramental ministry is so important: the sacraments confer God’s grace. Of course, the most important service we perform for our people is the daily celebration of the Eucharist for them. The most effective service we can provide to the sick is to anoint them. The greatest relief we can give to a burdened soul is something no one else can give: the forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of penance. And there is nothing better and more joyful for a family than to baptize their babies. My brother priests, our hands were anointed to do these things. We must believe in the power of the sacraments!
At last year’s Chrism Mass, I held up as an example for our priests the American priest and martyr, Blessed Stanley Rother. This year, I hold up to our priests the example of another American priest who was beatified just four months ago, Capuchin Father Solanus Casey. He may not seem like the perfect model since he was ordained a simplex priest, that is, not allowed to preach homilies or hear confessions. But even though he was denied those faculties, Father Solanus Casey was an effective priest because he was a man of deep prayer and devotion, totally dedicated to the people whom he served. And he was beloved of the people. He was renowned for his holiness and many miracles of healing. The Spirit of the Lord was upon Father Solanus as he brought glad tidings to so many who were poor, who were hurting, who were in spiritual or material need. This holy priest said: “I have two loves, the sick and the poor.” Every priest should have these two loves: the sick and the poor! Blessed Solanus Casey is an example for all of us of the Church’s preferential option for the poor and the suffering. Most of you probably know that Father Solanus Casey lived in our diocese for ten years, near the end of his life, from 1946 to 1956 at Saint Felix Friary in Huntington. During those years, many of the faithful of our diocese were touched by his humble ministry, by his wise counsel and his example of trust in God. In January, I wrote to the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship for permission to celebrate his feast day as an optional memorial in our diocese. Just last week, I received the good news from the Congregation granting me this request. So here in our diocese, perhaps the only diocese in the United States besides the archdiocese of Detroit, we will be able to celebrate the memorial of Blessed Solanus on July 30th. May Blessed Father Solanus Casey intercede for us, for our priests, and for all the faithful of our diocese!
During this Holy Week, when we remember with devotion the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, may God strengthen us bear witness to His redemption, to live the anointing we have received, and to spread the aroma of Christ in our diocese and in the world!