Chrism Mass 2021
The Collect of the Chrism Mass recalls that God anointed His only-begotten Son with the Holy Spirit and made us sharers in His consecration. Thus consecrated or anointed, we asked God to grant that we may bear witness to His Redemption in the world. All of us, priests and laity, deacons and religious, are God’s anointed ones, united to the Anointed One, the Christ, by our Baptism. Sharing in His consecration, like the first believers in Antioch, we are called Christians, thus sharing in Jesus’ title “Christ.” This is our identity: anointed ones, sharers in Jesus’ consecration, with the mission of bearing witness in the world to His Redemption. The name of the oil that will be consecrated at this Mass also refers to Christ: chrism. We’ve all been anointed with the sweet-smelling oil of chrism. God has anointed us to His service in Baptism and Confirmation and given us a mission: to offer Christ to the world and the world to Christ. We who bear the name “Christian” are united to the One whom blessed Isaiah prophesied, to Jesus who read Isaiah’s words in the synagogue of Nazareth “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me.”
All of us who bear the name “Christian” have received a priestly mission, as we heard in the reading from the book of Revelation, which says Jesus “made us into a Kingdom, priests for His God and Father.” And in His Church, Jesus has anointed some of us for a unique sharing in His priesthood through the sacrament of Holy Orders. My brother priests, we renew our priestly promises at this Chrism Mass. We reaffirm our commitment to our mission of priestly service to the people of God and our commitment to holiness with renewed zeal.
In the Responsorial Psalm of this Mass, Psalm 89, the Lord says: “I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him. That my hand may always be with him; and that my arm may make him strong.” God anointed the young David, making him king over Israel, through the anointing with oil by the prophet Samuel. With this anointing, the first book of Samuel tells us that “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.” Already in the Old Testament, 1,000 years before the coming of Jesus, the relationship between anointing with oil and anointing with the Spirit was well-established in the mind of Israel. Jesus, though, was not anointed with oil. His anointing was not by human hands. The Father Himself anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit.
When we all were anointed with chrism at our Baptism and Confirmation and when we priests were anointed with chrism at our ordination, it wasn’t simply ordinary oil. In the fourth century St. Cyril of Jerusalem taught the newly baptized: “Beware of thinking that this holy oil is simply ordinary oil and nothing else. After the invocation of the Spirit it is no longer ordinary oil but the gift of Christ, and by the presence of his divinity it becomes the instrument through which we receive the Holy Spirit. While symbolically, on our foreheads and senses, our bodies are anointed with this oil that we see, our souls are sanctified by the holy and life-giving Spirit.”
Olive oil symbolizes many things. One of them is strength. In ancient times, athletes who entered the arena for a wrestling match, like at the Olympic games, would anoint their bodies with oil, so that it would be soft, supple, strong and lively, not dried out. I’ll be blessing the oil of catechumens at this Mass. Catechumens will be anointed with it before Baptism to prepare them for the contest of the Christian life. The Christian life is like a competition, a battle. On the cross, Jesus fought the dramatic battle with the forces of hatred and evil and He won with the power of His self-giving love. That’s the power that carries us in our Christian life, the power that gives us life and victory. It’s the power that strengthens us in the arena of life. We know from the writings of St. Hippolytus that the anointing of catechumens was connected with a prayer of exorcism from at least the third century. It still is. This prayer and anointing show the need for God’s help and strength to overcome the opposition of the devil so that the person may be able to profess the faith, come to Baptism and live as a child of God.
Olive oil was also used in ancient times for medicinal purposes. Now, we know today that olive oil is good for our health. It’s part of a healthy diet. But it ancient times, it was also medicine to restore strength, rest and peace to the body. Often in the psalms we hear about the physical restoration of the body by the pouring of oil on it, like when one is sunburnt. I will be blessing the Oil of the Sick at this Mass. It will be God’s medicine that we priests as spiritual doctors will use in the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. It’s much more than the hopes placed in olive oil in ancient times. It is the sign for “God’s true medicine, for the entrance of Jesus Christ” into the space of illness and suffering – the mediation of Christ who gives healing and peace to the sick and dying through the assurance that they are safe in God’s hands forever (cf. Pope Benedict XVI).
The chrism that I will consecrate is unique in that it’s not just olive oil. It is olive oil mixed with balsam. It is a special sign of the Holy Spirit. In the consecration I will breathe over it, reminding us of the Spirit breathing over the waters at creation and the Risen Christ breathing over the apostles giving them the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive sins. The wonderful smell of the chrism recalls the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians: “in every place, we are the aroma of Christ.” Those who are anointed with chrism in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and priestly and episcopal Ordination are anointed for a mission – to bring the fragrance of Christ to the world. In 1978, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger preached about this. He said: “This means: the stench of despair, of spiritual decay of greed and hatred, all the powers that are ultimately corruption and destroy life, are now confronted by the new power of Christ’s life, and by accepting it, this dry rot of despair and hatred is supposed to be confronted by the fragrance of true life, trust in indestructible love, safety in the power of God’s Spirit, which, so to speak, disinfect the world.”
My brothers and sisters, fellow Christians, fellow anointed ones, reflect upon your anointing with the chrism of salvation. My brothers in the ordained priesthood, reflect upon your priestly anointing. It’s an anointing by the Holy Spirit for mission. We were anointed with the oil of gladness. We were anointed to bring good news to the poor, the joy of the truth of the Gospel, “the joy,” as Pope Francis says, “that touches people’s hearts,” the joy of God’s mercy and love.
This is not an easy time to be a priest or to be a bishop. We face many difficulties and challenges: polarization in the Church and society, rampant moral relativism in our society, the ongoing killing of unborn children, now even being paid for with our tax money, the redefinition of marriage, gender ideology, threats to religious freedom, the anger, vitriol and even hate of far-right extremists (including sadly some within our own Church), Christians of the far-right and the far-left, whose faith is corrupted by ideology, with attitudes of selfishness and egoism that ignore the common good, attitudes so far from the core of the Gospel that they harm the Church’s evangelizing mission. I’ve said to our people so many times this past year: we are not disciples of Donald Trump or Joe Biden. We are disciples of the Lord Jesus. We must be Catholics first, not Democrats or Republicans first. Too many people’s minds and hearts are being formed by social media and talk radio, rather than the Gospel and the teachings of Christ’s Church. Angry critics of the Catholic Church, and of priests and bishops and the Pope, abound today. For some, we are not pro-life enough; for others, we are not pro-social justice enough. My brothers and sisters, I know of no institution or community in our society today that is more pro-life and more pro-social justice than the Catholic Church. Happily, I wish to add that, from my experience, the faithful majority of our active Catholics are with us, though their voices are often drowned out by the critics. We will not stop proclaiming the Gospel in its fullness, including those parts of the Gospel that make people uncomfortable: the preferential option for the poor, the sanctity of life and marriage and our responsibility for immigrants and refugees. Of course, we must do so with humility, not arrogance. “The arrogant preacher preaches not Christ but himself. Arrogance is a counter-sign to the Gospel and justly repels those who truly thirst for God” (Archbishop Gomez). We must fight the hidden enemy of vainglory which causes us to seek to establish ourselves as the center of attention and authority and not Christ and His Gospel. We must also avoid pusillanimity, which can cause us to bury our talents for fear of failure or out of an unhealthy sense of our own inadequacy. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote with great wisdom about the virtue of fortitude, by which we are able to courageously bear witness to the Gospel with steadfastness. St. Thomas also wrote about the magnanimity that flows from fortitude, aspiring to do great things in our priestly ministry not for ourselves, but for others, most importantly for the love and honor of God. God calls us to serve Him and His people with humility, with zeal, with courage, with fortitude and with love. This is what we have been anointed to do. And we are to do so with joy. Let’s never forget that the oil with which we have been anointed is the oil of gladness.
Let us trust in the power of Christ, the Anointed One, in whose consecration and mission we share. May we have confidence that, as when God anointed His servant David, His hand is always with us and His arm makes us strong.
Finally, may the Lord bless us with the confidence of St. Joseph, the patron saint of the Church, an example for us of faith, courage and love. May St. Joseph intercede for us and for our diocese in this special year dedicated to him! May he watch over, guard and protect us as we seek to live the anointing in his Son that we have received from the Holy Spirit!