Homily of Cardinal Justin Rigali
Holy Thursday, Chrism Mass
Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
April 1, 2009
Dear brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Deacons, Religious, Seminarians,
Parents of our Priests, Representatives of our Parishes,
Students from our schools, Members of Serra International,
Friends in our Lord Jesus Christ,
For all of us it is deeply meaningful to gather at this Chrism Mass in this Year of the Priest! Our readings from the Sacred Scriptures speak to us about the work of the Holy Spirit and about anointing. We have come together in order to bless and consecrate oils with which the people of God will be anointed through the power of the Holy Spirit by priests and bishops.
In our first reading we hear the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the Messiah, saying: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me." In the responsorial psalm we hear that David, God’s servant, is anointed with holy oil. And then in the Gospel, Jesus speaks about Himself being anointed by the Holy Spirit for a mission. Jesus applies to Himself the words that were spoken through the prophet Isaiah. But we too, as followers of Jesus, can see that this text applies likewise to us, since all of us have received a special anointing with holy oil.
At this time three holy oils are being blessed or consecrated: the Oil of the Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick and, above all, Holy Chrism. Holy Chrism is the special combination that is made from olive oil and perfume, to indicate the refreshing action of the Holy Spirit. Truly, each one of us can say with Jesus: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly." All of us have been anointed in Baptism and so many of us anointed in Confirmation. And every time that someone is anointed in the Church it is by the action of the Holy Spirit. Every time there is an anointing, a mission is given to the person anointed.
It is a joy to have a number of our students here this morning with their priests to take part in the ceremony of the blessing and consecration of the oils. I hope that all of you, dear young people, will associate this day with your own Confirmation. For today we gather together to invoke the Holy Spirit, asking Him to sanctify the oils with which you are anointed and sent out into the world to share in Christ’s mission of spreading His Gospel of justice, peace and love.
In our second reading from the Book of Revelation, Saint John says: "Grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his Blood…to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen." This is indeed a moment of grace and peace for everyone in this Cathedral Basilica, everyone who makes up the great assembly of those loved by God and anointed by the Holy Spirit.
It is a moment of grace and peace especially for you, my brothers in the Priesthood. On this Holy Thursday we experience deeply the presence in our midst of Jesus Christ our great High Priest. We are also very conscious of being united with our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, who has done so much to lead the whole Church in purification, renewal and reform, and to whom we express our total prayerful support. We are also spiritually united with all our brothers and sisters throughout the world who celebrate the gift of the Priesthood that Christ has given to His Church. This is the day on which we humbly praise the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives and ministry. It was in the power of the Holy Spirit that Christ called us to a special anointing and gave us a specific mission to proclaim God’s love and mercy. Everyday we are called to fulfill this mission in a sacramental way, especially through the Eucharist.
On this day, the institution of the Eucharist is foremost in our minds and hearts, as is the institution of the Priesthood and, this morning in particular, the wonderful anointing that expressed our conformity to Christ the Priest as sacramental ministers of His Gospel of love, ministers of His pardon, His compassion, His forgiveness—in other words, ministers of His mercy. This sacred anointing was individual and personal for each one of us—just as was the call of Jesus Christ to each one of us, just as was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our ordination day. But the exercise of this ministry of ours is coordinated in the community of the Church. We exercise our priestly ministry within the presbyterate of this local Church—you and I together. It is the only way it works: you and I together, priests and Bishop proclaiming one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
You and I, dear brother Priests, share a deep fraternal unity that is so much more than just a grouping of many different individuals. Our unity expresses Christ’s plan for us, Christ’s plan for His Church. This fraternal unity—this presbyterate—upholds us and sustains us. In remaining faithful to it, we are sanctified and are able to be instruments of sanctification for our people. How we have been called by Christ, anointed individually by the Holy Spirit and introduced by Him into the presbyterate is all a gift and mystery. We are an important part of the mystery of Christ’s Church. We have been highly gifted in being called to minister in the person of Christ. Not by any merit of our own, but through the outpouring of the Spirit of Love, our lives are a gift to the Church—to our people. And what a great responsibility this is for all of us!
This is truly the day to celebrate the Priesthood; it is the day of our renewed commitment to Christ the High Priest. Today the Church wants you, dear brother Priests, to realize just how important you are in God’s plan of salvation. Today Christ Himself thanks you for sharing with Him, faithfully and perseveringly, the burdens of His Gospel. Today Christ tells you again how much He loves you, how much your ministry means to Him and to His Church, and how much He counts on your fidelity. It is the day when He invites you to ever deeper friendship with Himself, when He asks you to open your heart ever wider so that He can infuse into it more love and more joy, so that His joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. Today is a day for renewed trust in the Lord Jesus who has entrusted us with His own Body and Blood and with the sacred service of His people. It is a day to offer thanks and praise for the graces imparted through our Priesthood, and for the mercy and forgiveness we have personally received.
Today, also, we remember all those who share deeply the heavy weight of pain, suffering and affliction. We are spiritually close, in prayer and with fraternal affection, to all who bear the Cross of Christ and share its weight. Recent reports in Europe of sexual abuse by clergy have reminded all of us of those terrible sins that have caused such immense suffering in victims and have contributed to the Passion of Christ. We recall how Saint Paul reminds us that if one part of Christ’s Body, the Church, suffers, all of us suffer (cf. 1 Cor 12:26). Together then in the presbyterate as bishops and priests, we recommit ourselves to the Bishops’ Charter in diligence and vigilance, so as to ensure the future protection of young people everywhere.
The same Holy Spirit who anointed Jesus and anointed us gives us grace and strength this morning to renew our personal promise of celibacy. Celibacy is the gift of ourselves whereby we freely choose once again to belong fully to God and, in Him, fully to our people. This is the day for us once again to tell the world that we love Jesus Christ, and intend to remain faithful forever to His word. It is the day when Jesus Christ wants the world to know that He loves His priests and strengthens them with His grace.
Our people likewise are here today to listen to us solemnly repeat our promise of fidelity, to support us by their prayers, and by their love and esteem of the Catholic Priesthood to challenge us to live in constant authenticity, in ever greater generosity and holiness of life.
Today we celebrate moreover our vocation to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ and the solemn expression of our commitment, with the help of God and the help of all our people, to promote vocations to the Priesthood and to invite young men repeatedly to consider the possibility of their being called by God to this vocation. The whole Church and every member of the Church needs the Eucharist and therefore the Priesthood. This is God’s plan. And so I appeal to those young men who hear Christ’s call to open their hearts in generosity and trust, the way Mary did when she was called to be the Mother of Christ.
Dear brother Priests: not only are our people here today to spur us on, but Christ Jesus Himself is in our midst. It is He who accepts the renewal of the gift of ourselves and reiterates His love for each of us. And so confidently we lift up our hearts, saying: "To him who has loved us and has freed us from our sins by his Blood, who has made us into a Kingdom, priests for his God and Father – to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen."