Homily at the Chrism Mass

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Cunningham_formal_robes On Tuesday evening, April 19th, I celebrated the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. On that occasion the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of the Catechumens that will be used throughout the diocese during the coming year were blest and the Holy Chrism was consecrated. The priests of the diocese renewed their commitment to priestly celibacy and service. Following is the homily that I preached on that occasion.

Dear Friends in Christ … and in a special way, my Dear Brothers in the Priesthood,

It is a joy and a privilege for me to be with you once more as we celebrate this special day in the life of the Church.   How full of meaning, how rich this celebration is! It unites all in the diocese through the distribution and use of the holy oils that will be used in administering four of the seven sacraments of the Church: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Sacrament of the Sick. The Chrism Mass impacts all of God’s people through the administration of these sacraments. Today is also the occasion when the Bishop joins with his priests, as a united presbyterate, to celebrate the Eucharist.

In the life of the Church, there are different moments when we emphasize different vocations and different facets of the mystery of the Church. In today’s liturgy, the Church concentrates on the divine gifts of the Eucharist and priesthood, both of which benefit all people — young and old, married and single, clergy and religious. Today, the Church ponders the immense gift of the Eucharist. It is at this table that the faithful are nourished by Word and Sacrament, joined to Christ and to one another in the reception of Holy Communion and enabled to live the paschal mystery, the dying and rising of Christ, in the circumstances of daily life.  Today, the Church emphasizes the importance of the priesthood.  The Church needs the priesthood.  The People of God need the priesthood.  Jesus Himself needs the priesthood to fulfill the divine plan of salvation.

If I may digress for a moment … Dear seminarians, I am especially pleased that you are with us for this Mass.    Let me assure you that we accompany your progress with our prayers. And, I ask all young men who may experience a vocation to the priesthood to open their hearts to the call of our Lord and not to be afraid to say “yes.”

All of you, who are with us today, by your participation at this Mass, show your faith in the Church, in the priesthood and in the Eucharist. You are all very much aware that despite the weaknesses and sins of individuals, the Church, the Body of Christ, is strong in faith and love. Our hope is in the living God. We believe in the power of the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ to forgive sins, to renew hearts and to bring us all to an ever deeper conversion in our lives. Pope Benedict XVI stated it succinctly when he said, “The Church is always the Church of sinners, and always a place of grace.”

The rite we are celebrating traces its history to the early 200s. In a document called The Apostolic Tradition, the historian Hippolytus, wrote about a ceremony that occurred during the Easter Vigil at which two holy oils were blessed and one was consecrated. Hippolytus identified the two oils being blessed by the Bishop as the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Exorcism, which we now call the Oil of Catechumens, used before baptisms to put to flight any obstacles that might interfere with the impending baptismal graces.

The third oil, chrism, from which this Mass and the very name of Christ, the anointed one, takes its name — is not just blessed, but is consecrated by the Bishop and only by the Bishop.  The prayer of consecration is a prayer of thanksgiving – and just as in the Eucharistic consecration of the bread and wine, priests present concelebrate by extending their hands and praying silently the prayer of consecration over the chrism with the Bishop.

This chrism will be used in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation to anoint members of the Body of Christ. This anointing with chrism seals those who receive these sacraments with an indelible spiritual mark of belonging to Christ. In addition, and most importantly for this local Church, the chrism consecrated today will be used to anoint the hands of the Rev. Mr. James Schultz who serves as Deacon at this Mass and who, God willing, will be ordained a priest this June to serve all of us.  As a result, he will preach and teach in Christ’s name, forgive sins and anoint the sick as if Christ Himself were doing so — and He is! James will be empowered to lend his voice to the voice of Jesus and speak, with a sense of awe and in the very person of Christ, “This Is My Body. This Is My Blood.” The miracle of the Eucharist occurs because your priests have been chrismed into Christ.

Let me speak directly, for a few moments, to my brother priests who share with me the one identical priesthood and ministry of Christ. Presbyterorum Ordinis (7) reminds us of the importance of liturgical concelebration, on occasions such as this, to affirm our unity with each other. It also reminds me of my obligation to work for your sanctification.  It reminds you that no priest is sufficiently equipped to carry out his mission alone and as it were single-handed.  You can carry out your mission only by joining with your brother priests in fraternal support and prayer, under the leadership of and in union with the bishop.

Pope Benedict XVI in Light of the World reminds us that we must support one another and not lose sight of one another.  He particularly reminds bishops that they are responsible to provide this support and to encourage the lay faithful to support their priests.  I assure you that as I travel throughout our diocese I hear often about the respect, support and friendship in which you are held. 
My dear brothers, I am aware of the many ways that you encounter the criticism of the world. St. Basil in the Office of Readings for this day offers a sobering reflection.  He tells us that “to attain holiness we must not only pattern our lives on Christ’s by being gentle, humble and patient, we must also imitate Him in His death.”  The difficulties which we face in life, misunderstandings, resentments, disappointments, failures, are occasions for our purification, requiring an active humility in which we embrace the paschal mystery in our own lives and respond again and again to the Lord’s call to be a faithful disciple.

Tonight, my brothers, let us renew our commitment to holiness of life, to sacred celibacy and to faithful service.  As we do so, we are mindful that these are challenging times for all of us and for the People of God.  We pray in a special way for all of our priests, including those who for various reasons need God’s special grace and strength in a particular way.  We remember those in pain, sickness and suffering. We know that Jesus takes on the sins of all and offers all of us forgiveness and mercy. As ministers of reconciliation we know how much the world and we ourselves constantly need repentance, pardon, penance and new life.

We remember, too, those who have been called home during the past year: Msgr. Casimir Krzysiak, Father John Booth, Father Edward Hayes, Father Richard Stuczko, Father Angelo Libera, Father Joseph Kane, Father Donald Bauer and Msgr. Peter Gleba.  Four of our permanent deacons were also called home: Deacon John Ashley, Deacon Gerald Pittman, Deacon Joseph Caminiti and Deacon Joseph Chillemi.

Dear brothers: this is the day for all of us to relive the joy of our ordination day.  It is the day for us to realize the esteem of the faithful for the celibacy that we have promised and that we freely, and with determination, renew today.  It is the occasion to express, special fraternity among ourselves. It is a day to remember that as we teach and preach and sanctify we do so “in the person of Christ,” thinking, living and proclaiming the Church’s faith, acting always in obedience to the Lord’s mandate. This is the day also for the Church to pray earnestly for vocations to the priesthood. These vocations are deeply rooted in the power of Christ to attract young men to a life of generosity and sacrifice. In God’s providence, however, priestly vocations are fostered also by the witness of our priestly fidelity and joy.

My dear brothers, never forget that the people of God count on your love, your pastoral service and your fidelity to the end. Your ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood of the faithful. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. Your priesthood is the means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads His Church (cf. CCC, #1547). Jesus Himself has chosen you to serve the rest. Let us stand and rededicate ourselves to God who has called us and sustains us in our priesthood.

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