Homily Notes from Chrism Mass
Introduction Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, 13th April 2006
On this morning of Holy Thursday we come together to reflect on the gift of the ministerial priesthood to the entire Church.
We come together as representatives of the presbyterium along with lay representatives of every parish in the diocese. We remember the priests who have died during this year. Allow me to recall in particular Bishop Desmond Williams, a humble witness to how each of us as priests or lay persons should witness concretely to God’s love and concern for the poor in the world in which we live.
I thank those representatives of Parishes here present, each and every one of you. I know how, day in day out, you give such support to your good priests. Today, as always, priests need to feel the support and indeed affection of their parishioners.
I greet the representatives of priests who work in every aspect of the mission of the diocese, diocesan priests and members of religious congregations. I thank God for your dedicated and extraordinary ministry. I greet the Apostolic Nuncio and his collaborator. I greet Cardinal Connell and the Auxiliary Bishops as well as Bishop Dermot O’Mahony who cannot be with us today.
I ask you all to pray for me in my ministry. I ask forgiveness for my own inadequacies. I invite you to join with me now together in asking God’s forgiveness for our sinfulness and weakness.
In my first year in Rome, in the Teutonic College where I lived, and where to put it mildly evening meals were far from being lavish and where in Lent the penitential season made its mark, I was astonished to come into the dining room on Holy Thursday evening and find the best porcelain out on the table, in preparation for what turned out to be the best meal of the year.
I began wondering what kind of understanding this showed of the most solemn moment of Holy Week. The older brethren who were there for many years were amused at my surprise. They said you are living in a College for Priests and Holy Thursday is the Feast of Priests, so we have this celebration. It was a celebration which over successive years I never missed, taking part in the evening liturgy and sharing afterwards in this celebration of the priesthood, in the later years indeed having with us on many occasions the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
Holy Thursday is an important day for a priest. It is an important day for a presbyterium, for the body of priests who form a community in a diocese around the Bishop, the one who presides over the Eucharist. Holy Thursday is the Feast of the Eucharist and the Feast of the Ministerial Priesthood. We will commemorate the institution of these sacraments this evening at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
But there are also other dimensions of priestly life that are recalled on Holy Thursday. At this Chrism Mass we bless the Holy Oils that will be used in the ministry of priests for the year to come. The oils which will be consecrated and blessed are signs then of the sacramental life of the Church.
In more recent years, the ceremony of renewal of priestly service has been added to the liturgy of this Chrism Mass. It is a ceremony in which priests renew annually their commitment to their priesthood, but the rubric goes on “renew their commitment to the priesthood and to the service of the people in their care”.
Ordination to the ministerial Priesthood brings with it a sacramental character which changes the individual. But priesthood is not a personal possession to be used as I wish and just for myself. Priesthood is always a ministry of service, a ministry in which we share the gifts we have received and of which we are ministers with the people that are entrusted to our care.
It is always good to remember that on the evening in which the Church recalls the institution of the Eucharist, the Church takes as the Gospel reading the only one of the four Gospels which does not have narrative of the institution of the Eucharist, as the others have, but the story of the washing of the feet. The story of the washing of the feet explains for us something of the essence of the Eucharist and thus of the essence of our ministry as priests. Eucharist and priestly service are both about the self-giving, redeeming love of Jesus.
How are we to understand our priestly service in the world we live in today? How are we to witness as a “Church which serves” in this Archdiocese of Dublin in these years?
The first thing to say is that it cannot be about being a sort of “service Church” as we would talk of a service station. The Church is not a convenience store much less an escapist comfort zone. It is not somewhere which we drop into and drop out of just when we have some need. Church is something quite different. People must encounter Church as a rejection of the superficiality of relations which marks much of our consumer society. The encounter with Jesus in the Church must be one in which we encounter both communion with others and the depth of our own freedom.
The Christian life is not a collection of rules and formulas which are imposed on the individual, but the message about a person – Jesus Christ – who comes out to meet us in our sinfulness – as did the Father of the prodigal son – filled with love, compassion and forgiveness. The encounter with Jesus must engender a life of joy because we realise that we are saved not just from sin but saved to be fully ourselves in freedom.
What is it that brings us this freedom? The Gospel of Saint John tells us quite clearly. It is the truth that will make us free. The Church is where the truth is proclaimed about God and about humankind and indeed about the integrity of the entire creation in which we live. The priest is one who is called to witness to and proclaim the truth.
If we look at the teachings of Jesus we can see that he saw his own witness to the truth as central to his mission. He came “to bear witness to the truth”. His personal claims to truth, especially to the truth about his own identity, were considered scandalous. His moral teachings especially in the Sermon on the Mount were prefixed by an extraordinarily strong statement of the authority with which Jesus taught his truth “You have heard what was said… but I tell you”. His moral teachings transform the old law into new life and open a new path of how we should live and interact with each other and with God.
Jesus indeed identifies himself with the truth in an absolute sense: “I am the way the truth and the life”. The great challenge for us as priests in the years to come will be to structure our ministry in such a way that the faith of our people, young and old, will be rekindled and renewed. As priests we have a special mission to teach, to teach the word of God, to preach the truth of Jesus and to witness to that truth in our lives. I hope that later in this year we will be able to launch a new diocesan initiative of faith formation, with full involvement of lay men and women as our partners. I would hope that in the years to come, we will have a situation in which the words “parish” and “faith formation” will become almost synonymous. I would like to see a situation where people would look at parish and say “this is where people encounter Jesus and are formed in the Christian faith”; “this is where they can share and deepen their own faith and transmit it as community from one generation to the next”; “this is where faith becomes the guide for people in their dialogue with the realities of their life”.
I do not think that we have as yet a clear idea of what that will mean in terms of change in pastoral structures. Many parishes at the moment have no programmes of faith formation apart from the Sunday liturgy and what goes on in schools. Parish theological libraries are few and far between. Yet our young people in the senior years at school and in the years of their early professional and married life are constantly being challenged by questions about the meaning of life and of success. They experience the emptiness of a having which is not accompanied by giving and loving. Parish must be a place where young people know that their searching for faith and meaning will be encountered by a genuine breaking of the word of God. The ability to interpret that word of God for our people, young and old, must be a principle quality of the priest of tomorrow.
Priesthood means witnessing to the truth. But we must witness to the truth as Jesus did. The Jesus who presented his claim to truth in an absolute sense was also the one who wished to be among his disciples as a servant.
During this Holy Week we will repeat on many occasions that beautiful scriptural hymn from the Letter to the Philippians. “Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to the grasped, but emptied himself, humbling himself even unto death on a cross”. The Jesus who knew the authority on which his truth was based chose to reveal that truth through a life of service. He attains Lordship not through clinging to the outward trappings of sovereignty, authority or power, but through total self-giving. He attains “the name that is above every other name, so that every tongue can confess him as Lord” through self-giving love unto the end. By that love he becomes “Lord of the universe” and shows also that there is only one universal law, that of Love.
With his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est Pope Benedict XVI has challenged us all to reflect in our ministry on what it means to be witnesses to a God who is love.
We have to ensure that that universal law of love is encountered by all we meet on our path and all whose journey we are called to share. We have to bring that love to those who have never encountered it at all. We have to bring that love to those who have rejected Christ’s message because they never encountered it as a message of love.
I spoke the other evening of how in my own religious education we were taught that Jesus worked miracles to prove by his power that he was God. I do not deny that miracles prove that Jesus was God, what was not stressed was that miracles prove to us above all what God is like, that he is a God who reveals his power as one you cares and has mercy, who heals and wants to free people from the burdens and addictions and obsessions that bind them, so that they can be taken up into the inner life of love of God and experience salvation and freedom.
As priests we have to ensure that our life style reflects that self-giving love. We have to reject false securities and throw ourselves into the risk of what is inherent of being the fragile instruments which God chooses to work through. We have to overcome our anxieties and serve the Lord with gladness, with joy and dedication.
When we realise that self-giving as individuals we construct our unity as a presbyterium. “Christ was sacrificed so that he could gather together the scattered children of God”. In our meetings as priests in January and February we have set out on a path together. We shared our views and hopes; we shared angers that are present among us. I respect those who spoke their minds, even if I do not agree with them. We would be poorer as a presbyterium if we were not willing to listen to each other. But we express our differences in order to better forge our true unity in charity and our witness to the truth and love of Jesus.
Today we celebrate our priesthood and our service on this Feast of Priests. I hope that just as with those of us in Rome many years ago we will find ways among ourselves today to express our gratitude to God for the gift he has given us and renew our commitment in the service of the people entrusted to our care. Ends