Chrism Mass

02 Apr 2015

Welcome to this year’s Chrism Mass. It is my first opportunity to celebrate this Mass with you as Archbishop and I count it a very real privilege. It is the one Mass of the year to which all priests are called to join with their bishop and so a very particular sign of communion between priests and bishop; the one Mass in which priests renew their priestly promises and so a particular mark of their communion with Christ the Priest and each other; and the one Mass in which we consecrate the oils and so a particular sign of that communion with and for our people that our sacramental economy enables.

I acknowledge the presence of auxiliary Bishop Terry Brady, the Vicar-General Fr Gerry Gleeson, brother priests, deacons and seminarians, and religious clergy serving in our archdiocese. I also welcome representatives of our parishes and schools.

We pray for those of our brothers who could not be with us, especially due to sickness and frailty; and we pray for the repose of our brother priests who have died since our last Chrism Mass: Edward Cardinal Clancy, Frank Bendeich, James Bishop SM, Frank Callanan SM, Paul Coffey, Paul Hanbridge OFMCap, Fr Peter Mai Dao Hien CM, Ronnie Harden, Francis Merlino OFMCap, John Messore OSB, James O’Meara, John O’Ryan SM, Bernard Ryan SM, Brendan Shiel, Frank Vaughan and Len Wholohan, all of whom served as priests of or in the Archdiocese.

We also celebrate with gratitude those priests who have passed milestones: our diamond jubilarians Bishop David Cremin, Monsignor John Lyne, and Fathers Peter Morrissey and Mark Spora; our golden boys Fathers James Boland, Frank Coorey and Robert Stephens; forty years ordained the young Monsignor Bill Mullins, Dean Paul Hilder, and Fathers Mihai Anghel, Paul Van Chu, John George and Joseph Hiep Ho; our silver jubilarians Fathers Kelvin Lovegrove and Eduardo Orilla; and any others I have missed! Between them 680 years of service have been rendered to God and His people; add what each of the rest of you has given, and the vineyard of Sydney is truly blessed in its labourers!

Our ceremonial today will be a little different. We will try the ancient order for specified as normal in the Rite and in the Ceremonial but rarely seen today. The oils will be blessed within the Eucharistic Prayer and Communion Rite, highlighting that these oils are set aside for a holy purpose like the bread and wine, and that they will be received by our faithful people for their sanctification like Holy Communion. In turn this reminds us that priests and people are themselves to be gifts offered to God in our Eucharistic Prayer for transformation by Him into the Body of Christ, the Church.

Homily for the Chrism Mass
St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 2 April 2015

“Standing in front of the altar, pleading profoundly, the mitred pontiff pays all debts by consecrating the Chrism.” So wrote the Merovingian court poet, travel writer and maybe saint Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus.  ‘Forty’, as Aussies would have called him, wrote Latin verse about the things he’d witnessed on his travels: the construction of a baptistery; the dedication of a church; a royal wedding; the conversion of a queen from Arianism to Catholicism; the veneration of a saint’s relics; praises for the clergy of Paris for their zeal in praying the Office. He travelled from Italy to Gaul to pray at the tomb of St Martin in thanksgiving for healing his eye and there made friends with the bishop, St Gregory of Tours; and he ended up at Poitiers, becoming close to St Radegunde and her nuns, and briefly serving as bishop before dying around 600AD. 

Christopher Dawson, the great historian of religion and culture, described Fortunatus’ verses as on the one hand unashamed panegyrics intended to tickle paying customers’ ears and on the other hand sublimely spiritual texts that still inspire.  His Vexilla Regis (Abroad the Regal Banners Fly) and his Pange, lingua, gloriosi prœlium certaminis (Sing, My Tongue, of Warfare Ended) long survived in the Holy Week liturgies – the latter inspiring Aquinas’ Eucharistic hymn. The one was sung at Vespers and where the reserved Sacrament was brought forward for distribution on Good Friday; the other chanted when creeping to the Cross.  Fortunatus is also author of the O Redemptor sume carmen, the hymn prescribed to this day for the Chrism Mass as the oils are presented.


So today we gather, in St Fortunatus’ words, to repay our debt to God. We will bring an offering that ‘kindly sunlight formed’ on the olive tree, fruit of the earth and work of human hands. Liturgical historians tell us that in the ancient Rites of the Mass products such as water, milk, grapes, honey and oil were brought forward not just as part of the Offertory, but for blessing after the Consecration in the Eucharistic Prayer.  This was intended to link the Church’s blessing of things with Christ’s transformation of the bread and wine. All that survives of this practice in the Roman Rite is the blessing of the Oil of the Sick, which Paul VI thought should continue to occur within the Eucharistic Prayer.  Though the practice of blessing things during the Eucharistic prayer has almost disappeared, it is only this practice that makes sense of the words still in the Roman canon: “Through whom you continue to make all these good things, O Lord; you sanctify them, fill them with life, bless them and bestow them upon us.” “All these good things” are the oil and other produce brought for blessing!


This year, as we commemorate the golden jubilee of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests,  we might ask: what does the ceremonial blessing of these oils say to the priests for whom they are tools of trade?

Well, first, as Fortunatus reminds us in his hymn, the source of the mitred pontiff’s power to consecrate, and so of priestly power to anoint, is the “King of our eternal homeland” whose Triduum we are about to enter. He is the original Χριστός, the Anointed, the Oiled One, whose anointing was prophesied in our first reading and fulfilled in our Gospel (Isa 61:1-9; Lk 4:16-21). The mission of the priest, as an alter Christus, another Christ, another anointed one, is to be His icon, painted in the oils of the Gospel. Priests should make the panel of their own personalities background so the image of Christ the Priest is always be in the foreground, and so that people will always hear Jesus’ own glad-tidings, the ‘good oil’.

Secondly, the oils we bless bookend the whole Christian life. Our life in Christ begins when the Oil of Catechumens calls us into the Communion of Saints on earth. Our life on earth ends when the Oil of the Sick becomes extreme unction calling us into the Communion of Saints in heaven. So priests midwife new ones into the life of Christ and care for them to the end, even as they lie sick, dying, dead. Both are oils of gladness, for it is with great joy that we join people to God at their beginning and with a harder but even profounder joy that we consign them to Him at the end. These two glad unctions frame the whole Christian life and so the particular mission of the priest.

Thirdly, after Communion, I will breathe upon the Chrism to consecrate it as our gladdest Oil. With this oil churches and altars are set aside for God’s use as sacred places, by anointing walls and tabula. With this same oil Christian souls are set aside for God’s use as His living temples, by crowning after Baptism and sealing in Confirmation. With this same oil priests (and I pray, this year, auxiliary bishops) are set aside for God’s use as mediators between God and man, by anointing the hands that will offer the Holy Sacrifice. So the same anointing which we heard in our Gospel ordered the Word of God in Christ to be the Word of the Gospel in the Church, orders us priests to bring good news to every human heart, to every family, parish, school and service, to bring spiritual joy even amidst trial and tribulation. As Christ was anointed by Mary of Bethany with perfumed oil in prospect of His passion, so these priestly ‘other Christs’ must bring perfumed hope to the most desolate situations.

Priests of Jesus Christ: know what you are and be true to that vocation. People of God, pray for and support your priests, that they may be more truly that for which they were anointed. At this time when our clergy are under such scrutiny, when we are rightly ashamed of how some shepherds have abused their lambs, when the sins of the few are visited upon all, pray that your priests will be true to their vocation and not discouraged. As your priests renew their priestly vows this morning, pray that they will, in the words of St Forty’s hymn, foil Satan’s plans, mend wounded souls, grace those washed in the sacred wellspring, and enlighten those initiated into Christ. The faithful deserve holy priests, icons of the Anointed One, good shepherds willing to lay down their lives for their flock. Now commit yourselves, dear fathers and brothers, to be and do those things.

  1. “Stans ad aram imo supplex infulatus pontifex debitum persolvit omne consecrato Chrismate” from St Fortunatus, O Redemptor, sume carmen temet concinentium. www1.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/O_Redemptor_sume_carmen
  2. www.newadvent.org/cathen/06149a.htm
  3. Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, (New York: Doubleday, 1950 with foreword by Archbishop Weakland, 1991): 38-39.
  4. www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/Hymni/Vexilla.html ; www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/Hymni/PangeF.html
  5. Ceremonial of Bishops nn. 283 and 293; Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, The Liturgical Year: Volume 6 – Passiontide & Holy Week (Fitzwilliam: Loreto Publications, 2000), p. 365.
  6. E.g. Joseph Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development, vol. 2, pp. 201 & 262.
  7. Paul VI, Sacram Unctione Infirmorum: Apostolic Constitution on the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick (1972), para 2. Hence the Ceremonial of Bishops n. 277 provides: “According to the tradition of the Latin liturgy, the blessing of the Oil of the Sick takes place before the end of the Eucharistic Prayer; the blessing of the Oil of Catechumens and the consecration of the Chrism after Communion.” Likewise the Roman Missal, “The Chrism Mass”, n. 5.
  8. Vatican Council II, Presbyterorum Ordinis: Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (1965).