Sanctified for the Sanctification of the World
Chrism Mass Homily
By Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone
Archbishop of San Francisco
April 10, 2014
Appropriately enough for this annual Mass in which the Oil of the Sick and Catechumens is blessed and the Oil of Chrism is consecrated, the readings speak about anointing. Indeed, there is an awful lot of anointing going on these readings, for the whole point of blessing and consecrating oils is to set them aside for the rites of anointing.
In his homily for the Chrism Mass last year, Pope Francis taught us about the purpose for which these great figures from salvation history that we hear about in these readings are anointed: “The readings of our Mass speak of God’s ‘anointed ones’: the suffering Servant of Isaiah, King David and Jesus our Lord. All three have this in common: the anointing that they receive is meant in turn to anoint God’s faithful people, whose servants they are; they are anointed for the poor, for prisoners, for the oppressed.”
It is an anointing, then, in which all of God’s faithful share, for they are incorporated as members of the Body of Christ. And what is this Body? We hear it proclaimed in our second reading, from the Book of Revelation: “To him … who has made us into a Kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever.” Priests for God. The duty of a priest is to sanctify: the Church, then, as a priestly people, has the mission of sanctifying the world. But the Church cannot sanctify unless her members are first sanctified, that is, unless they lead lives marked by holiness.
What the Church expresses in ritual – if it is not to be merely an empty symbol – must be lived out in the life of each disciple. And so, in the conferral of the sacraments of Initiation, all of God’s faithful receive this anointing: those who are sealed with the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation are anointed on the head with the oil of Chrism; babies are also anointed on their head with Chrism, in anticipation of their Confirmation. The Church has been getting us ready for the joyful celebration of the Christian initiation of our brother and sister catechumens by the Gospel readings proclaimed at Mass these past three Sundays. Each one teaches something about the mystery of Baptism: Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well teaches us that the water of Baptism is the spring of eternal life that will quench our thirst for all eternity, that, cleansed of our sins, in him and him alone will we find the answer to our deepest longings; in Jesus giving sight to the man born blind, we learn that the gift of his Spirit enables us to see with a vision that goes beyond this world, to perceive the truth that he reveals to us; in raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus anticipates his own Resurrection which will conquer death forever for his faithful disciples.
This anointing of God’s people consecrates us for mission, sets us apart to be a priestly people sanctified for the sanctification of the world. But first sanctified: living lives of purity and single-hearted devotion, seeing with spiritual vision and the eyes of faith, so that the Lord may work in us to relieve the poor, free prisoners and lift up the oppressed
The purpose of the anointing of those we hear about in the readings just proclaimed “is meant in turn to anoint God’s faithful people.” In addition to setting apart oils to be used in the rites of anointing in the Church, another customary feature of this Mass of Chrism is the renewal of priestly promises of those ordained to the ministerial Priesthood.
These are the ones whose hands are anointed with the Oil of Chrism at their ordination, that same oil with which all of the People of God are anointed in their Christian initiation. Their hands are consecrated for handling the sacred mysteries, for service at the altar. But again, what is carried out in ritual must be lived out in the concrete realities of day-to-day life. Those who share in the ministerial Priesthood, who espouse themselves to Christ’s bride, the Church, as Christ the Bridegroom himself does, are set apart for a priestly people. They are set apart for the sanctification of God’s people, so that God’s people may, in turn, may sanctify the world.
I wish to take this opportunity to express my thanks to you, the priests of our Archdiocese, for your service to our people. In spending time with you and your people in your parishes I have seen first-hand the fruits of your labors. The Church is alive in our Archdiocese, our parishes are vibrant and abounding in ministries both to our own people and to the wider community, and it is thanks to your consecrated service, to living out the mysteries you handle in ritual in the practical, demanding, day-to-day routine of parish life: appointments and meetings; visits to the sick and the troubled; e-mails, phone calls, responding to complaints and listening to those who are angry or distant from the Church; preparing God’s people for the sacraments and celebrating those sacraments for and with them; consoling the grieving and rejoicing with those who rejoice; attention to the details of administration, and myriad other chores that often go unseen. But the Lord, who peers into the deepest recesses of the heart, sees what is hidden, and by your generous service grants you to be ever more perfectly conformed to his priestly heart, as you share his same love for his people.
Let us all, then, priests and priestly people, strive, with God’s grace, to live out the mysteries we celebrate in the concrete circumstances of our every-day lives, so that we may be receptive to God’s grace in our lives, and thus fulfill what we prayed for in the Opening Prayer of our Mass this evening: that, having been made sharers in the consecration of God’s Son, we may bear witness to His redemption in the world.