Archbishop Nichols asks for renewal of prayer, penance and practical charity

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(Photo Chrism Mass Westminster Cathedral 2011)

Archbishop Vincent Nichols has celebrated the annual Chrism Mass at Westminster Cathedral on Tuesday 19 April 2011 in the presence Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the Papal Nuncio, and over 300 priests and 1,000 people from the Diocese of Westminster.

The Chrism Mass sees the blessing of the three Holy Oils: the Oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Blessing of the Sick and the Oil of Chrism. These are used during the sacraments. The blessing of the Holy Oils is one of the most ancient ceremonies in the Church. It is always celebrated in the Cathedral by the bishop surrounded by the priests, deacons, religious and lay people from his diocese.

Priestly service

During the Chrism Mass all priests make a renewal of their commitment to priestly service. In his Homily, Archbishop Nichols reminded priests that they are the most important teachers of the practice of prayer and encouraged them to do their best to make their parishes ‘schools of prayer’:

“At the very heart of our priestly character is our life of prayer. This is the first duty of a priestly people and we priests are also among the most important teachers of the practice of prayer. I recently heard this accolade of a priest in the diocese: ‘He is wonderful; he has taught us how to pray again.’ What better praise could there be for a priest! After all, this was the very request made of the Lord himself by his disciples: ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’ May today be a reminder to us of our privilege and duty of leading our people in the practice of prayer.”

“We priests have particular responsibilities for the promotion and quality of the public prayers of our people, in devotions and in liturgy. Please do see how your church can become more consistently a house of prayer, and your parish a school of prayer. May we always remember the wonderful words of St Augustine about prayer always centred on Christ: ‘He prays for us as our priest; he prays in us as our head; he is prayed to, by us, as our God.’ Can we not establish and deepen a time of silence before Mass begins? Can we not lead people in periods of prayerful silence during the celebration of Mass, too? Such silence is more than the absence of sound. Prayerful silence is not broken by the crying of a child or a fit of coughing. But prayerful silence is an essential part of our consecrating the world to God, day by day.”

Sacrament of Penance

Archbishop Nichols drew attention in his Homily to the importance of the Sacrament of Penance for both priests and people and asked priests to continue to seek ways of renewing its practice:

“We priests serve this holiness in a special way through the Sacrament of Penance. The guilt of the sin of each and all of us should not stay in the soul, poisoning it from within, slowly eroding this priestly character of our lives. Sin must be confessed. Through this Sacrament of Penance sin is placed within Christ’s purifying love. This is our privilege as priests. And it has mutual benefit, for both penitent and priest. We priests learn so much from the time we spend in the confessional. As Pope Benedict said recently:
‘The administration of the Sacrament of Penance has a very strong appeal to each priest for knowledge of his own identity. We priests are never able to hear the confession of our brothers and sisters solely by virtue of our humanity. If they approach us, it is only because we are priests, configured to Christ the Eternal High Priest and enable to act in his name and in his person, to make God who forgives, renews and transforms, truly present. The celebration of the Sacrament of Penance has a pedagogical value for the priest, as regards his faith, as well as the truth and poverty of his person, and it nourishes within him an awareness of his sacramental identity.’ (25 March 2011)

“So we do well to allow enough room for the exercise of the ministry of Penance and to seek ways of renewing its practice within our parishes and in our own lives too.”

Practical charity

Archbishop Nichols also reminded the congregation of the need to reach out to others through practical charity. It was important, he said that ‘necessary financial stringency’ did not undermine the contribution of charities and the voluntary sector of building a society of greater social responsibility.

“A priestly people also expresses itself in practical charity. This is of such importance and I thank all the priests and people present here today for efforts in reaching out to the needs of those around you. In the months to come we wish to strengthen this work and bring it extra support and encouragement. This is an expression of the depth of good will there is among us for the project of building a society of greater social responsibility, in accordance with Catholic teaching. This effort can properly bring great benefit to the quality of life we share in this country. We are ready for our part in it. Yet the project comes in the context of real financial hardship. Care and action are needed that the necessary financial stringency does not undermine this important social renewal, especially among charities and the voluntary sector.”

Full Text

Archbishop Nichols’ Chrism Mass Homily 2011 (pdf)


You can view and download images from the Westminster Cathedral Chrism Mass on our Flickr Photostream.