Chrism Mass 2021
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, has celebrated the Mass of Chrism in Westminster Cathedral with the faithful present in the pews – albeit socially-distanced. This is a contrasting scene to the empty churches of Holy Week 2020.
The words and actions of this Mass of Chrism are filled with joy. They brim over with a confidence that has its origin in faith – that ‘the spirit of the Lord has been given to me’; a confidence strong in hope – ‘it is he who is coming; everyone will see him, even those who have pierced him’; a confidence that expresses itself in service – ‘to bind up hearts that are broken’, ‘to proclaim liberty to captives’, ‘to comfort all those who mourn’.
And the hallmark of this confidence is the anointing with sacred oils, in our baptism, in our confirmation and, with a special focus today, in the anointing of holy orders. Through these anointing we are marked out, set apart, called to a new life as we become identified with Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one.
We thank God that our celebration of Holy Week this year is not a repeat of last year’s. I thank all of you who have come to the Cathedral today and I greet all who are participating on the live-streaming. And my special greeting is for our priests, as today we renew the promises and dedication of our ordination.
This has been such a strange time: enervating, challenging, testing, a time of so much isolation and loneliness, of sadness and death, and yet of creativity and shining generosity. During this past year we have been learning a different way of living, different patterns of care for others and for ourselves.
It’s a time in which we have had to recognise and live with deep-seated vulnerabilities and embrace new ways of reaching out, new ways of being together, of supporting each other and of fulfilling our tasks. This, I know, is true for us priests and I thank each and every priest for his faithfulness, his resilience and leadership. In saying this, I also salute so many of you, the faithful. You love and support your priests, with your prayers and your practical cooperation. I thank you most sincerely.
This Holy Week my thoughts are taking shape round the words of Pope Leo the Great who calls us to fix the eyes of our hearts on Jesus crucified, recognising in him our own humanity. Today, with the eyes of our heart, we see in Jesus the one anointed by the Father, filled with the Holy Spirit for his mission, and yet who is called to fulfil that mission through the agency of his weakness.
In all this we recognise ourselves. We too fulfil the anointing we have received only through the grace given to us, through the help we receive, through the cooperation and solidarity that we have between us. Like our Master, we fulfil our calling most eloquently when we recognise and accept our weaknesses. St Paul tells us, categorically, that his greatest strength lies in his weakness. He, and we, heed the words of the Lord: ‘My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:9).
Might I suggest that during these long months we have come to sense more deeply the weakness of our lives. The times when we felt most isolated have opened for us a greater closeness to the Lord; when we have felt down and useless we have drawn to appreciate all that we are given; our sense of being overwhelmed with endless duties has drawn us to rely readily and gratefully on others.
In all these moments we are to keep the eye of our hearts fixed on the Lord, knowing that in him we see our own experiences. We see him wearied and fearful (John 6:67); in dismay at the confusion around him (Mt 9:36); in frustration and anger at the superficiality of established patterns (Mt 21:12ff); in mental and spiritual anguish (Lk 22:42). We know too that in him these are but steps to the fullness of life. In him the full measure of our humanity is made so clear. In every one of our moments of challenge, dismay or confusion, then, we are called to put on Christ. He has already taken on our measure. His clothes fit us; ours fit him. We are to put him on and find in him our peace and joy.
We are to put on Christ whenever we set out on an act of ministry, for it is his work; whenever we speak, for our words carry the impact of our anointing; whenever we are called to judge, for our justice must be as generous as his. We are to put on his humility, his compassion and his faithfulness.
We are to put on Christ most readily in our emptiness: when we have lost the consolation we find in our public ministry; when we are heaped with the anger of others at mistakes of our shared past; when we lose even, in Shakespeare’s phrase, the ‘bubble reputation’ of our good name. Then we remember that everything taken from us leaves more space for the Lord to enter into our souls with his sweet consolation.
With the eyes of our hearts fixed on Christ, today we priests renew the promises of our ordination. What a joy it is to do so! We rejoice in knowing that the life and future of the Church is in his hands and not ours. We offer him our hands for his purposes, not for our own.
We know that the vitality of the Church is his project and that he lives and breathes in all the faithful. I am so glad that today a few representatives of God’s faithful people are present with us. We are all the living stones of the Church. Together, we are strong and firmly set.
My brothers, grasp this, and so much more, and then rejoice wholeheartedly in the promises we now renew, acclaiming with a full, full heart, in the words of today’s Psalm: ‘I will sing forever of your love O Lord; through all ages my mouth shall proclaim your truth. Of this I am sure, that your love lasts forever, that your truth is firmly established as the heavens.’ Amen, amen.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
30 March 2021