CHRISM MASS – 02 April 2015

SCRIPTURE READINGS: ISAIAH 61:1-3, 6, 8-9; Revelation 1:5-8; Luke 4:16-21

How does God take vengeance on us for the sins that humanity have committed against Him and against their fellowmen?   He takes His revenge on sinful humanity by proclaiming the year of favor, “a day of vengeance for our God!”  Amazing!  This is what the Lord said to the Suffering Servant in the first reading and taken up by Jesus in the gospel. How great is our God!

As a consequence of sin that comes from selfishness and ignorance, many people are suffering, wounded, hopeless and find no meaning in life.  Indeed, many people live in slavery by their sins and addictions.  Many cannot forgive their past and are unable to forgive those who have hurt them.  That is why the Lord invites us to join Him “to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison; to comfort all those who mourn and to give them for ashes a garland; for mourning robe the oil of gladness, for despondency, praise.”

This invitation to share in the ministry of healing and deliverance is a great privilege indeed.  What better life could one live than to use his life for the service God and his fellowmen.  Indeed, the life of Jesus on earth was simply to give hope to the broken hearted, to heal sickness of mind, body, soul and spirit.  He came to forgive and reconcile us with each other and with God.  He came to deliver us from all forms of slavery and oppressions.  At the Last Supper, Jesus demonstrated His servanthood by washing the feet of His disciples.  In the Eucharist that He celebrated, He anticipated His paschal mystery of which He was to die like the grain so that He could give His Spirit to all of us in the resurrection. Knowing that we could give life and hope to others is the cause of our joy.

This, too, is the primary reason why we are priests.   We must go back to our original dream.  Like the apostles, we must return to Galilee when the dream was born.   Along the way, we have become wounded and hurt in the ministry.  We have become disillusioned and sometimes secularized by the world, like those in the world.  We have forgotten our dream.  We have lost our vision and our original reason for our priesthood.  So it is opportune that we recover our lost vision of  wanting to bring the peace, love and forgiveness of Christ to a suffering and hopeless humanity.

But more than just recovering our dream, we are to invite others to do what we do.  We are called to make disciples for Jesus as the Lord commanded us before He ascended into heaven.  Like Christ, as bishop and priests, we are called to follow Jesus in making “a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father; to him, then, be glory and power for ever and ever.”  This is our great calling.  The mission of the Church is not ours alone but we are to work in union with the laity in communion. We want to bring all men to the Lord, the Alpha and Omega.  “This is the truth. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

All of us, by virtue of our baptism, are to do what Jesus did.  The book of Revelation reiterates this vocation of ours when St John wrote, “He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father; to him, then, be glory and power for ever and ever.” As members of the royal priesthood, all of us are called to serve God and glorify Him in our lives of service and love. 

In order that the royal priesthood is adequately formed and nourished, and that all members become zealous and committed disciples, Jesus Christ has bequeathed to the Church, the Ordained Ministry, which is the ministerial priesthood.  This is indeed a great gift to the Church, second to the gift of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the greatest gift that the Lord has bequeathed to the Church.  It is the summit of the Church’s worship and the source of Christian life.  In the Eucharist, the Church celebrates the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord.  Indeed, the full significance of the institution of the Eucharist was only realized at the paschal mystery. The institution of the Eucharist sacramentally anticipated the events which were about to take place.  Through the celebration of the paschal mystery today, the Church continues to draw strength and nourishment from the Lord Himself.  In celebrating the Eucharist, the Lord’s promise to be with us till the end of time is fulfilled.

But the Eucharist cannot be celebrated without the priesthood.  Hence, together with the gift of the Eucharist, the Lord also gives us the gift of the priesthood.  Without the priesthood, there will be no Eucharist.  Indeed since the Church was born of the paschal mystery, there would be no Church without the Eucharist.  Through the gift of the Eucharist and the priesthood, Jesus makes it possible for the Church to make present the paschal mystery.  In this way, we continue to receive the grace of the redemption.

Members of the ministerial priesthood, unlike the royal priesthood, act “in persona Christi”, which is more than just offering ‘in the name of’ or ‘in the place of’ Christ but a specific sacramental identification with Christ the High Priest who is the One who is offering the Sacrament.  The power to celebrate the Eucharist is through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  The community is by itself incapable of providing an ordained minister. This minister is a gift which the assembly receives through episcopal succession going back to the Apostles. It is the Bishop who, through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, makes a new presbyter by conferring upon him the power to consecrate the Eucharist.

Indeed, the Sacrament of Holy Orders gives us the Ordained Priesthood to represent Christ not just in the celebration of the Sacraments but to be His official ambassadors of His love.  We are not just CEOs or teachers but the priests of Jesus Christ.  The scripture says, “But you, you will be named ‘priests of the Lord’, they will call you ‘ministers of our God.” The Church could be the sacrament of Jesus only because Jesus gave the power to celebrate the Eucharist to His chosen priests.  Every time when the priest celebrates the Eucharist, he makes the Church present, since the Church is born from the paschal mystery of Christ.

But beyond the celebration of sacraments, we must be the ongoing presence of Jesus in our lives of humble service and love.   We need to avoid a ritualistic and legalistic understanding of the sacraments. We are not just ministers at the altar but priests are ministers in the fullest sense in terms of service, teaching and governance in total humility.   Indeed, through the celebration of the Eucharist, flows our capacity to love as Jesus loved and die for others as He did.

Pastoral charity is the fruit of the celebration of the Eucharist and the bond which gives unity to the priest’s life and work. In the Eucharistic sacrifice, the priest finds the spiritual strength to carry out his pastoral responsibilities so that in all that he does; his activities will become truly Eucharistic. He is identified with Christ the more he makes the Eucharistic sacrifice his own.  Truly, like Jesus, through his ministry, he too could say, “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.”

Everything we do as priests, in the final analysis, regardless what ministry we do, is to give love to humanity, to heal and reconcile, to empower people and to give light to those in darkness and walking in the shadow of death.  Such is our calling, to show the mercy and compassion of God in truth and love.  That is why everything we have, resources, talents, money, power, authority and influence, are to be used to empower people, give life to those people without hope and meaning, to those who think that God is absent and not real or that love is fake.  We are called to give nothing less than Jesus, the Hope of our salvation, to everyone.   In this way, when people see us, they too will say, “It is he who is coming on the clouds; everyone will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the races of the earth will mourn over him.”

Such is the great joy of being a Catholic priest.   As Catholic priests, the evangelical counsels enable us to make ourselves completely available to God and His people without reservation.  The promise of celibacy enables us to love all inclusively and without exclusion.  The promise of poverty frees us from worries and preoccupation with our material needs, food and lodging.  The promise of obedience ensures that we do only God’s will and not ours as we obey our superiors.

Such a life is truly a blessed life indeed!   As the scripture says, “Their race will be famous throughout the nations, their descendants throughout the peoples.  All who see them will admit that they are a race whom the Lord has blessed.”  Many would like to be priests but are not called.  Many women would be too happy to become priests.  But the priesthood is a gift from the Lord and a calling, not by our choice, nor is it given by merit.

Consequently, we cannot but be grateful for the mercy and love of our Lord.  To be chosen by the Lord to be His minister of the Eucharist and be given the power and the authority at our ordination to make the paschal mystery present is indeed such a great gift.  How great is our calling as priests indeed!  Are we grateful for such a great gift? If we are, let us not live our priesthood in vain!  Let us not waste this great grace we have received on behalf of the People of God.  Otherwise, we would have received it in vain.   Since we have been given more, more will be expected of us priests to grow in holiness and to give our lives completely for the service of Christ and His Church.

How, then, do we as priests live out this great calling to be the Sacrament of Jesus for the world?  We need a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit.  What is this anointing if not the love of God?  This is what the psalmist says, “I will sing forever of your love, O Lord. I have found David my servant and with my holy oil anointed him. My hand shall always be with him and my arm shall make him strong.’” As priests we need to be renewed by His love.  We need to relive the love the Lord has for us and His election of us as His priests, which is the reason for our celebration of the Chrism Mass.  At the same time, we ask that we be anointed anew in the Holy Spirit.  Hence, during this Chrism Mass, we bless three specific oils, namely, the Oil of Chrism, Catechumens and the Oil for the Sick.  Through these oils, the Church empowers, heals and strengthens the faithful by the love of the Holy Spirit and the gifts that He bestows.

Most of all, if we want to be good and faithful witnesses like Jesus, who is “the faithful witness, the First-born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth”, we must celebrate the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the Mass devoutly with love and fervor.  To celebrate the Eucharist means to enter into the paschal mystery with Christ and to live out what we celebrate in our daily life and ministry by offering our body and blood for the salvation of the world.  Only by contemplating on His life and His words, can our preaching be able to touch the lives of others.  We need to be rooted in the Lord through prayer, reflection on the Word of God daily and accompanied by penance and mortification.  Unless we are true priests of Jesus Christ, we are powerless and ineffective in making others priests.  Let us strive to do everything for His greater glory and honour.  Amen.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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