“We are anointed, ordained, to take the very stuff of life and reveal it to be the gift of heaven,” the Archbishop of Westminster has said to the priests of his diocese.
Delivering his Homily at the Chrism Mass on Tuesday of Holy Week, HE Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that: “The bread which we accept from the people is the daily toil which is the lot of us all. The wine we receive from them is the participation, of every person, in the suffering of this world.”
During the Mass the Three Holy Oils were consecrated ahead of their distribution to parishes across the diocese.
The Oil of the Catechumens, which is pure olive oil, is used prior to baptism; the Oil of the Sick, which is also pure olive oil, is used for the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and the Holy Chrism Oil, which is olive oil mixed with balsam, is used to consecrate someone of something to God’s service.
“Today we consecrate the oils by which, in our turn, we are anointed, not in Bethany, but in Bethnal Green, or Brook Green, or Berkhamsted,” said the Cardinal.
“First, there is the oil of catechumens, by which we are protected from evil; then the oil of the sick to strengthen us in the most testing of times, that the witness we give might not fail. Then there is the oil of Chrism by which we are marked out to be his witnesses, in baptism, in confirmation and in Holy Orders.”
Addressing the attending clergy, His Eminence asked them to always bear in mind two words: “faithful witness.”
“All that I am putting before you this morning is not easy. It is easier to shut the door than open it, to shut an ear rather than listen, to stay sitting down than to accompany,” he said.
“Yet this is the witness that we are to give in a harsh world, so torn by strife and by ugly, vindictive violence. But remember, the word ‘witness’ is the same word as ‘martyr’. That is what we are called to be: witnesses ready for small, everyday martyrdom.
“We do this for love of him, all for him, and simply so.”
FULL TEXT OF CARDINAL’S HOMILY:
12th April 2022
Today there is one image, one phrase of just two words, that I invite you to keep in mind: faithful witness.
In these two words are summed up the purpose of the incarnation and the vocation of each one of us.
Before Pilate Jesus said: ‘I was born for this. I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth’ (John 18:37). Indeed, at Bethany, he was anointed for this very purpose (John 12:1-8). He is the faithful witness, faithful to the end, the end which discloses the fullness of his testimony.
This faithful witness gives evidence of what he knows: that God is love; that God is ever close to us; that God embraces us in our living and our dying; that God is tender mercy and compassion; that God calls us to be sharers in this divine life, now and for eternity. In giving this testimony, the faithful witness sheds his blood and hands over his body. And this is our calling, too.
Today we consecrate the oils by which, in our turn, we are anointed, not in Bethany, but in Bethnal Green, or Brook Green, or Berkhamsted. First, there is the oil of catechumens, by which we are protected from evil; then the oil of the sick to strengthen us in the most testing of times, that the witness we give might not fail. Then there is the oil of Chrism by which we are marked out to be his witnesses, in baptism, in confirmation and in Holy Orders.
Faithful witnesses. Through our baptism, we are set apart to be the sign and agent of God’s love and compassion. Every word and deed we make is to breathe the saving truth that God is with us, that our Blessed Lord accompanies us at every turn. Can we not offer this accompaniment to each other? Can we not lay aside the instinct to criticise, belittle, isolate, judge and condemn those we meet, those who are different, those we do not like? Perhaps this aggressive confrontation is the air we breathe, but our witness is to something different: to the gracious acceptance given us by God, an acceptance that we, in our turn, are called to offer to all. As we venerate the Cross on Friday, we are promising to be like him, without judgement, without condemnation, whispering only ‘Father forgive’. This is the key quality of the Church called for by the voice of our Synodal pathway. As our baptismal calling, let us put it into practice.
Jesus, the faithful witness, teaches us that in him our very humanity is being lifted up to God. In him we are made partakers of that divine life, through his Body and Blood, given on the Cross and raised in glory by the Holy Spirit. It is the great privilege of ordained priesthood to make this, the very heart of salvation, freshly presented in every age and in every place.
My brother priests, we are anointed, ordained, to take the very stuff of life and reveal it to be the gift of heaven, the means of our salvation. The bread which we accept from the people is the daily toil which is the lot of us all. The wine we receive from them is the participation, of every person, in the suffering of this world. Our words of consecration witness to the truth that God takes the toil and pain of this world and transforms it into the saving mystery it truly is. ‘Take and eat this bread’; ‘take and drink this chalice’ refer first to the daily reality of living, suffering and dying from which no one is excused. This reality, already suffused with the Holy Spirit, is now, through that same Spirit, revealed to be the substance of our salvation, for it is all taken up by Christ in his one redeeming sacrifice. In him, the texture of and content of our day, of every day, is transformed. In him, we see that the reality that awaits us each morning, and the reality within us, is the ‘first matter’ of the sacrifice we celebrate and the sacrament we bring.
Pope St Gregory reminded us to see in our humanity precisely that which is embraced by Christ in his work of saving transformation. ‘The body that lay lifeless in the tomb is ours’, he wrote. ‘The body that rose again on the third day is ours. The body that ascended above all the heights to heaven to the right hand of the Father’s glory is ours… We too are to rise and share his glory.’
Our witness, then, as his priests, is to disclose that the toil and burdens of every day, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, are the pathway and substance of eternal life. Our witness is one of never withdrawing from that reality, but of always being present, always ready to walk with those to whom we have been sent, accompanying them day by day and leading them faithfully to the altar, to the Mass, where the hidden glory of their lives, and ours, is revealed. We fulfil that faithful witness in maturity and good judgement, knowing our own needs and knowing our dependence on each other, on our friends and colleagues, on the Spirit of God alive in the love for us shown by many people.
At this point, I want to thank you all and each one. I thank you, my brother priests, representing every priest of this diocesan family. I thank you for your faithfulness and dedication, especially during these long two years of exceptional difficulty. Thank you, thank you! I thank every one of the faithful disciples of the Lord present in the Cathedral, participating online, and your families and friends. Thank you for your love of the Church and of your priests. Thank you for sustaining prayer at the heart of your lives and the service of those in need. I say a special word of thanks to those who serve in our parishes as parish secretaries, those who attend the door and the phone of the presbytery, those who are catechists, book-keepers, cleaners and all-round helpers, all who help in any way. As I have seen and heard for myself, it is so often you who make the caller, the stranger, feel listened to and accompanied. Thank you. Your contribution is so important.
Faithful witnesses! All that I am putting before you this morning is not easy. It is easier to shut the door than open it, to shut an ear rather than listen, to stay sitting down than to accompany. Yet this is the witness that we are to give in a harsh world, so torn by strife and by ugly, vindictive violence. But remember, the word ‘witness’ is the same word as ‘martyr’. That is what we are called to be: witnesses ready for small, everyday martyrdom. We do this for love of him, all for him, and simply so.
As I ask the priests and bishops present to renew the promises of ordination, I offer some words, written just recently by a man who will soon be ordained. May his fresh eagerness and love help us all to be renewed in our ministry.
He wrote: ‘Offering, sacrificing, my life to God, allowing him to live in me and minister through me, has meant a closer unity with him. This ongoing work of God in me, a life given for the Church and for the world, will culminate in the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass, with and by Jesus. My life is founded more and more on this daily offering to the Lord and is more and more the reality to which my life and ministry tend.’
So be it for us all.
My brothers, please stand to renew your promises of priesthood.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster
Photos of Chrism Mass courtesy Marcin Mazur: © Mazur/cbcew.org.uk