There are fundamental realities of the church that we celebrate tonight; The priority of Christ in his Church, and the life of Christ at work in the Church through the bishop, priests, and all those who are members of the Church through baptism.
Here is what the Roman Pontifical says about the significance of the Chrism Mass:
(please listen closely, as this will be a long quote.)
The Bishop is to be looked on as the High Priest of his flock. The life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived from and dependent upon the Bishop. (Sancrosanctum Concilium, no, 41)
The Chrism Mass is one of the principal expressions of the fullness of the Bishop’s Priesthood and signifies the close unity of the Priests with him. During the Mass, … the Bishop consecrates the Chrism and blesses the other oils. The newly baptized are anointed and confirmed with the Chrism consecrated by the Bishop. Catechumens are prepared and disposed for Baptism with the second oil. And the sick are anointed in their illness with the third oil.
The Christian liturgy has adopted the Old Testament usage of anointing kings, priests, and prophets with consecratory oil because they prefigure Christ, whose name means “the anointed of the Lord.”
Similarly, the Chrism is a sign that Christians, incorporated by Baptism into the Paschal Mystery of Christ, dying, buried, and rising with him, (SC no. 6) are sharers in the kingly and prophetic Priesthood and that by Confirmation they receive the spiritual anointing of the Spirit who is given to them.
The Oil of Catechumens extends the effects of the baptismal exorcisms: it strengthens the candidates with the power to renounce the devil and sin before they go to the font of life for rebirth.
The Oil of the Sick, for the use of which Saint James is the witness, (James 5:14) provides the sick with a remedy for both spiritual and bodily illness, so that they may have strength to bear up under evil and obtain pardon for their sins. (The Roman Pontifical, p. 381)
As the bishop is in close unity with Christ, the priests share a close unity with their bishop. As Christ shares his life by making us all members of his body through the sacraments and the anointing we receive through them, we all share unity in Christ.
Here we begin to see why it is necessary and important for us to maintain Christ as our priority in all things. It is difficult to fathom, but true none-the-less, that amidst the great diversity of the human race and the members of the Church, we are called to unity in Christ, and anything that diminishes that unity is problematic.
Tonight, we recommit our lives and this local Church to keep Christ as our priority. At the same time, we seek a clearer understanding of the priorities of Christ, that these may also define us as we strive for even greater unity and clarity of mission as the People of God.
The readings for our Chrism Mass speak of Christ’s priorities.
As Jesus began his public ministry, he chooses a passage from the Prophet Isaiah as his magna carta.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. (Luke 4: 18-19)
Since these priorities define the ministry of Jesus, they necessarily define our mission as we minister in Christ’s name today.
When we bring the glad tidings of the Gospel to the world around us, and anoint others with the healing of Christ’s wounds, when we bring the mercy of Christ to those on the margins of society, and help people see clearly the truth of Christ and his Gospel, then we too are living in a manner that is ‘acceptable to the Lord.’
The life and ministry of Jesus are full of examples how he ministered, or through his stories and parables, he challenges our ministry. Take for example the parable of the Good Samaritan. Is not the man beaten and robbed left to die in a ditch not a figure of all of humanity, disfigured from sin, robbed of human dignity, incapable of saving himself? Each of us need Christ, the healing balm of his mercy and the anointing by which he shares his life with us. And, because we have received these precious gifts, we in turn are called and sent to be that same presence of Christ to others.
Think of the Samaritan woman, who spoke with Jesus at the well. He knew her condition of having had five husbands, and presently living with a man not her husband, yet he desired to give her the gift of faith, indeed, the gift of eternal life. (John 4: 14)
For Jesus, the priority was and still is today, the human person; each person is a beloved son or daughter of the Father, as well as a sinner in need of healing, forgiveness, mercy, and a restored human dignity and the promise of eternal life.
By keeping Christ as our priority, he teaches us to pay attention to the person or persons before us, to listen to them, to know their life circumstances and needs. Relationships come first in ministry. Application of our teachings follow. Said another way, our starting point is not the teaching, but the person of Jesus, who is the Master Teacher, the Healing Balm, the Compassion and Mercy of God.
The teachings are important, and we remain faithful to them. Our tradition and teachings form us and form our conscience, and because Jesus is the Master Teacher, there is a unity between Christ and his teaching.
As priests, even as members of the church, we are not to put up obstacles to the faith, but rather are to accompany people in a manner that helps them grow in faith and integrate more fully into the life of the church. Building the Kingdom of God is surely about expanding the pegs of the tent, not restricting them.
The work of ministering with the priorities of Christ is daunting and demanding, but let us recall the consequences of the anointing that we have received from Christ which are found in the Psalm (89) proclaimed this evening. We have great cause for hope and joy:
• The Lord’s hand remains upon us
• The Lord’s arm is our strength
• The Lord’s mercy and faithfulness is with us
There is power and grace in our anointing!
Ministering with the priorities of Christ also includes recognizing the complicated nature of life, and being willing to live and minister in the midst of that messiness. With that in mind, Pope Francis tells us that Jesus “expects us to stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune, and instead to enter into the reality of other people’s lives and to know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated.” (The Joy of The Gospel, no. 270)
As we bless and consecrate the oils tonight, let us keep in mind the words of St. Paul in his first Letter to Timothy when he reminds us: “God our savior wants everyone to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.” (1 Timothy 2: 4-6)
May our celebration tonight renew us in God’s love and fidelity, may we be renewed in the life of Christ, that we may keep him first in all things, and minister with his priorities, love and compassion.