By: Jo Siedlecka
There was standing room only as more than 3,000 people gathered at Westminster Cathedral for the Chrism Mass today, concelebrated by Cardinal Vincent Nichols with Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Bishops John Sherrington, Nicholas Hudson, Paul McAleenan, John Wilson, Bishop Mark Jabalé, and more than 300 priests from parishes and chaplaincies around the diocese.
"Be accompaniers of the people entrusted to you and be discerners of the promptings of the Holy Spirit among them," His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols told priests, before they renewed their priestly promises. Next the Holy Oils were blessed. The Oil of the Sick was presented by the medical team of the Lourdes pilgrimage; the Oil of Catechumens by two catechumens preparing for Baptism at Easter; and the Oil of Chrism by a Confirmation candidate and a deacon preparing for Ordination to the priesthood.
The Chrism Mass is one of the few occasions in the year that all Westminster clergy and many parishioners from around the huge diocese of Westminster come together at the Cathedral. At the end of Mass the congregation applauded loudly to express their appreciation to the clergy for their service.
The full text of the homily given by His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols follows:
With this ceremony of the Chrism Mass, we are entering the holiest days of the Church's year. Here we stand at the threshold, ready to step gratefully into the mystery of faith, the vast landscape of the great plan of God for our human family. In these next few days, we shall journey with Jesus, through the crowded streets of Jerusalem, to his last supper, his arrest and trials, his suffering and death, coming finally to that glorious moment of his rising from the dead! Never before or since, in all human history, has a man risen from the dead by a power that was properly his own. Only here, in this event, do we grasp the true meaning of our lives, of the whole of creation!
And, as we stand on this threshold, we know that all of this takes place out of the aching love of God, who longs that his people find their way home, to him, with their wounds bandaged up, their burdens laid down, their sins forgiven and a shout of exaltation on their lips. This love of the Father has no limits. It is for everyone. Its landscape embraces our whole world. And, in this great work, God our loving Father calls for our help, our cooperation, the effort of each one of us. Today there is a powerful sign that we all have a part, many parts, to play. It is the sign of the oil of Chrism, blessed during this ceremony, and flowing out from here across the diocese and so into the whole world through the means of the Church's work and ministry.
Chrism is the olive oil, mixed with spices, that is to be blessed for us today. Chrism is a sign of the fruitfulness of God's creation, for in God's plan of salvation every created thing has a part to play. Even the dove, which brought the olive branch to Noah announcing the end of the Flood, has its part in this great adventure.
The prayers we say will tell us that Chrism plays a vital part in the story of all those who, before us, have been called to serve God: Aaron, Moses, David, Samuel, and the whole line of kings, prophets and priests. Then, in the fullness of time, Chrism has become the name of Jesus, for he is called Christ, the Anointed One. As the very fullness of God, he is anointed, for he is the fulfilment of that immense, all-embracing plan of God for the freedom and joy of all people. He is our Saviour.
Like Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed One, we too have been anointed with Chrism: in Baptism, in Confirmation and, for my brother priests and me, in Holy Ordination to the Priesthood. All of us are to be part of this great work of God, bringing every aspect of creation to the fulfillment for which God holds it in being.
Today, on this great day of Chrism, we all renew in our hearts our willingness to be workers for Christ, participants in his project, dedicating again our desires, our wills, our hearts, our efforts to this great mission, the only enterprise on earth that bears fruit in eternal profit!
There are two phrases, which describe this enterprise, which I wish to put before you all today.
The first is this: the world is God's construction site! Everything that goes on in this world which is not against the will of God, but rather which flows from all the fine and noble instincts written into every human heart, contributes to this construction. Every moment, every event in our lives and in the lives of others, all those ups and downs, joys and great sorrows can be part of God's work of construction. We are all part of this work. Use your imagination! God's construction site needs the clever engineers and patient bricklayers, and skillful scaffolders, visionary architects, bookkeepers, foremen, investors. I could go on!
All are needed!
But we, who are among these workers, each with our different skills, we are also anointed. We are the priests of this construction site and our common task is to dedicate this work each day to its true Boss, its ultimate Client. Our task is to bring our highest understanding of the eternal destiny of this enterprise to bear on its daily decisions, in whatever part of that enterprise we are involved. We are also to be there with the consoling words of our Father when accidents occur, when injustices are to be confronted, when injuries happen. We are the special presence of Jesus in this great construction site of God.
Then there is a second phrase: the world is God's dance floor! I heard it at the great youth event, Flame '17. God's dance floor! It must be so, because Chrism is called the oil of gladness, the anointing of a joyful family. It is the oil of celebration. Think of the parable of the prodigal son: the Father embraces his lost boy and says: 'Let the party begin'!
Yes, the world is God's dance floor and whether we like ballroom or disco there is a part in this dance for us all. Yes, it is our calling to be the promotors of the dance, to go and find the shy and the clumsy of foot and encourage them to join in. Yes, it's true! We are anointed with the oil of gladness. Yes, the dance! Yes, please do let your imagination run riot!
And, we priests have received, as it were, a double dose of this oil of gladness, an additional anointing with Chrism, which is our special delight, our treasured calling. Today we priests rejoice afresh in this vocation, in the part we are given in this world, in this construction site of God, and on his dance floor, although at this point we may indeed need a very vivid imagination!
As we stand at this threshold of Holy Week, we remember that the work of Salvation, costing nothing less than the precious body and blood of Christ himself, is done for the sake of the entire world. That is the focus of our mission: not our own safety or salvation, but that of every person, in every time and in every place. We will recall that this is all the work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit poured out so powerfully from the wounds of Christ himself. It is this Holy Spirit who prompts every good initiative and effort in this great construction site. It is the Holy Spirit who prompts every exuberant and truly joyful move on the dance floor of our hearts, in our families and in our world, in which God himself is the choreographer, the bandmaster and the leading dancer!
My brother priests, we have such a precious role to play, as spelled out in the words of the promises we are about take. Always, in all these duties, we are to be particularly sensitive and responsive to the promptings of that Holy Spirit, at work in unexpected ways and places, yet always recognisable in her fruits. Pope Francis asks us insistently to be accompaniers of the people entrusted to us and to be the discerners of the promptings of the Holy Spirit among them. Let that call, and the dedication and generosity of time it requires of us, the prayerfulness of life it presupposes within each of us, be powerfully in our hearts as I ask you now to rise and renew, in this great assembly, the promises of your priesthood.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster