On April 16, 2019, close to 400 priests gathered for the annual Chrism Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto. The Mass includes the renewal of priestly vows as well as the blessing of holy oils that will be used to celebrate the sacraments in parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto over the next year.
The video of the Mass is available on St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica's Facebook page and the full text Cardinal Collins' homily can be found below.
Homily of Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto
The Mass of Chrism: Tuesday, April 16, 2019
Each year we gather in our cathedral church, above the tomb of our heroic and saintly first bishop, to celebrate the Mass which more than any other reminds us of the unity of our diocesan community of disciples. Like our fellow Catholic Christians gathering in cathedrals throughout the world during Holy Week, we are a fellowship of servants of Jesus, journeying through a world that so often rejects Him, as it rejected Him during that first Holy Week which we commemorate in the readings from Scripture in these days.
Today we think especially of our brothers and sisters in Christ in Paris, as they face the tragedy of the terrible fire at their cathedral, the great Notre Dame de Paris. It was indeed moving to see how the faithful gathered in front of their cathedral as it burned, singing hymns to Mary, Notre Dame de Paris, "Our Lady of Paris". Cathedrals are physical signs of the beauty of the presence of God in a world so often marred by the ugliness of sin. That beauty leads to truth and goodness, and so leads to God who lifts us beyond the tragedies of this world; that beauty, truth, and goodness shone forth in the hymns and prayers of the faithful in Paris. They continue resolutely with Holy Week, and the celebration of the suffering, death, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Like Jesus, we are in this world, but not of this world, with all its sorrows. Our hearts are set on the heavenly Jerusalem, which provides the necessary context for our earthly journey.
At this Mass we gather as the People of God in the Archdiocese of Toronto, in our cathedral. We bless the Oil of Catechumens, the sign of strength in the struggle we are committed to in Baptism, and the Oil of the Sick, the sacramental sign that brings spiritual healing and forgiveness to those who are ill. And we consecrate the Sacred Chrism, used especially as the sign of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation and in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, in the anointing of the hands of a priest and the head of a bishop.
All three sacred oils mark God's presence with us during our journey home through this valley of tears, but we do not call this the Mass of the Oil of Catechumens, or the Mass of the Oil of the Sick. We call this the Mass of Chrism, for that sacred oil is central to our lives as disciples of Jesus, as it was in the Old Testament when it was used to anoint prophets, priests, and kings.
Jesus himself is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, and so in Chrism we recall Our Lord himself and his mission as our great High Priest, the Word among us, Christ the King.
At this Mass of Chrism we need to meditate profoundly on what it means to be disciples of Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed One, we who ourselves have been anointed with Chrism at confirmation and, for some of us, at ordination. Through the sacred Chrism, in those two sacraments, we have become consecrated, set apart and made sacred, and sent out to make Christ present in all of the complex iniquity and suffering of this fallen world.
Anointing with Chrism at Confirmation
When each of us was confirmed, the celebrant anointed our foreheads with Chrism, saying our name and the words "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit." Those words and that act of anointing shape our life of discipleship in this world. We are called to act rightly, and to do good in this world, but not simply for the sake of doing good. I remember, when traveling through the United States, seeing a sign "Doing good is our God". No, God is our God. We are engaged in the life of charity, of manifest love for our neighbours, because we are motivated by our faith in the unseen presence of God in this world, and especially, as we are conscious in Holy Week, in the presence of our Risen Lord. We are given the hope that energized the disciples at Pentecost and sent them boldly out into the streets of a hostile world to proclaim Jesus by word and action, and especially by their actions of love, which have been the way in which unbelievers have come to Christ ever since. We begin in faith, are energized in hope, and that faith and hope bear fruit in acts of charity which make God's healing presence more manifest in this world, and which touch the hearts of those without faith.
That unstoppable dynamic of Christian discipleship is rooted not in do-good activism, but in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit experienced by the Church at Pentecost, and now by each of us individually through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit when we are anointed with Chrism at Confirmation.
To grasp this, we look to the inaugural proclamation of Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth, found in today's Gospel, in which he quotes the passage from Isaiah that is today's first reading. Yes, he says that God "has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn." Those are indeed the signs of the presence of Jesus in this world, which we are to continue as his disciples. Those are the fruits. But what are the roots? We find that in the initial words of Jesus: "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me." It is the consecration, the anointing with the Holy Spirit, experienced by each of us at the anointing with Chrism at Confirmation, which is the source of the good actions which are the elements of the mission of Jesus, and the mission of us his disciples, in this world. Our actions of charity and social justice arise out of our consecration, in the completion of Baptism through Confirmation. If we are to be faithful in our life of discipleship, and effective in it, we must not be superficial in our vision of life; we must recognize always that the fruits shown in love arise out of the roots which are our divine consecration.
Anointing with Chrism at Presbyteral Ordination
Those of us who have been ordained to the presbyteral order of the priesthood of Jesus Christ heard these words as the bishop anointed our hands with chrism: "The Father anointed Our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God."
Priests should meditate regularly on these words, which reveal to us the profundity of the reality of ordination to the Holy Priesthood. We are priests of Jesus Christ, whom the Father anointed through the power of the Holy Spirit, as we hear in the Gospel today. We are anointed with Chrism already in Confirmation as disciples of Jesus, as I have mentioned. But as priests we are consecrated with holy Chrism to sanctify the Christian people. That is the heart of our mission. To sanctify the Christian people. To make holy the Christian people entrusted to our care. All else is secondary. And so we, all of us sinners who are appropriately flat on the floor in adoration, penitence, and submission to God in the moments before we are ordained, we are called to be instruments of God's grace in sanctifying those entrusted to our car
People realize that when they ask for our prayers, or when they ask for our blessing, or when they show signs of reverence for the holy priesthood which is a treasure held within vessels of clay. We are ordained to sanctify. This is not a mere earthly task of leadership or organization, even in the pursuit of humanly noble goals. We are to sanctify the Christian people. And so each day we must live in a penitential spirit, conscious of our frailty and sinfulness. It is Jesus who acts through us and thus, despite our unworthiness as stewards of His grace, the people are sanctified through the sacraments and through the word of God. We are consecrated with holy Chrism and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to sanctify the Christian people, not just to organize them or lead them, or whatever. And so we have a particular responsibility to live a life of deep prayer, to spend time each day in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, to pray the Divine Office for those whom we are sent to sanctify, and to get to confession regularly so that God may remove the impediments to the sanctification of others found in our sinfulness.
And our hands are consecrated with holy Chrism "to offer sacrifice to God." That is the way in which as priests of Jesus Christ we are specifically called to sanctify the Christian people, through the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Daily Mass, and the Eucharistic adoration which is inseparable from it, must be the heart and center of the life of each priest.
Sadly, since the Last Supper itself the mystery of iniquity has been found among those called and consecrated by God to be entrusted with the Holy Priesthood. Judas also was an apostle, and at the last supper Jesus humbly washed his feet. Yet Satan entered into him, his way prepared by the unrepentant sinfulness of the treacherous apostle. And it was night. If here is any joy in hell, it is the fall of a priest. We must take all due human precautions to screen candidates for the priesthood, and we do; and we must take all due human precautions to establish protocols to deal effectively with priestly and episcopal iniquity. And we must enforce those protocols.
All that is necessary, but very far from sufficient. The only way forward is through priestly sanctity, lived humbly and repentantly each day, by God's grace. It is simply unimaginable that a humble and faithful priest who offers Mass daily, prays for the people in the Divine Office, regularly confesses his sins, and makes a daily Holy Hour of adoration of his Eucharistic Lord will go astray.
The holiness of the priesthood must always be before our eyes and in our hearts. We are consecrated with Chrism, sanctified by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to sanctify the Christian people, and to offer sacrifice to God. That is the way forward.
Anointing with Chrism at Episcopal Ordination
When a bishop is ordained, the bishop ordaining him anoints his head with Chrism and says: "God has brought you to share in the High Priesthood of Christ. May he pour out on you the oil of mystical anointing and enrich you with spiritual blessing."
Sometimes bishops, especially bishops of large dioceses, hear themselves compared to executives, managers of large corporations. Of course, there must be some of that in the life of any bishop, for he has the responsibility to care for the earthly goods entrusted by the people to the church, and to manage them well, as the pastor of a parish is also called to manage well the goods given by the parishioners. And certainly we need to use the minds God gave us to plan the way forward, to consult, to organize, and to establish the way in which the diocese advances in its mission of evangelization. If we know where we are going, we are more likely to get there. And all of us, anointed of the Lord, priests and bishops, should humbly learn from the wisdom of the secular world. Sometimes, sad to say, the norms of the secular world have been more honest than those of the Church, since because the Church is a kind of family, we can be tempted to take shortcuts that are not wise or fair.
But obviously, though all of this is necessary, it is far from sufficient. The bishop is called above all to preach the word of God, remembering that the Book of the Gospels is held over his head during the prayer of episcopal ordination. As Cardinal Re noted at the Synod on the Word of God, it represents the roof of the house of the Gospels in which the bishop must dwell, and from which he emerges to evangelize.
The bishop is anointed with holy Chrism, the oil of mystical anointing, and this is a sign that he must, like the priest, live a life of repentant sanctity, in the presence of the Lord whom he is consecrated to serve. This is shown in the lives of the holy bishops who courageously fulfilled their mission. I think of those I look to for inspiration: Ambrose, Augustine, John Fisher, Charles Borromeo, and Francis de Sales. Each of them was a radiant example of a bishop serving those entrusted to his care in the spirit of the mystical anointing which is at the foundation of the episcopal office.
And so, as we prepare to bless the Oil of the Catechumens and the Oil of the Sick, and to consecrate the Oil of Chrism, we should ponder the significance of these holy oils in our life as a Christian community, and especially that of the holy Chrism.
The Chrism is a sign to us all of the divine context of discipleship and of priestly and episcopal ministry in the Church. We are anointed. The Holy Spirit is poured out upon us in the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders. Yes, we must be always be attentive to natural wisdom, but we are filled with supernatural grace. We are anointed, consecrated, and that reveals to us the motivation and the power behind all that we do in the service of Our Lord.
We find our identity in our consecration. We are Christians. We are priests. We are bishops. This is not what we do; it is what we are. We will always be tempted by the world, the flesh, and the devil, and some may fall, as Judas did, but the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon us so that we may grow in sanctity, and may lead others to sanctity. That is the heart of it all: the universal call to holiness spoken of in Lumen Gentium. Not the universal call to mediocrity, but to holiness. Focus on that, and we will have nothing to fear. More than that, we will be faithful and fruitful in the mission entrusted to us by Our Lord.
I will end by repeating the words with which we are consecrated with Holy Chrism, in our different vocations, as bishops or presbyters, and most fundamentally, for all of us, as Christians. Let us be attentive:
"God has brought you to share in the High Priesthood of Christ. May he pour out on you the oil of mystical anointing and enrich you with spiritual blessing."
"The Father anointed Our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God."
"Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit."