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The gift of priesthood: not for our sakes but for yours

Archbishop Wenski's homily at the chrism Mass 2020

Archbishop Thomas Wenski delivered this homily while celebrating the annual chrism Mass on the Tuesday of Holy Week, April 7, 2020. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Mass was not open to the public. The archbishop celebrated only with the deans — priests who oversee various geographical areas of the archdiocese — and several bishops.

Normally, all the priests of the archdiocese gather for the chrism Mass, where they renew the promises they made at ordination. This year, they did so virtually.

The holy oils used during the year for baptisms, confirmations and anointing of the sick also are blessed during the chrism Mass. The Mass was livestreamed on the archdiocese’s Facebook page and is posted on the archdiocese’s YouTube channel. 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.”

Today’s Chrism Mass is sort of a prelude to the Sacred Triduum that begins with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday night. And like the Triduum this year, this Mass, like others we have celebrated since March 16, is celebrated without the presence of the faithful.

The COVID-19 virus has already infected too many – and it has certainly affected all of us. Like in the aftermath of 9/11, we sense that the world has changed; but we do not yet know what the new normal will be.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski blows into the oil of chrism,  consecrating it for use in ordinations of bishops and priests and consecrations of churches and altars.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Archbishop Thomas Wenski blows into the oil of chrism, consecrating it for use in ordinations of bishops and priests and consecrations of churches and altars.

But COVID-19 has reminded us of the precariousness of the human condition. We are not in charge of our lives as we sometimes pretend. We do not know as much as we thought we did. Perhaps, when we emerge on the other side of this crisis, we will be a humbler people. Humility perhaps can make our hearts a more fertile soil in which the Gospel can take deeper root. May this unusual fasting, a fasting from the Holy Eucharist and other sacraments imposed on our people because of necessary social distancing, help them grow in their appreciation of the sacraments and for the ministry of their priests.

Again, I wish to welcome all those who are following this Chrism Mass from a distance. I wish to also acknowledge the priests who are following the Mass as well on their computers, tablets or phones – the Chrism Mass is a special sign of the unity of the presbyterate gathered around their bishop. Today, gathered around me are the deans representing the various regions of our Archdiocese. After Mass they will carry the blessed oils back to the parishes of their deaneries. Together with the priests who join me here I would ask all the priests that are listening in to join with us in their renewal of the promises of their ordinations.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, under armed escort to Rome where he expected to be tried and martyred by the pagan emperor, received Onesimus, bishop of Ephesus and sent him back to the Ephesians with a letter in which he exhorted them in these words:

“So, then it behooves you to run in harmony with the mind of the bishop, as you are already doing. For your honorable presbytery, which is worthy of God, is attuned to the bishop, even as its strings to a harp. Therefore, in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung.”

In a real way, the Church has no song, no identity as the people of God apart from our communion with the presbyterate, and the presbyterate has no identity apart from its internal unity as “attuned” to the bishop. Together, and only together, can we sing Jesus Christ; that is, proclaim the Gospel in authentic word and deed. We do not sing in unison to be sure; but only through our unity can we sing in harmony.

We achieve this harmony, by God’s grace, precisely because we do not preach ourselves. If everyone in the Church presumed to act in his or her own name or on his or her own authority, we would have only cacophony and not harmony. Likewise, a priest is not a lone agent – with his own agenda. As the Second Vatican Council taught: “In the name of the bishop, (priests) gather the family of God as sisters and brothers endowed with the spirit of unity and lead it in Christ through the Spirit to God the Father” (PO #6). Again, the Council exhorts priests to “help each other” so that they all are “united with their brother priests by the bond of charity, prayer and total cooperation.”

Today, all priests feel a special stirring in our hearts as we recall the events that transpired in that upper room on the eve of Christ’s passion. Like Peter when Jesus drew near him to wash his feet, we can protest our unworthiness. And, if we don’t, you, God’s holy people, will. You will no doubt remind us of our unworthiness. And this is perhaps fitting – for our gift – the gift of priesthood – is not given to us for our sakes but for yours.

Please do remember our unworthiness – but not to throw it in our faces, for most of us, most of the time, are acutely aware of our faults and shortcomings. But, do remember our unworthiness – and so pray for us. Pray for your priests. All of you want and need good and faithful priests. You must never tire of asking God on your behalf and on ours. Pray that we be the priests you need, the priests you deserve. Pray that you will never lack for such priests.

Today, we bless the Holy Oils. The itinerary of our lives as Catholics is marked by various anointings. As we were prepared for baptism, we were anointed with the Oil of Catechumens; then, in Baptism and Confirmation with the Sacred Chrism. Please God, at the end of our lives, we will receive a final anointing – with the Oil of the Sick so that, at that hour, the Spirit will strengthen and console us. And we pray that soon we will be able to celebrate the sacraments of initiation for our catechumens and the confirmation of our young people.

As we celebrate this Chrism Mass, we are in a time of twin crises and united purpose: the worst global public health crisis in our lifetimes and what is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Yet, around the world, we are united in a common purpose of caring for the sick, pursuing a cure, and lifting the human spirit. The tireless efforts of health care providers, supermarket employees and everyone else who is working to keep us safe and healthy are truly inspirational. The Spirit of the Lord is also upon them – for he has anointed them as well.

Today, we pray that the Holy Spirit will send down his healing balm upon us all. May he deliver our human family from this coronavirus; and may he deliver us from that other deadly virus, fear. Fear is a virus that would lead us to see the “other” as merely an infectious threat; but love recognizes, in the other, a brother or sister, also made in the image and likeness of God.

These oils then are closely linked to the Paschal Mystery – for through them the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, through them the Holy Spirit conforms us more perfectly to Christ, so that we might spread the fragrance of his presence throughout the world as we grow in the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.”

Archbishop Thomas Wenski, alone with the deans of the archdiocese, several bishops and priests, and two deacons, celebrates the Mass of Chrism in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, on the Tuesday of Holy Week, April 7, 2020, at St. Mary Cathedral. The Mass was livestreamed on the Archdiocese of Miami's Facebook and YouTube sites.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Archbishop Thomas Wenski, alone with the deans of the archdiocese, several bishops and priests, and two deacons, celebrates the Mass of Chrism in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, on the Tuesday of Holy Week, April 7, 2020, at St. Mary Cathedral. The Mass was livestreamed on the Archdiocese of Miami's Facebook and YouTube sites.

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