1 April 2021 Mass of Chrism: Homily of Bishop Noel Treanor
MASS OF CHRISM
ST PETER’S CATHEDRAL, BELFAST
1st April 2021
Bishop Noel Treanor
I ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God’ (Rev 1.8)
There are two the key themes in the liturgy of the Word and in the rites of the blessing of the oils and the consecration of the oil of Chrism. The first is the proclamation of the Good News, of the Word of God; the second is the sacred quality of the encounter with each person we meet in sacramental anointing and in indeed in all pastoral encounters.
Both of these – the exposition of the Word of God, the presentation of the dynamics of the mystery of salvation as expressed in the inspired literature of faith in the Old and New Testament and the inter-personal encounter with the same dynamic of salvation in sacramental celebration – constitute the heart of priestly ministry to which we renew our commitment today.
Both aspects of priestly ministry require the art of ‘presence’: presence to the Word of God through prayer, reflection and study and qualitative inter-personal ministerial presence in sacramental practice where we mediate encounter with the divine for all ages of humanity.
We gather today still in small and representative numbers for this Chrism Mass. Several among our clergy have remarked in the course of the past year that the isolation of ‘lockdown’ provided time and mental space to re-evaluate the models and practice of priestly ministry in contemporary society. The disruption of regular patterns of pastoral presence among and with parishioners has accelerated the need to re-evaluate established practices in priestly ministry.
The years ahead will see developments in this regard as we continue to re-discover, as faith communities, the dynamic power of the Word of God for personal interior life, for purposeful lifestyle and as a source of inspiration for Christian engagement with issues of social and environmental justice and the promotion of human dignity in all its dimensions.
Context and societal developments will play their part in advancing the re-vitalisation of elements and practices of the Christian tradition, such as the priesthood of the baptised. In other words, we can expect to see our parishes, Pastoral Communities and faith communities animated by ever more active parishioners who volunteer to undertake key pastoral and administrative functions.
As new models of the exercise of shared communal and collaborative ministry emerge – this will take time and will entail trial and error – those of us who have accepted ordination as priest, religious or deacon, will need to continue to grow our capacity for qualitative personal presence to the others – to the tranquil, the troubled and those on the peripheries. For this we shall need to engage in up-skilling in the ways of professional personal presence and encounter, as also for the skill sets needed for ministry in group settings.
Basic and essential to this qualitative personal presence in ministry is the enhancement of our capacity to be present to ourselves as person, priest and minister. This entails presence to and acceptance of our personal biography, of the trajectory of our personal lives with their joys and sorrows, their ups and down, successes and failures. It involves awareness of our strengths and weaknesses and some mastery of the latter for our own good and that of others.
As priests of this diocese, we are grateful for the training and formation which we have undertaken in this line in recent years, facilitated by the Living Church team and the Kinharvie institute. We look forward to advancing on this pathway of personal care and professional formation in the coming year on foot of the deliberations of the Vicars Forane and their leadership Team and of the Sub-Group of the Council of Priests. As we know, to administer authentically ‘the oil of gladness instead of mourning’ (Is 61.3) in any circumstance, is a mission that requires interiority, integrated spiritual grounding in our humanity, and skilled professional self-awareness responsive to those to whom we relate and minister and responsive also to the divine mystery we serve, the Lord God, Alpha and Omega (Rev 1.8).
II ‘to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Is61.2)
As we move to renewing our priestly promises and look towards times of accelerating and profound change in lifestyle and human sensibility, we recognise the mountains of human and faith-inspired goodness, neighbourliness, endurance and solidarity manifested in society, in communities, parishes, and neighbourhoods throughout the pandemic. We are mindful too of the heroic dedication, often touching points of personal exhaustion on the part of all National Health staff. That response to deep human need, in this case to extraordinary need, assured by so many in countless institutions, organisations and families, interlinks with our ministerial and pastoral care of the individual, the family and society.
Thus, I wish to thank all priests, deacons, members of Parish Councils, members of Parish Finance Councils, members of the Pastoral Community Forums, and all who supported priests in devising ways to transmit the celebration the liturgy on IT platforms during the periods of lockdown.
Dear Sisters and brothers in Christ, as your clergy – and I’m sure I can speak for the Religious communities in the diocese – we are grateful to all volunteers who have helped in any way to sustain pastoral outreach in these difficult times : you are the pioneers and pathfinders of active parish and faith community membership for the times ahead. You have shown the vitality of our faith communities as you developed local responses to facilitate the sacramental celebration of life’s moments in the light of the Good News of the gospel and the long tradition of the Church’s celebration of the mysteries of faith in Christ crucified and risen.
As we can all imagine, the demands on the chaplaincies served by members of our clergy and our deacons were intensified during the past year, particularly in the hospitals, and also in the prisons and indeed at the universities. As a local Church it is but right that we thank all involved in these chaplaincies and especially those involved in hospital chaplaincy throughout the diocese – oftentimes as they fulfilled parish duties as well – for their service, especially to those who suffered COVID-19 virus and their families. It has been a year that demanded courage, dedication and endurance, betimes to the limits of their strength, on their part.
Their service mirrors that of many of our fellow diocesans who ministered to their people in turbulent and dangerous times. We remember them today as we remember those who died in the course of the past year: Frs. John Stewart, Felix McGuckin, Johnny O’Sullivan, Johnny Fitzpatrick and Brendan McGee. Like so many of our parishioners and their families, their funerals were celebrated in accordance with the public health measures and restrictions prevailing at the time of their death.
As we follow in their footsteps with the support of so many parishioners, neighbours and friends, we now renew our promises and take up anew the challenge of proclamation of the Word and qualitative personal pastoral presence to others in the light of the Good News of salvation.