Homily of Bishop Denis Nulty for the Chrism Mass
“In the discussions that we have started in the diocese … the one constant recurring theme has been the familiarity parishioners have with their priest in the parish, how much he is valued and appreciated” – Bishop Nulty
I am delighted to welcome the huge numbers of priests and lay faithful from the 56 parishes that together make up the family of our Diocese. I think it’s fair to say that our Chrism Mass is probably the earliest one celebrated here in Ireland, although in parts of Africa the Chrism Mass may take place weeks in advance of Holy Week, because travelling can prove very difficult.
While we may have travelled from the most southerly point of the diocese at Saint Mullins where the River Barrow becomes tidal, or the most northerly point in Balyna, seat of the famous O’More stronghold, where refuge was offered for priests and people in times of persecution. We may have come from the most westerly point at Clonaslee at the foot of the Slieve Blooms or the most easterly point in Hacketstown where the snow is still evident from the arrival some weeks back of the ‘Beast in the East’, or indeed perhaps we have travelled from any parish in-between. As we travel, we travel as a parish, as a family, as a people, as a diocese, one family in faith.
This evening’s Chrism Mass takes its name from the consecration of the Chrism Oil later in the liturgy – oil that will be used during the coming year, marking the sacramental rhythm of life. Oil that will be used even on those yet unborn as they are welcomed into the Christian family in baptism. Oil that will be used with the sick in hospitals, nursing homes and on pilgrimages. Oil that will be used during Confirmation liturgies and at Ordination ceremonies. In addition to the oils, tonight is about words, words expressed in priestly promises renewed in the presence of parishioners, family and friends.
This is holy ground, this is a sacred story, this is a sacred moment. Let us pause and pray for God’s love and mercy as we call to mind our sins …
The opening line of Saint Luke’s text implies a deep connection with family: “Jesus came to Nazara, where he had been brought up …”. We will stop there a moment, because already we have enough to go on. All of us were or are brought up in families. Family and familiarity are very much connected words. Family is what roots us and often that’s why the pain of those who find it hard to connect with their family penetrates deepest of all.
On Saturday last over in Ballinabranna in Leighlin Parish I celebrated a Confirmation ceremony with the oil of chrism, consecrated at the Chrism Mass in 2017. In this past Chrism Year, from Monday of Holy Week last year to tonight 2,018 young people have been anointed with this oil, from the very same oil stock. On 13 April 13 the confirmandi from Rhode and Clonbullogue will be the first of the new Chrism season to be anointed with this night’s newly consecrated oil, and so the sacramental cycle of Kildare & Leighlin continues.
As part of their preparation for the sacrament, I invite the young people who are being confirmed to write a letter to me to tell me something about their life, their aspirations around the sacrament, their interests, their hobbies and most of all their families. Using a couple of lines from different letters, makes the homily at every ceremony that bit unique and personal. I am always interested in the comment “Bishop Denis, I have a brother and two sisters and I get on with them most of the time”. The ‘most’ says it all, doesn’t it? It perhaps also might resonate with our own experience of family? It is very much more Simpsons than Waltons!
But what of this Laois letter from the youngest in her family:
“I have two brothers, aged 18 and 14 and two sisters aged 19 and 16. They are all teenagers. They all changed when they started secondary school. They spend a lot of time on their phones and tend to stay in their rooms. They are more grumpy and cross and I can’t remember the last time we played catch or tip the can. I know they have exams and the leaving cert is important, but the fun seems to be sucked out of them. They also argue with Mam and Dad about what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. It’s not all bad, they are not mean or anything like that, they are just suffering from ‘Teenagerism’. This is why I believe I need the gifts of the Holy Spirit to guide me through secondary school and prepare me for Teenage Years”.
What a splendid understanding of the sacramental moment of Confirmation, a moment that has its provenance in tonight’s Chrism Mass.
Provenance is a great word, auctioneers who specialise in antique auctions use it around particular items or lots. Such and such dates from whatever century and its ownership can be traced and verified. In an era of fake news and at times imitative kitsch; provenance these days has more import than ever before. The oils blessed and consecrated this evening will keep the engine of the diocese ticking for the coming sacramental year. The oil of the sick (infirmorum) that anoints you as you wait for the surgery that you would rather not have to undergo, has its provenance here. The oil of baptism (catechumens) that is rubbed on the new born celebrating life; the same oil will be used for those now in their early weeks of life in the womb. Once again this oil has its roots in tonight’s Chrism celebration. The oil of Chrism that will be used at baptisms, confirmations and ordinations equally finds its source in tonight’s liturgy. These are the oils that will keep family life going in the diocese over the coming twelve months.
For me our gathering as 56 parishes in Punchestown Racecourse on the last Sunday in August 2017 typified family. The gathering kick-started our diocesan preparations for the World Meeting of Families, which begins in Dublin in 147 days time. A World Meeting which only in this past week Pope Francis announced his intentions to be with us for those two final days – the Festival of Families in Croke Park and the concluding Papal Mass in the Phoenix Park – exactly five months from today’s date. The Amoris Programme ‘Let’s Talk Family! Let’s Be Family!’ is being offered in more than 20 different locations across the diocese. Parishes are clubbing together in many cases, and the conversations may even stray beyond the prescribed text to how those parishes can create more ways of working collaboratively together, lay people, men and women, religious, deacons and priests.
Donal Harrington in his recently revised book, aptly named Tomorrow’s Parish, tells us “welcome has emerged as a ‘signature’ quality of tomorrow’s parish … think of the family Mass; of the ministry of Baptism teams; of bereavement ministry and funeral teams; of annual parish ‘family fun’ days; of programmes for First Communion and Confirmation. Family is at the heart of it all”. Punchestown proved that activities appeal more to families than formal structures. Our planned KANDLE Family Fun Day on 16 June in the grounds of Carlow College next door also, for me, ticks all those boxes.
Returning to those Confirmation letters I mentioned earlier, that honestly express to me the issues of family life today – “teenagerism”, “getting on with people as best we can”, “hoping there will be no rows from overindulgent guests at post Confirmation parties” – and yet the same letters suggest the sponsor is someone “who always has their back”, who “they look up to” and as one boy said to me last week “she never forgets me”. And he was talking about his grandmother. We should never underestimate the role grandparents play in the lives of younger family members. Family is the place where people feel loved and once again for those who don’t experience that, I pray our blessed oil tonight will offer them some comfort and solace. Wounded and struggling families are also places where God’s love wins out. I imagine Pope Francis will speak more to the wounds of family life, than to those who snugly and contently feel they have it altogether.
Luke’s gospel reminds us where Jesus was brought up, Nazara. It tells us how familiar he was with Nazara and its environs, what he usually did, who he met, where he went: “went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day as he usually did”. With family comes familiarity. Family roots us, family gives us provenance, ownership rights. Familiarity is what we do with those rights, how we engage and interact with one another. The Amoris Programme is just one aspect of this engagement.
In the discussions that we have started in the diocese on ‘Facing the Changes and Challenges Together’, the one constant recurring theme has been the familiarity parishioners have with their priest in the parish, how much he is valued and appreciated. Some of those priests in their eighties still administering parishes. As a diocese, as a faith family we have so much this Chrism Night to give thanks for our priests and the witness they give, sometimes at a cost to their own health and mental well-being. I, like you, am most grateful for that witness and that support. I invite you now to pray for your priests and to keep them in your prayer in addition to the daily intention to pray for more vocations. We move now to the Renewal of Priestly Promises …