Chrism Mass Homily 2014

From The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron, Archbishop | Issued April 17, 2014

The following is an excerpt of Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s homily at the Archdiocese of Detroit’s 2014 Chrism Mass, celebrated on Holy Thursday, April 17, at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit. The full homily may be heard at this audio link.

“It’s so good that God has gathered all of  us here in our home church, the Cathedral. Second Vatican council says that if you want to know who the Church is, what she is, look at her in the liturgy, and certainly that is so very clearly the case today.

Welcome especially those of you who perhaps are making their final preparation for the Easter sacraments.  A special welcome to the deacons, to my brother priests, how good it is you’re here.  To the auxiliary bishops.  And especially I want to acknowledge the blessing that it is to have our two cardinals here. Cardinal Maida, I know that soon you will be going to Rome for the canonization of St. John the XXIII and St. John Paul II. So please go as the representative of all of us.  When you venerate the relics, bring our prayers there and tell the Holy Father how much we love him.  Cardinal Szoka, I’m so pleased that you could be here today.  I think it’s fair enough to say the winter has been a trial, and I’m glad you’re here. Thank you for coming.

The only other day that comes year after year that would be a competitor with this day for my joy and affection in being at the Cathedral is the ordination of priests.  This is a very happy day. But we’re here, we should remember,r to do a work.  When I say this, year after year, I have in my head that gumpy middle-aged man in the Dunkin’ Donuts commercial who gets up at 4 o’clock and says “It’s time to make the donuts.”

It’s time to make the chrism.  That’s what God has brought us here to do.

However, we should begin by acknowledging that it is, first of all, Jesus Christ himself who makes the chrism.  The liturgy is a work.  It is the work of our head, Jesus Christ. He makes the chrism.  He consecrates it.  He blesses the oil of the sick and the oil of the catechumens.  We’re here to share in the work.  We’re members of Christ, the head.  And so we have ourselves, each of us, a particular aspect of the consecration to perform.  Chrism is a great sacramental.  It is, as the liturgy says, a sign.  But it is also a source of blessing, infused with the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is, I might say, an element of contagion.  It is a way for the Holy Spirit to be shared, passed on, to fill.  This is true certainly at baptism and confirmation.  It is the sign of that confirmation.  It is the sign that chrism expresses at the ordination of the two priestly orders, the episcopacy and the presbyterate.  It is this function of sign and source that the chrism has when we use it to anoint altars and churches. 

To do our part better today, each given the role that is proper to each, I’ve thought that what we might do is think a bit about what chrism is.  And to understand that, in order to answer the question I propose — “What is chrism?” — we need to ask ourselves what is the result of being “chrismated,” as the Byzantines say.  What happens in the sacrament, especially the sacraments of initiation, when chrism is used as this source of infusing the Holy Spirit?  The answer to that question is clear from the liturgy, especially the consecratory prayer that I will recite in the name of all of us over the chrism.  The result of being chrismated is to be a sharer in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet and king.  You will hear me say that, from Christ — literally “the anointed One” — chrism takes its name. And with chrism God the Father has anointed for himself priests and kings, prophets and martyrs.  The prayer say that through the anointing that confirms baptism, God transforms the baptized into the likeness of Christ his son, and gives them a share in his royal, priestly and prophetic work.

And so in the consecration prayer, we will ask that in the sign of chrism God grant those who are anointed with it royal, priestly and prophetic honor.  So in our liturgy we are affirming what is clearly stated by the Second Vatican Council, based on the teaching of the first epistle of Saint peter.  The Council says in Lumen Gentium, those who believe in Christ who are reborn not from a perishable but an imperishable seed through the word of the living God, not from the flesh but from water and the Holy Spirit.  That’s you and me, us disciples — we are firmly established as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people, who in times past were not a people but are now the people of God.

That’s a lot of things to be — a chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, purchased people. I’m going to have to leave them to other Holy Thursdays to take care of all of them or we’d be here too long today.

Today, to help us understand what Christ is doing and what we are doing with Christ, I’d like to have us think  a bit to think about what it means that we are “a priestly people.”  What is that?  I’d like then, in effect, to meditate with you simply on one phrase from the Book of Revelation that we heard in the second lesson. Jesus Christ who has freed us from our sins by his blood has made us a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.  This is the same teaching we find in the first letter of Peter, where Peter says we are called to let ourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

To understand what it means that we are a people of priests, we need to think about what we offer, what is our sacrifice.  Because ‘priests’ and ‘sacrifice’ are correlative terms. They define one another. What kind of priest is it that we are made by the touch of the Chrism, by chrismation?  What is our sacrifice?

The answer is clear from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, where St. Paul writes, “I urge you therefore brothers, by the mercy of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”  Our bodies, a living sacrifice. That’s what the people of God offer. We offer ourselves, our very being. We share in the paschal mystery — not only as recipients of the fruit of the cross, but we are co-agents with Jesus in the offering. That’s our sacrifice.

At the altar here and at the altars of all of our churches, what is sacramentally made present —  the offering of the body and blood of Jesus — is the offering not only of the head, but of the members. Ourselves.  In the sacraments of initiation, we say that we die with Christ to rise with him, which is to say that in ourselves the offering is accomplished. My body. My self. My living self. Your self.  This is the sacrifice of the new covenant, possible because Christ, the Passover sacrifice, is in us and we are in him.

Confirmation is the perfection of baptism. Those who in baptism, us, made temples of God, become equipped for the mission of God’s people. We could think of it this way — that our job by chrismation, what the Holy Spirit enables us to do, the sacrifice he permits us to offer, is to act in the world, to shape whatever is the circle of my own activity, and make it an offering.  For most of the Christian people, that’s their homes, their marriages.  But each of us is missioned in the world. And God wants his world back! The devil tried to take it from him in the fall.  And the priestly people — we, by the power of the Holy Spirit through chrismation — we are equipped with the strength of the Holy Spirit to win the world back for God. Each of us, whatever is the part of the world entrusted to us.  God wants Trenton back.  God wants Lapeer back.  God wants Dearborn back.  God wants even Sterling Heights… God wants Detroit.  And it is our mission through chrismation to bring this world back to God.  Because what is not offered, whatever is not configured to the past, is lost.  You only save your life by abandoning it to the Father.  Every other hand into which we would place our future, our aspirations, is in vain.

So then, we see why it is so important to have the Chrism, and how powerful the chrism is. The power of the Holy Spirit. And we understand what we are about.

There’s a second part in what St. Paul says about the sacrifice the Christian people offer.  Our bodies a living sacrifice.  And then he goes on to say that it is spiritual worship — latria logici.  This is the same kind of phrase we use in the first Eucharistic prayer when we call the Holy Spirit down on the bread and wine and ask the Holy Spirit to make them a spiritual offering.  What does this mean?  This “Spiritual offering” that we make?  It’s the same sense as what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, that in the new covenant, the worship would be in spirit and in truth.  But it means more than that, to say that it is logici is to say that, in some sense, it’s a reasonable sacrifice.  But I find that translation too think.  It makes it a sense that somehow it’s almost rationalistic, this offering of ourselves in Sterling Heights and every other place and time.  You might put it this way: When we receive the power of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Jesus, the spirit of the Passover lamb, we make a wordable sacrifice.  It is an offering about which we can speak.  We can give it a name.  We can give an account of what we do.  We can talk about how this sacrifiece — my sacrifice, the offering of our world — fits in with everything else.  It’s an offering that has meaning.  That’s what is implied in saying that it is a spiritual sacrifice.  And it isn’t a word-able sacrifice of just any word.  The word for this sacrifice which is made present in the Eucharist is the Word, Jesus Christ.  That is, our offering of ourselves and our world along with the body and blood of Jesus is a self-offering which shares in who Jesus is, his very being as the Word of the Father.  Our self-offering is shaped by Christ word about himself.  He said he is the Lord.  And so part of what our offering means is we accept his Lordship and we give ourselves to the Father as the disciples of Jesus.  One of Jesus’ words about the Father is that the Father is mercy.  He taught us that so eloquently in the parable of the prodigal son.  And so part of what this sacrifice means is that we acknowledge that we find God’s mercy here, and we give thanks to the Father for that mercy.  Jesus spoke these words to us, but He and the Father were in a conversation even before the world was created.  And so what Jesus heard from the father from all eternity, Jesus heard the Father always calling him the beloved son.  So part of what we know our sacrifice means is that we offer it as God’s sons and daughters who are as dear to the Father as Jesus is.  That’s why it is a word-able sacrifice.  That’s how it is spiritual.

From all eternity, Jesus spoke to the Father and called him “Abba,” loved in return.  And so our offering is the word of sons and daughters who likewise with Jesus call God “Abba” and love him with our love.

This sacrifice of ourselves and all of the worlds of which we are a part, by the Eucharist and in the Eucharist because of the power of the Holy Spirit, is drawn into the conversation the very communion that has been and always will be for all eternity between the Father and the Son in the Spirit.  This is a word-able sacrifice we offer in the Holy Eucharist, because the meaning of Jesus becomes my meaning and your meaning.  And it becomes the meaning of the world.

Jesus is offering to the Father.  I am an offering to the Father.  My world is an offering to the father.  We give it all back to God. Because we give it, we hold it.  It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that the people of God are capable of even beginning to fulfil this mission.  It is only by the power of the Holy Spirt that our worship becomes truly spiritual.  It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that things can mean what Jesus means.  This is what Jesus was speaking about when he said that we would worship him in Truth.  Truth is a person.  Truth is the Holy Spirit.  This is a worship that is worthy of God the Word because it shares in the truth of who Jesus is.

It is to serve this priestly offering, this priestly work of the people of God that you and I, we priests, are consecrated in the priesthood.  To teach the people of God what it means to make the offering, to lead them and direct them in a way of life that is truly Eucharistic, truly Pascal.  Through our celebration of the sacraments to share with them and deepen with them this life of self oblation.  And so it’s right that bishops are anointed on the head and priests are anointed on the hands — because it is by our thinking and our doing that we assist the people of God in offering themselves and their world back to the Father.

I will confess I had a few moments of distraction at the beginning of the liturgy of the word, looking at the priests.  Some of you I know very well.  The challenges and sacrifices you face, and have faced, in being faithful to your mission.  Others I’m not aware in particular.  But I’m sure there is no priest who is here today who has not had to make sacrifice in order to serve the people of God.  But it is today we remember worth those sacrifices. It is a great privilege to be these instruments that make it possible for the anointed people of Jesus to bring the world along with Jesus to the Father.

We’re in a Year of Prayer for the New Evangelization, when we have been asking for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  This chrism Mass is Christ’s sure answer to our heartfelt prayer.  The Holy Spirit is poured into the chrism.  And by Christians being anointed with the chrism in the sacraments, that same spirit is poured out upon them and, through them, on our world.  The consecration prayer of the chrism says that it is the chrism of martyrs.  The chrism of witnesses.  It is by our joyful witness, as Pope Francis says, that the New Evangelization will go forward.  

So, enough talking from me.  As the dumpy little man in the doughnut commercial says, it’s time to make the chrism. I hope we can make it with a profound prayer and insight, with hearts raised up on high. And then will we not be blessed, because after it is made we will exercise this priestly office. Once again be joined with Jesus in giving God back the world that he created out of love.

We adore the O Christ and we praise thee, because by thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world.”