How good it is that once again we're in the cathedral for this most solemn rite, a rite which is very much at the center of the liturgical life of our diocese. I hope my reflecting will help you participate more fully in this rite, because we all have a part to play — each of us, not just the clergy, but the lay faithful — in this sacred rite. There's a sort of truism that by grasping better what we're doing, we can do a better job. So I hope that by reflecting on what the Holy Spirit is doing in our midst and doing through our prayers, He will find our hearts and minds to be more effective instruments for His working.
In this reflection today, I want to talk about the mystery of Chrism, and on the basis of that meditation, to think about the priesthood of God's people — what Lumen Gentium calls the "common priesthood." Before I do that, though, I want to make sure to renew my welcome to everybody here in the cathedral today, and especially my welcome and best wishes to those of you who will be baptized, confirmed and initiated into the Holy Eucharist at the Easter Vigil, and those of you who are coming into full communion. So, if any of the elect or candidates are present, please stand so we can acknowledge you. On the first Sunday of Lent, we promised we would be praying for you, and I can't answer for everybody else in the cathedral, but I've been doing that. I suspect most of us have.
I also want to acknowledge all of our catechists. This is traditionally a celebration where all of our catechists come. On behalf of my brother priests, for whom you are such important coworkers, I want to thank you for your service, your apostolate and your ministry. I want to say how good it is that so many priests and deacons are able to be here today to participate in this liturgy. Cardinal Maida sends his regrets; he's got a bad sore throat and the doctor told him to stay home, but I know he's one with us in prayer.
So, about the oils, and especially the Chrism. We know that this rite and blessing and consecration is not one of the sacraments instituted by Christ. But these oils are truly sacramental realities. Part of what they are is to be a sensible presence of God's work, God's grace, moving in our lives through signs. So this rite of blessing and consecration has what our Greek brothers and sisters would refer to as a 'mystical' meaning — a mysterious meaning, a sacramental meaning. More than just practical, but heavenly; divine in some sense. So I'd like us to think about how the meaning of Chrism helps us understand the meaning of our common priesthood, and indeed the priesthood of Christ and the priesthood of the ordained.
That the Chrism is at the focus of our rite, and the priesthood of Jesus is at the heart of that focus, I can prove to you by quoting from the pontifical. This is what the ritual book says:
"The Christian liturgy has adopted the Old Testament usage of anointing kings, priests and prophets with consecratory oil because those three offices prefigure Christ, whose very name means Anointed by the Lord.” Similarly, the Chrism is a sign that Christians are shares in the Lord's kingly and prophetic priesthood, and that by consecration they receive the anointing of the Spirit who is given to them."
So I didn't just make this up, these themes. This is the mind of the Church, that we should think about the Chrism, and in thinking about the Chrism think about the priesthood of Jesus. So let's start thinking about the threefold ministry of Jesus. The Gospel says clearly that Jesus is preeminently the Anointed One. This is what we proclaimed on Palm Sunday: 'Blessed is he, the Messiah, the Son of David, who comes in the name of the Lord.' This is what the high priest asked Jesus: 'Are you the Christ?' And Jesus said he is. He is the Anointed One, and every other anointing is by analogy or in some sense an echo. But we who belong the body of Christ share in the threefold ministry that comes to Jesus from his anointing. As the liturgy says, 'the Chrism is the sign that we disciples of Jesus share in his kingly and prophetic priesthood.'
But what I hear in this text is an ordering of these three works: prophet, king and priest. There's two adjectives and one noun. It's a priesthood that is kingly and a priesthood that is prophetic. But this triple anointing of Jesus that we share is about a priesthood. That's underscored, as we heard in God's word, the Book of Revelation, which says Jesus has made us into priests for his God and Father.
What are these three services? How can we understand them? Well, to be a prophet is to speak of and give witness to God's truth about the world. What does God think? What is God's plan? That's the revelation. To be a king is to have the authority and to be about ordering the world according to God's truth — what the Bible calls 'righteousness.' To put everything in God's order, according to God's plan. To be a priest is to offer this rightly ordered world back to its true Lord and Owner. This is the mediation function of the priesthood.
They all stack up in a certain order. This isn't like some Greek salad where you just take the elements and mix them all up by happenstance. They are in order, and God has spoken to us. We know His word so that we can live according to it. This is what St. James says, 'We must live this word that we believe.' And then what that life that is shaped by the word finds its fullness, it is offered to God. And of course, the cycle keeps going, but it's not going to go forever. There will come a day, the end of the age, when there will cease to be prophecy and there will cease to be order, but there will only be glorifying God through self-offering.
This is what the fathers of the council described as the 'common priesthood,' the priesthood of the faithful. It's a share in the very work of Christ the priest. And the offering, as St. Paul says in the twelfth chapter of the Letter to the Romans, is this, '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.' Now, Paul doesn't mean here 'spiritual' as in 'immaterial,' but he means worship in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
This is our offering, all of us, the baptized, as priests sharing in the priesthood of Jesus: to offer ourselves. And not just my flesh as it's bound by this sometimes 38 waist — although I'm working to make it a little less — not just that sense of body, but everything that's our own. Everything that is the sphere in which we move and act and live. The things we do in our flesh, what we build, what we are about. The way we love, the way we serve. Something as simple as dusting or changing a flat tire out of love — all of that is our sacrifice, the world being given back to God. This is our part in the work of Jesus Christ, in turning what had been a wasteland of sin into a new Eden, a new paradise, where God walks with His sons and daughters.
And it's always a sacrifice, a gift, an oblation. It belongs totally to God. We give up ownership of ourselves and our world, and they are handed over rightly to Him who is their true Owner — for whom we are only the stewards — back to the Father. It's handed over as a pleasing gift because they're given over with the Body and Blood of Christ, and so made perfect.
We know that only what is commended into the hands of the Father is safe. Everything else will be lost. Only what is sacrificed is saved. Only what is given is really kept. We do this by our priestly living, but, in a consummate way, we do it in the sacred liturgy. One example that's not the Eucharist: Think about the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, where pain is endured most clearly in the flesh. And that, in the sacrament of the sick, becomes an offering united with Christ, offered along with him. We say it, 'You have to offer it up.' That is this priesthood.
Of course, (this is seen) most clearly in the Eucharist, where we priests lift up the Body of Jesus and his Blood and show them to the Father, and say along with that, 'Lord, look at the lives of my people, and the sacrifices they make along with Christ, and be pleased.'
That's about the priesthood. What about the Chrism? As I mentioned to you, the liturgical books tie this common priesthood that we all share in explicitly to the Chrism. It says that the Chrism is a sign that we Christians are sharers in the Lord's kingly and prophetic priesthood. Yes, we become sharers in that priesthood in baptism, but this threefold ministry has a special connection to confirmation, which is the Chrism sacrament par excellence — so much so that the Greeks call it Chrismation.
What does confirmation do? It perfects and completes our relationship with the Church. It gives us new strength in the Holy Spirit and gives us the full stature of disciples. To some, confirmation is the Pentecost sacrament. It's the way Jesus does Pentecost in our lives, even though we're not in the Upper Room 2,000 years ago. It's the consecration for our mission as priests, as sharers in the priesthood of Christ.
As you've heard me say many times before, 'God wants His world back.' It doesn't belong to the devil. He's been holding onto it far too long, and his rent, his lease is up. And it belongs to us as agents of the priesthood of Jesus Christ to be instruments for bringing the world back to the embrace of the Father.
Now, as you will not be surprised, I want to relate this to the pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel. My meditation today helps us understand that our being a band of missionary disciples is about this priesthood. The New Evangelization is a priestly task because it is ultimately about transforming our world into an oblation to the Father. Yes, the Eucharist is our strength for the mission, but the Eucharist is our goal as well. We proclaim the Lordship of Jesus so that we can offer the world along with Jesus to the Father. As I said in the letter, the Eucharist leads to evangelization, certainly, since our ability to announce the Gospel springs from the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, which is made new in the Eucharist. But never forget that evangelization leads to, and finds its fulfillment, in the Eucharist, since the Eucharist is the fullness of communion with Jesus and his Church.”
And now, to my brother priests: Our role as priests, and the role of the deacons who assist us in our priestly ministry, is to guide, shepherd and direct the faithful, the disciples of Jesus, in living their common priest — a priesthood we share in baptism. This is so they understand, they know, and they have from us the word that they can share. They have direction about how to shape their lives and how to turn it into a pleasing offering to the Father. In the sacred liturgy, we can preside in the person of Christ to gather that offering and present it to the Father, assured that it is always efficacious. That's what ex opere operato means. 'It always happens.' The gift is always made and always accepted.
So, Fathers, we are agents of this great priestly work. And in that, we find the meaning of all that we do. Deacons, this is the sense for every sacrifice we might make for the sake of our ordained ministry. As I was watching you all come into the cathedral, I was reminded in many instances of the many challenges you all face and the sacrifices you make. The calls you receive that aren't always easy to answer in order to fulfill this sacred trust of our mission through holy orders. But it is worth it. This is the point: God's world will not be won back for Him without this great effort. But it will be successful because Christ is risen, and we have confidence in him.
So, then, let us move to our task of giving God glory here in the liturgy. It is Christ in our midst who glorifies his Father. He does this here, and he will do it for all eternity, standing before the Father in gratitude and prayer. We pray that we will be there to echo and make our own the thanksgiving and praise of Jesus Christ, when all sacraments cease, all the work is done, and there is no more striving — only consummation. And here, now, in the hour that remains, let us with all our hearts, with all our minds, enjoy the foretaste we have of heaven, as God takes His world back, and is delighted that we present it to Him.
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, for by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.