A Royal Nation of Priests: Chrism Mass Homily
I want to welcome all of you to our Cathedral tonight for this year’s Chrism Mass: so many of our laity from parishes across our diocese, our priests, women and men religious, even a posse of some of our seminarians are here, and especially, those of you who are catechumens and candidates who are about to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church at Easter. The Chrism consecrated tonight will be used specifically for when you are baptized and then confirmed. Likewise, in a few weeks, several of the deacons who will be ordained priests will have their hands anointed with the chrism as they begin priestly ministry. The other oils: of Catechumens and the Sick will be used in the sacraments of Baptism and the Anointing of the Sick.
Like many of you, I had never heard of the Chrism Mass growing up. As a child, I lived hours from my Cathedral, and so no one in my family had ever been there for anything, much less a Chrism Mass. But, since then, I have come to love the Chrism Mass. It is the one time of the year which brings together not only the members of many of our parishes, but also most of our priests and deacons. The oils we bless and consecrate tonight will be used throughout the diocese in the sacraments which build up, heal and strengthen the Body of Christ. The Chrism Mass is a beautiful sign of our unity and communion in Christ.
Oil has been used from ancient times for healing and for strength. The Oil of Chrism will receive a strong, sweet-smelling essence which is an apt sign for the giving of the Holy Spirit. Oil pervades things; it soaks in and remains. Often, after confirmation, I can smell the Chrism on my thumb for days. It permeates, as the Holy Spirit permeates the entire person.
Tonight, in my homily I would like to focus on a line from our second reading from the Book of Revelation: “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his own blood, who has made us a royal nation of priests in the service of his God and Father—to him be glory and praise forever and ever!”
This is a reference to Jesus Christ. He is the one who loves us. He is the one who has freed us from our sins by his own blood. He is the one who has made us a royal nation of priests in the service of his God and Father. It is this last reference that pertains to us in a special way tonight at this Chrism Mass: that we have been made a royal nation of priests for the service of the Father.
Have you ever put that on your resume? “I belong to a royal nation of priests.” It’s not something many think about, but we should because this is a key part of our identity as Christians—we are a royal nation of priests.
We typically think of priests as those who offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the parish community, absolve sins in confession, lead and shepherd our parishes. This is true, which is why our priests’ presence tonight is important. They are not simply here to pick up their oils. In a few moments, they will stand before you and renew their priestly promises to set their own interests and ambitions aside to serve you, the People of God, the Family of God, the Mystical Body of Christ. Giving one’s life for others is often not easy, and it requires a steady intentionality, a strong faith, and a good measure of perseverance. We are truly grateful for our priests.
But along with our ordained priests, our ministerial priests, all who are baptized are also priests—the priesthood of all the faithful. You were not ordained, but you were anointed at your baptism as “priest, prophet, and king”; there it is—a royal nation of priests! Each member of the Church has a special dignity in Christ, and each member is anointed to offer a sacrifice of praise, with both words and deeds. You do this by your works of mercy, you do this by offering your lives to the Father in thanks “through, with and in” Christ at the Mass. When you turn to the Father to pray for others and for the salvation of the world you are acting as priests. To sum up, as we try to grow in likeness to Christ, to become holy, we are making a priestly offering.
All of us are royal priests because we are in Christ through the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. It is the Holy Spirit that brings this about. The Holy Spirit forms Christ in us.
When I was in Springfield, there was an artist there who always painted the hidden image of a cat in all her paintings. If you looked closely, you would eventually find it. She once painted the portrait of one of the pastors there who hated cats, so she hid a lot of cats in his portrait. It’s an imperfect analogy, but the Holy Spirit forms the image of Christ in whoever receives him. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit: to form Christ in each one of us.
The first reading from Isaiah speaks of Christ as the anointed one, the Messiah; not a messiah, the Messiah; and in the Gospel reading, in which we find Jesus back in his hometown synagogue, Jesus proclaims this very same reading from Isaiah and then adds that he is its fulfillment.
The same Spirit is given to us, so that now Isaiah’s words can describe our lives:
-that we bring glad tidings to the poor. We do this whenever we serve the poor, not only materially as we do through charities, but spiritually. The materially poor are very visible. It is the spiritually poor who are often not apparent to us. We live in an unusual age in which many do not believe in anything—this is a great poverty. Our age needs someone to tell them about Jesus. This is what our anointing is for … to bring the glad tidings of Jesus Christ to the poor.
-we are to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners. So many are captive to bad memories, bad habits, abusive pasts, structures of sin. I remember last year I had Mass in the Jackson County jail, and I didn’t plan it this way, but this same Gospel reading was the one for that Mass. I told the men in the jail that they were physical captives, but that there is something more important that Jesus came to free us from and that is our sins. No matter who we are, Jesus frees if we go to him, and we can help Jesus free others because of our anointing.
-recovery of sight to the blind. Knowing Jesus and embracing the life of the Gospel allows us to see things as they really are … that life is a gift from God and we belong to him and have a future full of hope. We see that suffering has even been transformed by the cross and resurrection of Christ. Our anointing allows us to see our purpose in life, and that everything in our lives takes on a new meaning in Christ.
We are anointed a royal nation of priests in service of our God and Father.
This month, we will begin a visioning process to help us come together as a diocese and pursue some priorities together for the next few years under a common vision. This will unfold in the coming year, and it is my desire that as many as possible take part. In some way, that vision will be tied to our readings tonight; that we have been anointed by the Spirit and sent on mission.
Let us pray that we will all be open to the Holy Spirit with Whom we have been anointed, and give ourselves in joy and hope to what He can do through, with and in us. Amen.
+ Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr.
March 22, 2018: Chrism Mass at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Kansas City, Mo.