All share in the Priesthood of Christ
Dear friends in Christ, at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we celebrate the priesthood of Christ through the Church in which we all share. The Fathers who assemble around the altar participate in that priesthood in a ministerial sense. We all share in it by virtue of our baptism. Nevertheless, together we all work toward a common end—the salvation of souls, by carrying out our particular roles in accordance with the graces that Almighty God has endowed each one of us; the graces that come with our particular vocations.
The Chrism Mass, celebrated each Maundy Thursday, is particularly important for the perpetuation of the ministry of Jesus through the Church that he founded. First, we have the renewal of our commitment to priestly service. Secondly, we have the blessing of the Holy Oils of the Sick and the Oils of Catechumens and the Consecration of the oil of Chrism. With these the sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ will be continued through the priestly ministry for the sanctification of God’s people.
The Ministerial Priesthood
Through the renewal of our commitment to priestly service we are called to recognize more closely the deep significance of the anointing that we received at our ordination. It is neither merited nor earned. It is share gift—total gratis. None of us deserves the great honour of participating in the mission of Christ in such profound way by making him present on the altar in the celebration of the Eucharist. Therefore, if we understand the full implication and the value of such a gift, we will not do with it what we want, nor will we use it for our own gain. That grace is given to the Church for service to God’s people geared towards the building of God’s kingdom. I personally feel humbled by the tremendous graces that God places in our hands in order to carry out the mission of His Church. It is not without reason that in the homily for the ordination of priests that the bishop advises the candidate in these words: “Your ministry will perfect the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful by uniting it to Christ’s sacrifice, the sacrifice which is offered sacramentally through your hands. Know what you are doing and imitate the mystery you celebrate.” Essentially, we are made stewards of the abundant graces of God made available to us so that we in our turn, through our Episcopal and presbyteral ministries, will help God’s people to unleash within them the abundant graces that are available to them. O what a privilege we have!
Priesthood a responsibility
However, while we cherish the privilege of ministering to God’s people, I am frightfully aware of the tremendous responsibility it places upon us, especially that of being sufficiently fed spiritually in order to be worthy of feeding others. I am reminded of the words of St. Charles Borromeo to his presbyterate at his last synod in the Archdiocese of Milan in the 1500s. He said to them: ‘Is your task the care of souls? Then do not neglect you own. Do not spend yourself so completely on other people that you have nothing left for yourself. Of course you have to look after the souls you have been put in charge of, but not to the extent that you forget you own.’ Charles Borromeo is by no means advocating an over concern about self, which would be a misunderstanding of his advice. He only warns against an unbalanced over-zealousness about working for the kingdom at the cost of our own souls. This can happen with an unbridled social involvement that lacks a spiritual base. What he calls for is spiritual maturity in all we do as presbyters on behalf of God’s people.
The faithful and the Mission
All lay people share in the great anointing for the Church’s mission, by virtue of their baptism. It is renewed at your confirmation, nourished at the Eucharist, and for those who are committed in holy matrimony, you have received yet another special divine blessing for the mission of procreation, for moral, spiritual and social formation of the human species. Your role therefore is also central to the building of God’s kingdom. The second reading from the Book of the Apocalypse (1:5-8) strengthens this truth when it reminds us that Christ being ‘the first-born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth, he loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood, and make us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father” (Rev. 1:5-6a). Everyone is specially anointed for God’s kind purpose; that is, to make his glory praised. What a privilege it is also for all of us to share in the saving mission of Christ!
The family on Mission
The human family is itself a sacrament (a sign) that is ordered towards the sanctification and salvation of its members. It is indeed the place where human beings first learn to know God and to grow in His likeness. The family is the most basic institution in which the Church’s mission is realized; both in terms of the reception of the word and serving as a base from which its members are sent out to witnesses to others by their social and spiritual involvement.
Oils for the Mission
The continued anointing of the Church’s faithful is meant to empower and strengthen them on that missionary journey. Through the oil of the Sick our brothers and sisters who are ill can receive solace and relief, sometimes from their physical, emotional and psychological pains, but most certainly healing from their experience of spiritual separation; in other words, spiritual healing. The oil of Catechumens is used to anoint those preparing for baptism, to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil, and to prepare the candidate for the spiritual washing of water and the anointing with Holy Chrism. Chrism marks us for Christ. It enhances our particular charisms-gifts. At Baptism we are commissioned to live the good life, participating in the priestly, kingly and prophetic mission of Christ. At confirmation, we are anointed and sent to witness for Christ in the social realities of our lives; and ordination sets us apart for sacred duties; that is, to witness to the people of God through the three-fold ministry of Jesus: to teach, to sanctify and to rule.
The Chrism Mass takes place at Cathedrals all over the Catholic world, and thus the unity of the Church is most evident. It is evident in the fact that the presbyterate and the faithful come together with the bishops of the local Church to celebrate the oneness for which Jesus prayed. Obviously the greater benefit of the celebration of the Chrism Mass will be realized in the daily work towards the unity of the people of God by our individual and collective efforts.
The unity of the Church is the single most powerful evangelizing tool, in that it draws from the Trinitarian dimension of the Church’s self-understanding, it is faithful to the most basic but most profound value that characterizes the Church’s Catholicity; that is, it is found everywhere but it is united. Wherever we go in the world the Catholic Church is the same. As the saying goes, unity is strength. Therefore our sharing in God’s anointing for the sake of the Church’s mission has of necessity to promote the unity of the body of Christ. Fragmentation is an aberration and a scandal to the fabric of the Church. Evidence of this is seen in the new groups that are mushrooming in our culture. Any semblance of such disunity hardly reflects the desire of Christ. It stands to reason therefore, that whatever is done in the name of the Church founded by Christ must be geared towards the building of the kingdom since the entire mission of the Church is directed to towards that purpose.
Commissioned to witness
My prayerful wish is that every Catholic would play their rightful role in evangelizing the world by exercising the gifts that they each received at their baptism. Every Catholic Christian should able to say like Jesus in whom we all have been baptized: ‘The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour’ (Isaiah 61:1-2).
Obviously, because our gifts differ, that mission will express itself in different ways in each one of us. Think of what it would be like if everyone was enthusiastic about Jesus; that everyone felt in his/her heart a passion to spread the Good News instead of the Bad News that is so readily available; that every Catholic saw him/herself as a true ambassador of Christ?
Mission asks “What can I do?”
The truth is, my dear friends, if we are not the ambassadors we are called to be, we are in effect sitting on God’s gifts, on the various anointings we have received over the years. As a result, the whole Church is deprived. Too often we ask what can the Church do for us? Mission essentially means asking oneself the question: What can I do for the Church? Without our individual contribution the Church will experience less growth, simply because the Church is us.
We pray that the Lord will send more labourers for the ordained ministry as well as praying that we will recognize God’s supreme call to each of us to share in God’s anointing for the salvific mission of the Church.
This article is originally found on pages 12-13 of the printed edition.