Archbishop Collins' Chrism Mass Homily

«Even One Priest Gone Wrong Causes Immense Harm»

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

TORONTO, MARCH 31, 2010 ( Here is the homily delivered Tuesday during the Mass of the Chrism by Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto at St. Michael’s Cathedral.

* * *

Most Catholics are not much aware of the Mass of the Chrism, which is nestled inconspicuously among the awesome rites of Holy Week. Like the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, it is a Mass of Holy Thursday, meant to be celebrated in the morning of that day of introduction into the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, celebrated from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.

In our diocese, as in dioceses throughout our country, the Mass of the Chrism is traditionally celebrated earlier in Holy Week simply for the practical reason that the priests need to get back to their parishes. But like the Mass of the Lord’s supper on Holy Thursday evening, it is a Mass of Holy Thursday, and it represents for those who share in the royal priesthood of Baptism and for those who share in the ministerial priesthood of Ordination a participation in the continuing effects of the Lord’s sacrifice of Himself on the cross as priest and victim, which we commemorate each year during the sacred three days of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

We await in joyful hope the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the final revelation of the New Jerusalem, but we are not there yet. We are still on the journey through this vale of tears, this world of suffering and sin and anxiety. As we move slowly forward towards the glory initiated that first Easter, we are daily reminded of our frailty, and of God’s provident love in caring for us on the journey.

Always, like the first century disciples to whom today’s second reading from the Book of the Apocalypse was addressed, we disciples of this day are strengthened and energized on our journey home to Jerusalem by the vision in faith of Jesus, the risen Lord, our Alpha and Omega, the faithful witness who continues each day to reveal to us the Father’s love in the midst of our struggles. «To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to our God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.»

As Jesus said in his synagogue in Nazareth, when he began his earthly ministry, he is the one who has come into a broken world to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah: «The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty for captives, and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.» What he promised at the beginning of his earthly ministry, and brought to fulfillment through his suffering, death, and resurrection, he makes present down through time through the continuation of his presence on earth in word and sacrament.

On the evening of Holy Thursday we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist, through which we are given the heavenly food for our earthly journey, and through which the sacrifice Christ on the cross is made present now in our lives. This sustains all of the disciples of the Lord, but it is certainly central to the life of every disciple whom the Lord has called to share in his priesthood through ordination. A priest is ordained to celebrate the Eucharist. It must be the center of his priestly life. As he celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every day of his life, he is renewed in the mission he received on the day of his ordination. In his hours of adoration before Our Eucharistic Lord he rediscovers each day the purpose of his life as a disciple, and as one called to be an apostle, and a servant of the servants of God.

As the Eucharist is the gift of Holy Thursday, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the gift of Easter: «Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. […] Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.»

These words of Our Risen Lord commission us in our life as confessors, instruments of God’s mercy in the service of His people. We need to offer this sacrament widely, at the convenience of the people, so that they may always be able easily to experience its healing power. And to be a good confessor a priest must be a good penitent. It is essential that a priest frequently go to confession: not just advisable, but essential.

At this Mass of the Chrism, we will be blessing the Oil of the Catechumens, an ancient sign of the strength which God gives to those who are baptized. As today’s second reading reminds us, each disciple shares in the baptismal priesthood, called to bring God to this world and this world to God through a life of faithful discipleship in the imitation of Christ, and the Oil of the Catechumens is a reminder of the struggle which Christian witness involves.

We bless the Oil of the Sick. As we hear in the Letter of James, the priests of the Church are sent to anoint those who are sick. As the minister of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest is used by the Lord for the healing of the sinful spirit. As minister of the Sacrament of the Sick, the priest brings strength to those who are suffering from the physical afflictions that beset fragile humanity during the brief journey through this world.

This Mass takes its name from the consecration of the Holy Chrism, the perfumed sacred oil that calls to mind the anointing of the prophets, priests, and kings of old, and which forms the very title of Jesus, the anointed one, the messiah, the Christ.

Each baptized disciple is anointed with Chrism as he or she receives the gift of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. The Christian is consecrated to be a faithful witness to Christ, to proclaim the Gospel through words and deeds, and most profoundly through a life of Christian integrity lived amid the temptations to infidelity that come from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Every Christian, consecrated with Chrism, must daily engage in the spiritual combat against all three sources of temptation, and is strengthened and filled with joy through the power of the Lord, who is always near. When we Christians look around at the evil in the world, and look within at our own weaknesses, there is no cause for dismay, for fundamentally, the strife is over, the battle won, but until we finally finish the journey of life we must always confront the manifold temptations of fallen humanity.

Recognizing that, it has occurred to me that we should pray more frequently the ancient prayer, rooted in Sacred Scripture, that invokes the patron saint of our Archdiocese: «Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in this day of battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do you, 0 prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast down into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander through the world, seeking the ruin of souls.» A little realism is healthy in a disciple.

The sacred Chrism, used at Confirmation, also is used to anoint the hands of a priest and the head of a bishop. That is a particular reason why this Mass of the Chrism is a time for those who are anointed as priests or bishops to think deeply about their mission on this day. That is why it is at this Mass that we renew our promises of commitment to faithful service.

Ordination is not employment; it is consecration. We are consecrated, anointed with the Oil of Chrism. The priesthood is not what we do, it is who we are. Although common sense, humility, and the instructions from the manufacturer in Genesis Chapter one all dictate that priests need to be sure that there is appropriate Sabbath in their lives — there is one Messiah and it is not you or me nonetheless, we never, ever, take a break from being a priest. Our whole life is consecrated to Our Lord. That is why we need to be attentive to four pillars of priestly life: daily Mass, daily celebration of the Divine Office, daily time in
prayerful adoration, and frequent confession. We are all vessels of clay, but we are consecrated to priestly holiness in the service of Jesus, our great High Priest, and to the people whom he entrusts to our pastoral care. That is what celibacy is all about: consecrated virginity in the service of Christ the King. We are called to give our whole life to consecrated service, to marry the mission.

Each of us here present can think of the faithful priests who were used by God to inspire us with the call to the priesthood. Their example of lifelong joyful priestly service speaks more than words can do of the significance of being consecrated as a priest. After Mass we will gather to celebrate the priestly service of those ordained 25, 50, and 60 years. This day we give thanks to God for their fidelity. In May we will celebrate the ordination of five more new priests, whom we welcome into the presbyterate of this Archdiocese.

We learn about the real meaning of the priesthood at ordinations, when we experience the beginning of the joy of the consecration to the priestly mission, at anniversaries, when we celebrate milestones of priestly service, and finally at the funeral of a priest, when we gather to give thanks to God for a life of faithful service.

People expect that one who is consecrated with the holy oil of Chrism, will act in an exemplary manner, and never betray the trust which people know they should be able to place in a Catholic priest. At his ordination we pray: Bless this chosen man, and set him apart for his sacred duties. And yet to our shame some have used the awesome gift of the holy priesthood for base personal gratification, betraying the innocent and devastating their lives. When that happens, our first concern must be for those innocent young people who have been abused, to help them overcome their suffering, and to resolve to take whatever steps are needed to be as sure as is possible that this does not happen again. We have all had to learn through failures and mistakes and that is especially true of bishops, who have sometimes failed in their responsibility to act effectively.

For this diocese, anyone who looks at our Web site can see the policies that are in place to help us to act rightly, but we must never be satisfied.

We cannot escape the horror of this by pointing out that almost all priests serve faithfully, though that fact is a grace that gives joy to the Catholic people, whose love and prayerful support sustains us all. But even one priest gone wrong causes immense harm, and throughout the world priests have done unspeakable evil.

We should be grateful for the attention which the media devotes to the sins of Catholic clergy, even if constant repetition may give the false impression that Catholic clergy are particularly sinful. That attention is a profound tribute to the priesthood which we celebrate at this Mass of the Chrism. People instinctively expect holiness in a Catholic priest, and are especially appalled when he does evil.

As we look to the continuing painful purification of the Church, we all need in a particular way to give thanks to God for the leadership of Joseph Ratzinger, as Cardinal and Pope, who has acted decisively, fairly, consistently, and courageously to purify the priesthood and to make the Church a safe place for everyone. Anyone with any knowledge of this terrible reality realizes that Pope Benedict has led the way in confronting this evil.

As this day we celebrate the Mass of the Chrism, and are reminded once more of the profound consecration to Christ that is at the heart of the priesthood, this year we celebrate the year of the priest. We call to mind the faithful priests who inspired us to respond to the call to the priesthood. We resolve to live each day as faithful priests, in joyful service of Our Lord.

In a particular way look to the example, and pray for the intercession of our heavenly Patron, Saint John Vianney, the holy Curé d’Ars. It is interesting that we usually simply call him not by his name, but by his mission: he for us forever, the Curé d’Ars — the Pastor of his people in that little village in France. I have just finished reading another biography describing his life, and I was profoundly moved when at the end of a chapter describing his early life, and first few years as a young priest assisting the holy pastor who had inspired him, the author mentions how he was finally given an assignment as pastor of a little parish, where few practiced their faith. The chapter ends with the words: «And so young Father Jean Vianney set out down the road to become the Curé d’Ars.» Yes, that was his new pastoral assignment. But more than that: he set out down that road to become the awesome Curé d’Ars, inspiration to us all.

He knelt down on the ground before entering the village to beg God’s grace that he might be a good and faithful pastor, for he humbly knew his natural limitations.

He lived a life of simplicity and humility, above all constantly praying for his people. I often recall the story of when he wanted to go away to live as a monk in penitence, conscious of his unworthiness to be the pastor of the village, a young boy grabbed his breviary, and Father Vianney returned to Ars — for he could not go a step further without the breviary through which he offered prayers daily for his people.

He was aware that the struggle was not merely with earthly dangers and evils, but against satanic powers as well. He was no fool, nor naive.

He lived simply for the service of his people, day after day, praying for them.

He was above all the saint of the confessional, making the sacrament of reconciliation freely available to people who eventually came from all over the world to go to confession to him. And he was famous for giving light penances to the penitents, for he did their penances for them.

He is our patron saint, our hero, the model of a parish priest, of a man who knew what it meant to be ordained to the Holy Priesthood and consecrated with the sacred Chrism to the faithful, constant, total priestly service of God’s people.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation