Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for Chrism Mass

April 4, 2023
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 61:1-3, 6a,8-9
Psalm 89:21-22, 25, 27
Revelation 1:5-8
Luke 4:16-21

“To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his Blood, who has made us into a Kingdom, priests for His God and Father, to Him be glory and power forever and ever.” Christ has freed us from our sins by His Blood. He has made us a Kingdom and His priests for His God and Father. These words of the Book of Revelation concisely reveal the mystery of our redemption won for us by Christ in His suffering and His love.

All of us in our respective ministries and parishes have been busy guiding the catechumens and elect on their journey of conversion, sharing in their eager anticipation for baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist. We have each been very diligent in our preparations for the celebration of that most beautiful of liturgies, the Easter Vigil, that our celebration will clearly manifest the Church in the glory of Her Lord’s Resurrection — the Light of Christ shining in the darkness — very obviously the Source and Summit of the Christian life.

At this Mass tonight, I will consecrate the Chrism that each priest will use in administering the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, and all participating in the Easter Vigil will be delighted by the expressions of joy upon the faces of the newly baptized and confirmed as they are anointed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.”

We are very familiar with the expression that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Christian life. The Catechism takes this phrase from the Second Vatican Council and its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy entitled Sacrosanctum Concilium. Given the rites of the Easter Vigil that I have described, is there any wonder how easy it is for us to emphasize the Eucharist as the Summit of the Christian life.

Yet, it seems to me that this same exuberance in recent years has prompted us to emphasize the “summit of Christian life” but too frequently without due consideration of the Eucharist as the “source of Christian life.”

Yet, the Catechism and the Council continue in their explanation of what the Church authentically means by “Source and Summit.” It states, “the other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.” This means that the Eucharist is the primordial sacrament of the Church. We might easily mistake baptism as the primordial sacrament since we cannot receive the other sacraments without first being baptized. Baptism precedes the Eucharist chronologically in order of reception. Yet, we are baptized, washed clean of sin, and God’s grace is poured out for us that we might partake of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Divine Charity that is not merely an expression of human fellowship among like-minded believers. The Eucharist is the source of all of the sacraments of the Church as they pour forth as Blood and Water from the side of Christ’s crucified Body opened by the soldier’s lance.

As Saint Augustine describes beautifully in his Tractate 120, “Then came the soldiers, and broke the legs of the first thief, and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that He was dead already, they broke not His legs: but one of the soldiers with a spear laid open His side, and immediately poured forth blood and water. A suggestive word was made use of by the evangelist in not saying pierced, or wounded His side, or anything else, but opened; that thereby, in a sense, the gate of life might be thrown open, from whence have poured out the sacraments of the Church without which there is no entrance to the life which is the true life. That blood was shed for the remission of sins, that water it is that makes up the health-giving cup and supplies at once the laver of baptism and water for drinking.” Augustine continues, “Because of this, the first woman was formed from the side of the man when asleep, and was called Life, and Eve, the mother of all living. Truly it pointed to a great good, prior to the great evil of the original sin (in the guise of one thus lying asleep). This second and new Adam, Jesus Christ, bowed His head and fell asleep on the cross, that a spouse might be formed for Him from that which flowed from the sleeper’s side. O death, whereby the dead are raised anew to life! What can be purer than such blood? What more health-giving than such a wound?”

In this liturgy, we are called to prepare for the celebration and institution of the Eucharist as both the Source and Summit of the Christian life. The liturgy accomplishes this not only with the blessing and consecration of sacramental oils but also with the renewal on the part of the bishop, and of the priests of our promises that we made when we were configured to Christ at our priestly ordinations. The liturgy is clear when it calls for the renewal of promises made at priestly ordination because it is the ministry of the priest to offer the sacrifice of the Mass and is entrusted with the absolution of sins.

As priests we renew our promises, for Christ’s configuration poured forth over us at our ordinations requires us to suffer and to love the Church as Christ loved the Church and as He has shown us how to do. This subtle insight of Saint Augustine regarding the Evangelist’s use of the words “open” and “pour out” underscores the reasoning for the new translation of the sacramental words of absolution in penance, which now reads that “God has poured out the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins.” Because the Eucharist is the source of Christian life, we priests especially must draw near to Christ crucified, stand with Him, and let our own hearts be opened as His was, so that his priesthood can be poured forth from our broken and wounded lives, offered in sacrifice and love. That is at the heart of our promises made at ordination.

In fidelity to these promises we must acknowledge the truth that the state of grace poured forth and received at baptism can be lost through grave sin. While the sinner is justified by Christ alone through grace alone, it is nonetheless always possible for the baptized person to lose justifying grace by refusing to observe the eternal moral law. Put most simply, living in habitual and grave sin is incompatible with living in the state of grace, and only those in the state of grace can be nourished rather than condemned by receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist.

There are currently too many poorly formed Catholics, even among the hierarchy, who would wrongly maintain that a baptized believer cannot lose the state of grace simply because that person has been baptized. They would imply that the baptized person’s justification is in no way conditional upon that person repenting of mortal sin and seeking by grace to keep the eternal moral law. They would wrongly teach that Catholics who are married outside of and indifferent to Christ’s Divine Law or those who cohabitate, or those who live in a same sex semblance of marriage can and must be allowed to receive Holy Communion and even be affirmed in continuing in their immoral relationships by a faulty appeal to their having been baptized. They appeal that their incompletely formed consciences excuse them from any requirement of conversion, contrition, and amendment of life in the order of grace.

 As priests we are ordained to love all sinners by listening to them and instructing them in the truth and kindly, and sacramentally pouring forth in their lives the healing grace of new life and the mercy of forgiveness that only God can grant and that first poured forth from the side of Christ on the cross. We cannot do harm to them by refusing to teach the Gospel clearly and completely. This is our obligation even if it should bring us to rejection, suffering, or even persecution.

Our promises that we each made at our respective ordinations and that we renew tonight amidst the prayers of the baptized members of the Church, not only prepare us for the summit of the Eucharist, so predominantly evident at the Easter Vigil, but also prepare us for its source so clearly displayed in the humble mandatum of foot washing on Holy Thursday and in the crucifixion on Good Friday, in which we priests share in the suffering and pouring out of our lives in configuration to Jesus Christ who was lovingly and completely obedient to His Father’s will even unto death on a cross. This configuration is not only for these three days, but for our entire lives and into eternity.

During the rite of ordination of priests, we were told by the bishop who ordained us to “imitate the mysteries you celebrate” and “model your life on the cross of Christ.” The cross is the altar of Christ the priest; it is the pulpit of Christ the prophet; it is the throne of Christ the king. The cross, that place of divine word and sacrament and will, is the place from which the Church emerged from the side of Christ, the Church that we nourish with the Eucharist, the Source and Summit of Christian life, the Eucharist that we now offer in love.

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