blessing holy oils

The Holy Oils

The Holy Oils

Bishop Philip writes…

The Chrism Mass took place in Holy Week on Tuesday 12th April. The Mass is one of the main diocesan events of the year and clergy and people came from across the Diocese. It was a most memorable occasion and a beautiful celebration. Here is the homily I preached.

It is a great joy to celebrate today the Chrism Mass with a little more normally than last year. This Mass, one of the most important events of the diocesan year, gives us two intentions. First, the Holy Oils: we ask God to bless and consecrate the three Holy Oils used in the Church’s pastoral ministry. These oils flow from the pierced side of Christ hanging on the Cross of Calvary. They are oils that are medicinal, that repair and restore, that give strength and new life:

  • the Oil of Chrism used in Baptism, Confirmation and the ordination of a priest and a bishop, a perfumed oil that imparts the Holy Spirit and His seven-fold gifts;
  • the Oil of the Sick used in the Sacrament of Anointing, as a remedy for those suffering serious illness, as a strength for those facing an operation, and as a comfort to those on their last journey; and
  • the Oil of the Catechumens used to exorcise evil spirits, to deepen Christian faith, and to help get ready those about to be baptised.

These Holy Oils will be sent out across the Diocese so that the Lord Jesus might continue His saving work amongst His people. As He said in the synagogue at Nazareth: The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me; he has anointed me. For he has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free. That’s what Jesus did in His public life, and that’s what He does now through His Church. So, in Christ’s name the Bishop blesses these oils. He breathes into them the Holy Spirit. He makes them channels of eternal life, channels of healing, channels of youthful energy to animate and strengthen God’s people for mission and service.

But we also have a second intention. For the Sacraments of Christ are Sacraments of the Church. The Lord relies on us to be His ambassadors, His mouthpiece, His hands, His feet. Although God is not tied to the Sacraments, they are the ordinary, powerful channels by which He works. The Sacraments enable the Church to act as a field-hospital binding up wounds, caring for the sick, reaching out to the marginalised, helping the needy and serving the poor. The Lord organises this work through ministers that act in His Name. And this is our second prayer today: to pray for our clergy. This is the annual moment when, together with our deacons, we priests thank God for our vocation and renew the promises we made when we were first ordained. In a recent talk, the Holy Father spoke about four traits needed in a priest today: closeness to God, closeness to the bishop, closeness to brother priests, and closeness to the people. In this Mass, please pray for our priests and deacons who today renew their vows that they will be close to God, close to me their Bishop, close to each other, and close to you, their people.

In the Diocese these last twelve months we have conducted a number of consultations. We began with A Thousand Voices, an in-depth survey of the laity. At present, we’re consulting over a ten-year mission strategy for the Diocese. But the universal Church is undertaking a synodal process leading to the Synod of Bishops next year in Rome. The Synod has generated 5,000 responses from across the Diocese, from parishes, all our schools, our universities, from youth, ecumenical groups and the lapsed. I thank Fr. John Chandler for the mammoth task of organising this and producing a ten-page synthesis. In a moment, this Synod Report will be formally presented for transmission to the National Office. It makes fascinating reading; we will post it shortly on the website. Many responses call for greater inclusivity; we need to be more welcoming and less judgmental. We need to acknowledge the grave damage the clergy abuse crisis has caused. 55% call for more formation. 25% ask for better preaching. 35% want more lay involvement in decision-making. And many question the role of women in the Church. The Synod Document expresses both hopes and fears. It will be a hugely important point of reference for us all, clergy and laity, in the years ahead.

I will sing forever of your love, O Lord. So to our two intentions today – to pray for those anointed with the Holy Oils, and to pray for our clergy – let us add a third: to pray for the Church. In our Diocese of Portsmouth stretching from Oxford to the Channel Islands, we have much to thank God for and much to work at. Our mission is Bringing People Closer to Jesus Christ through His Church. In this Mass, then, we pray for those to be anointed with the holy oils. We pray for our clergy and for our laity, for a deeper unity and a more effective synodality. Let us thank God for the gift of faith and pray for vocations to all states of life and ministry in the Church, for James Lewis, David Bateman, Edward Hauschild and Andrew Collins to be ordained this summer, and for the release of the charisms and gifts of all our laity. Indeed, through Mary Immaculate, St. Edmund of Abingdon, Blessed Frassati and our patron saints, may God grant us the resources we need. May He make the Church teem with life. May He make our Diocese be what she is meant to be: a Sacrament of Christ, a sign and instrument of communion, participation and mission.

You can view the photos from the Chrism Mass here.