By Katie Ascough - 10 April, 2020
Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, delivered the homily at the Chrism Mass in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh on Holy Thursday.
The Chrism Mass is held during Holy Week in every Catholic diocese, and is when the priests, deacons and representatives of the entire diocesan community gather around their bishop as he blesses the Holy Oils for use in the coming year: the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of Catechumens and the Sacred Chrism.
The Chrism Mass reminds us of our oneness in Christ through Baptism and its holy anointing made possible by the ministry of the bishop and his priests. The Chrism Mass is also a key moment in which the unity of the bishop with his priests is manifested and renewed. During the liturgy, the entire assembly is called to renew its baptismal promises; deacons and priests also renew their vow of obedience to the local bishop and their commitment to serve God’s people.
“The unprecedented way in which we are celebrating the Chrism Mass and Easter Triduum this year really brings home to us how much our lives have been turned upside-down in just a matter of weeks. COVID-19 has driven our congregations indoors, forced us to stay apart, prevented us from having the public celebration of Mass and hindered us from offering the healing sacraments of reconciliation and anointing in the normal manner.
“The virus has closed our schools, it has postponed the joyful celebrations of Baptism and Marriage, and delayed the happiness of Confirmation and First Holy Communion days. It has heightened anxieties and fears amongst our parishioners and threatened their jobs and livelihoods. It has struck at the very heart of our ministry as priests, curtailing our normal outreach to the sick, the elderly and the dying. And perhaps saddest of all, it has cruelly restricted our capacity to draw close to families who are bereaved,” the archbishop began.
Archbishop Martin then spoke about these weeks bringing out “the best in our people”, mentioning the generosity and care shown by many members of the congregation who are working in hospitals, nursing homes, and in other front-line services. “We are amazed at the loving response of our young people, sporting organisations, community groups and charities who are reaching out to the elderly, the lonely and the vulnerable – preparing cooked meals and fetching groceries, stocking food banks and offering messages of encouragement and hope,” he said.
“Although it is heartbreaking that our congregations cannot gather to worship – and especially during this most sacred of weeks – it is heartening to hear people say they are finding more quality time for family and more space for stillness, reflection and prayer at home.
“Our parishes have taken to cyberspace like never before! We’ve been flooding the digital highways with Eucharistic celebration and other prayer moments – so much so that we’ve crashed our live-feeds. Our webcam providers report that millions of people across the country are gathering virtually for Mass each week, not to mention the many other prayer opportunities that are available via social media, radio and television,” said Archbishop Martin.
He then spoke about the “strange way” that these days of increased seclusion, called by some “imposed monasticism”, have been making people “stop and think about the way we have been living our lives, about faith and hope, about caring and loving, and perhaps living simpler lives in the future”.
Speaking personally, the archbishop said that the coronavirus emergency has made him think about “who we are as Church” and reflect on “what it means to be a priest”.
“The loss of tangible contact between ourselves and our people can shake our sense of identity as priests. The song of Jean Valjean from the musical Les Miserables keeps going around in my head: ‘Who am I?’ It is a question we priests might all ask ourselves at the Chrism Mass this year: ‘who am I’ in the midst of this crisis for our world, our country, our parish, our people? ‘Who am I’ as a priest when so many of the normal opportunities for pastoral interaction and ministry with my people have been constrained?” he continued.
The archbishop then quoted the last verse of the song by the character Jean Valjean when he finds an answer to his question about identity: “My soul belongs to God, I know. I made that bargain long ago. He gave me hope when hope was gone. He gave me strength to journey on.”
The archbishop continued to speak about the Chrism Mass and the commitments of ordination being more important than ever. He spoke about how the Mass still brings us together and how priests can still be sent out to offer Christ’s presence “by telephone, email, social media, webcam and in person with the appropriate life-saving precautions”.
“Thank you, my dear brother priests, for all that you are and all that you are doing in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen,” he concluded.