Cathedral of Mary Our Queen; Livestream
March 29, 2021
The Inverted Pyramid
Six years ago, Pope Francis led the Church in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the worldwide Synod of Bishops. Speaking of the reform of the Petrine ministry, Pope Francis used the image of an inverted pyramid to describe the relationship of the Successor of Peter to the whole People of God. The image of an inverted pyramid applies also to the relationship of bishops and priests to God’s Holy People…to quote Pope Francis: “But in this Church, as in a reversed pyramid, the top is under the base. That is why those who exercise authority are called ‘ministers’, because, according to the original meaning of the word, they are the smallest of all.”
This evening’s Chrism Mass liturgy confirms Pope Francis’ observation. If we step back and look at the readings and the blessing of the oils, we see that they apply to all those who share the royal priesthood of the baptized… and in that context, to those who share in the ministerial priesthood through Holy Orders. For when Jesus stood in the Nazareth synagogue to proclaim that he was anointed and sent to bring glad tidings to the poor, he inaugurated a mission that would encompass every disciple, lay and ordained. So too, in this evening’s reading from the Book of Revelation, we give praise to Christ “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 . . . .” All those redeemed by the Blood of Christ share in his royal priesthood. Whether one is a layperson, or married, or in consecrated life, or in Holy Orders: all of us are called to offer ourselves in sacrificial love, first to God & then to neighbor.
Likewise, the holy oils to be blessed this evening in the power of the Holy Spirit are destined for use by the whole Church: the Oil of the Sick to strengthen the sick and dying; the Oil of Catechumens for those about to be baptized; Holy Chrism for those who are to be baptized and confirmed, and for those who are to be ordained priests and bishops. Surely we rejoice that God is blessing the Archdiocese with many priestly vocations, yet, numerically, more laity are anointed with Chrism than those of us in Holy Orders. Thus, the Holy Father’s image of the inverted pyramid makes sense and prompts me now to offer a warm word of encouragement both to members of the laity here present and throughout the Archdiocese, and to my brother priests whose ministry remains both distinctive and indispensable.
And so my dear friends, members of the laity of the Archdiocese of Baltimore: Like your neighbors in Baltimore City and the 9 counties that make up our local church, you have weathered a most difficult year, a year unlike any other in recent memory. Many of you have lost loved ones, found yourselves in economic distress, and experienced new tensions and challenges at home, at work, and at school. Those tensions and challenges extended to the practice of the faith, as our churches and ministries labored under restrictions and safety precautions. In the process, commitment to the faith may well have waned on the part of some. One parishioner, strongly disagreeing with the restrictions that were put in place, wrote, “I am hoping, Archbishop, finally to see some ‘light at the end of this tunnel.’” Reading her note, I did see light at the end of tunnel; it was a train coming toward me!
This evening, I simply want to express my warmest thanks to all of you, those in the Cathedral and those joining in virtually, for living out your baptismal anointing with patience, perseverance, and love; and for sustaining a host of ministries, both parish and archdiocesan, ministries that embody and extend Christ’s mission ‘to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed…” Whether you are part of a parish staff or volunteer in a parish ministry, or make yourself available for parish projects, or personally serve those in need . . . you are living out your baptismal anointing as part of a priestly people by transforming your lives into a sacrifice of love for God and others. Some of you wrote to say that you found yourselves praying more this past year and many of you, as husband, wives, and parents, lived your vocation with heroic love. For all of that and so much more, I join my brother priests in offering profound thanks.
And with my fellow priests, let me encourage you, as I did in my recent pastoral letter, to recommit yourselves to the work of spreading the Gospel, and reconciling those who, for whatever reason, no longer practice the faith. If each of you were to convince one family member, or one friend, or one colleague to return to the practice of the faith – that is, to bring them anew glad tidings – think of how you would strengthen the Church’s mission entrusted to us by Jesus. Evangelization is a mission not reserved to clergy or to professionals; rather, it is a mission in which all the baptized must share and make their own. May God bless you – and please pray for us, your priests, even as we pray for you!
And so, my dear brother priests, the presbyterate of the Archdiocese of Baltimore: Together with your lay colleagues and the parish families you serve so devotedly, you have also weathered a year unlike any other in recent memory. I want to thank you for all that you have done to keep parishioners safe while doing your best to open your churches and ministries to the extent possible. You have often found yourselves navigating between Scylla and Charybdis – between being too strict and too lax in implementing the directives you have received. Throughout this ordeal, you have not lost your passion for the heart of the priesthood, namely, the proclamation of the Gospel, the offering of Christ’s Paschal Sacrifice, the extension of Christ’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and tenderness of ministering sacramentally to the sick and dying . . . in short, re-presenting Christ to your parishioners with the overarching and all-consuming goal of building up the Church as a communion of truth and life, holiness and grace, a communion of justice, love, and peace. Together with your parishioners, I thank you profoundly!
Dear brothers, we are about to renew our priestly promises. Let us do so in the strength of the Holy Spirit with whom we were sacramentally anointed on the day of ordination. As we emerge, God willing, from this pandemic, we ask to be renewed in that mission foreseen by Isaiah, fulfilled by Jesus, and now entrusted to us as his priests. Out of love for the Lord and for our people, may we personify this mission, dedicating our lives to evangelizing both the spiritually and materially poor, rekindling the Church’s Eucharistic faith in Year of the Eucharist that lies ahead, offering spiritual freedom to those held captive by sin and injustice, bringing the light of the Lord’s truth and love to the eyes of those blinded by sin, and sharing with all those who are oppressed a hope that will not fail them. While embracing our specific priestly identity and vocation with wholehearted love, let us deepen our partnership with the laity and those in consecrated life so that the mission of evangelization entrusted to the entire Church may be fulfilled. Let us seek to raise up a new generation of priests to come after us, and here I must greet with great affection the seminarians of the Archdiocese. And, dear brothers, let unite in helping our local church to address injustice even as we seek to attain new heights of charity, as need all around us escalates.
The Beauty of an Inverted Pyramid
Dear friends all, as we know, an inverted pyramid is not architecturally stable. Left to itself, a pointed top (!) cannot support a massive base, that is, unless the whole structure rests on something yet more solid and reliable. Perhaps this image makes it clear that the Christian life, all forms of ministry, and indeed the ministry entrusted to priests and bishops must be anchored in Christ, firmly rooted in the One who loved us and gave his life for us, solidly embedded in the One whose love does not fail.
Thus may we all – laity and clergy alike, open our hearts ever more widely in daily, sustained prayer, to Christ in whose Spirit we have anointed, and by whose Spirit our communion of truth and love is held together for the glory of God the Father. May God bless us and keep us always in his love!