Chrism Mass/Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
September 14, 2020
Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Me”
Had we gathered for the Chrism Mass during Holy Week, we would have heard Jesus announce to the people of Nazareth the mission which God the Father had entrusted to him. Quoting the words of Isaiah the prophet, Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because he has anointed me…” (Luke 4:18). The Holy Spirit did indeed anoint Jesus, at his Baptism in the Jordan River, and sent him to proclaim a message of hope and healing to the poor, to those held captive, to the blind, and to the oppressed (cf. vs. 18-19). In today’s feast, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, our eyes of faith behold how Jesus accomplished that mission, for which he was anointed and sent. Not only did he speak a word of hope and consolation to an ailing world, but by his Cross and Resurrection, unleased a love that is “stronger than death and more powerful than sin” (St. JP II, Basilica of Aparecida, 4. VII. 1980). The Scriptures proclaimed this night tell how Jesus fulfilled his saving mission, and the blessing of the Holy Oils invites our renewed participation in that mission.
In tonight’s second reading, the Carmen Christi – the “Christ Hymn”, St. Paul poetically portrays how the mission of Jesus unfolded. It did not begin in Bethlehem or in Nazareth but in the secret counsels of the God “who so loved the world that he gave [us] his only Son. . .” (John 3:16). This eternal Son, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God…” (N-C Creed) this Son “did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at” … (Phi. 2:6) No, he “emptied himself and took the form of a slave, coming in human likeness…” (v. 7) So, as Jesus stood in that Nazareth synagogue, overflowing the with love of the Spirit, he was there, not merely to offer a word of encouragement to those living “in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). Rather, without losing his divinity, he identified with those to whom he brought the Good News of Salvation – the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, those held captive by sin and death, in word, with us! The Lord, who stood before the people of Nazareth, was not there as a celebrity or as an expert or as a political leader … He was there, in the power of the Spirit, as the Eternal Son of God who, with humility and love, emptied himself of the glory of his divinity, so as to become “like us in all things but sin” (Heb. 4:15; cf. Rom. 8:3). B. But even this does not exhaust how God the Father gave his Son to the world. God’s Son did indeed come in humble solidarity with a suffering humanity, but he also came to undermine and destroy the arrogant disobedience against God, which is at the heart of sin and human misery in its many forms. Christ Jesus came to overcome the waywardness of sin, that willfulness which alienates us from God and one another. As St. Paul’s hymn unfolds, the depth and power of Jesus’ humility shines forth. Not only did Jesus empty himself of his divine glory in the Incarnation; not only did Jesus humble himself in his earthly life; but now Jesus obeys his Father to the point of undergoing a most humiliating death. For, in the ancient world, death on a cross was not only the ultimate in physical pain, but indeed the ultimate in humiliation, reserved for the worst of criminals and slaves. As St. Paul elsewhere says of Jesus, “He loved me and he gave his life for me!” (Gal. 2:20).
Herein lies the key to the mystery: God the Father responded to Jesus utter self-abasement by greatly exalting him. The Father vindicated Jesus by raising him up and exalting him in glory, bestowing upon him “the Name above every other name” (Phil. 2:9). For, in taking upon himself the likeness of our sinful flesh and by dying on the Cross—such that he epitomized the sum total of human misery – Jesus transformed death itself into the instrument of our victory. As a Sunday Preface proclaims, in his great love [God] “…fashioned for us a remedy out of mortality itself, that the cause of our downfall might become the means of our salvation…” (Pref. III, Sundays) Or, as Jesus himself proclaimed, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (John 12:32). This is how Jesus accomplished his mission, first announced at Nazareth.
Our Part in Jesus’ Saving Mission
St. John’s Gospel tells us that, at the moment of his death, Jesus said, “‘It is finished.’ And, bowing his head, he handed over his spirit” (John 19:30). It goes on to say that a “solider thrust his lance into [Jesus’] side, and immediately blood and water flowed out” (v. 34). In these words, dear friends, let us discover anew the part we are to play in the saving mission that Jesus announced at Nazareth and accomplished on Calvary.
For, by the oils we are to consecrate and bless this evening, we are anointed with the same Spirit who anointed Jesus in the Jordan, the same Holy Spirit that Jesus breathed forth at the moment of his death. Indeed, the oils that we shall consecrate and bless signify and convey the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who enables us, each of us, to participate in deeply beautiful ways in the saving mission of Jesus.
In the waters of Baptism, we are immersed in Christ’s Death and Resurrection and anointed by the Holy Spirit, such that we are reborn and made the children of God. In Confirmation, our anointing in the Holy Spirit is deepened so that, as we mature in faith, we become more like Christ, and are enabled truly to live as active members of Christ’s Body, the Church. Sharing in Jesus’ life and anointed by the Spirit, our lives are centered on the Eucharist, in which Christ speaks to us “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68), and through which we participate in the banquet of Christ’s sacrifice, receiving his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation. So it is that each member of the Church is anointed by the Holy Spirit and is thus called to a life of holiness and virtue, goodness and generosity, a life that bears convincing witness to the victory of Jesus over sin and death. To repeat, the anointing we received in Baptism and Confirmation carries with it the call to holiness and the call to spread the Gospel by word and deed.
Those of us who are ordained priests are anointed yet again by the Holy Spirit. For, by the prayer of the Church, the imposition of hands, and the anointing, you and I, my brother priests, are called to continue the mission and ministry of Jesus: to baptize with water and the Holy Spirit; to speak in Christ’s Name, proclaiming far and wide the words of “spirit and life” (Jn. 6:63), and to re-present in the celebration of the Eucharist the Paschal Victory of Christ over sin and death, a victory, a triumph, that is encapsulated, so to speak, in the food that is the Eucharist. As priests, we are anointed to forgive sins in the Person of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, and we are charged to anoint the sick and the dying with the strength that comes from the victory of Christ crucified.
This night, dear brother priests, as we renew the promises of our priestly ordination, we ask the Holy Spirit to engender in us anew the holiness and humility of Christ, so that we may work together with one another to build up the Church, Christ’s Body, so that we may work with brother deacons, religious, and our lay collaborators, and accompany the people we are privileged to serve in these difficult days, opening for them a path for returning to full participation in the Mass and Sacraments. With all my heart, dear brothers, I thank you for your dedicated priestly ministry, but my thanks is redoubled in these very challenging times. The coronavirus pandemic has indeed imposed upon us restrictions not to our liking, but we are here this night, firmly united in faith and hope, and utterly convinced, that nothing and no one can keep us from sharing in the unbounded victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death. “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, for by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world!”