The Chrism Mass has its historical roots in the second century, when the bishop blessed sacramental oils and consecrated sacramental Chrism during the Easter vigil. By the fifth century, this ritual was transferred to Holy Thursday in a morning Mass separate from the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper due to the large crowds who gathered and the Church’s desire to commemorate the institution of the priesthood at the Last Supper. Eleven centuries later, Pope St. Paul VI established the ceremony now known as the Chrism Mass during Holy Week.

At this Mass, “the holy oils are at the center of the Church’s liturgy” for use in the administration of the Sacraments during the whole year.  Commenting on the Chrism Mass, Pope Benedict XVI explained that “oil in its different forms accompanies us throughout our lives” through the hands of the bishop and his priests as part of “the language of God’s creation,” beginning with the catechumenate and Baptism and continuing in Confirmation and Holy Orders “right up to the moment when we prepare to meet God, our Judge and Savior (Homily of Pope Benedict XVI, Holy Thursday Chrism Mass 2010).”

The Chrism Mass is a beautiful expression of the Church’s enduring, sacramental care for the People of God – gifts to and for them – and a symbol of the unity of the Church guaranteed by the presence of the bishop and his priests, pointing to the Lord Jesus as the “true Shepherd and ‘guardian of our souls’.”

One of the additional aspects of the Chrism Mass is the annual renewal of priestly promises.  With all the priests serving in the local diocese present before their bishop, they renew their fidelity and loyalty to him and to Jesus Christ.  The bishop, in turn, asks for the support of their prayers. For the bishop, these moments together are profoundly humbling.

Priests are the custodians of the sacred oils and Chrism for use in the parishes of the diocese. Because the Chrism Mass highlights the role and responsibilities of ordained priests in relationship to their bishop — amid all the clergy, religious and faithful of the diocese — permit me, my sisters and brothers, as bishop, to share a few thoughts with my priests.  Three things.

My brothers, your words.  Your priestly ordination places on your lips the Word of God.  When you speak, when you preach, when you teach, when you give counsel as priests, the faithful listen for God’s voice.  What an awesome language God has given you!  What a sacred trust God has placed in you.  What a blessed opportunity you have to uniquely lead the faithful to God by speaking his Word to them.

At Jesus’ Baptism and on the hill of Mount Tabor, the heavens opened, and the Father spoke of the Lord Jesus, saying “this is my Beloved Son: listen to him.”  In his journey to Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus gave a mission to his followers: “Whoever listens to you, listens to me.  And whoever rejects you, rejects me and the One who sent me.” 

My brothers, your words matter. And not only what you say but how you say it, oftentimes your manner can be more instructive.  Be thoughtful when you speak.  Be careful when you speak.  And be faithful in your words to truth.

Your hands.  My brothers, in the Rite of Ordination to the priesthood, your hands were anointed with the Oil of Chrism, the same Chrism we consecrate tonight. The bishop said, “The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.”

Your hands were and remain “anointed.”  To sanctify.  To offer sacrifice.   Look at your hands. Whether your hands are smooth and steady or wrinkled with age and the passing of time, your hands are anointed with oil as both an instrument and a symbol. A sacramental instrument that Baptizes and Confirms; a sacramental instrument that blesses and absolves sin; a sacramental instrument that consecrates and offers the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Salvation to the faithful and, as we pray in Eucharistic I, “for ourselves”; a sacramental instrument that touches oil to head and hands and opens the door to eternity.

Remember the words of St. Teresa of Avila, “Christ has no hands on earth, but yours.”  Yours are hands committed to labor – which is, in itself, prayer (laborare est orare) – and their work is to bring comfort, compassion and peace to the people entrusted to your pastoral care.  My brother, your anointed hands have been consecrated.  Use them carefully and only for what is good.

Finally, your heart.  What can we say of the heart of a priest?  What should we say? As the heart of every person beats and pumps blood through the rest of the body keeping it alive, the heart of the priest pulsates the lifeblood of the Body of Christ, the Church, keeping it alive.  St. John Vianney said it so well, “the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus … when the heart is pure and simple, it cannot help loving because it has discovered the source of love which is God.”  There it is, my brothers. 

The heart of the priest gives the truest meaning to the words he speaks and how he speaks them.  The heart of the priest gives the truest purpose and direction to his anointed hands and how he uses them.  The heart of the priest gives the truest love to those for whom he was ordained and how he serves them … always.

There, in the heart of the priest, there is no room for unforgiving anger or deliberate greed, no room for selfishness or lust, no room for jealousy or calculation, no room for isolation, separation or distancing ourselves from our brother priests.  My brothers, when your heart is divided, your priesthood is fractured and not revealed as Christ would have it. 

My brothers, be men of a priestly heart so that the faithful will want to listen and to hear what you have to say; so that the faithful will feel the closeness that comes from the ministry of your anointed hands.  And, come what may, “do not let your hearts be troubled (John 14:1).” Have faith in God.  Have faith in the One who called you to be priests.