Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily for the Chrism Mass Aug. 10.
Of all the Masses celebrated throughout the year, this Chrism Mass and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday are the two liturgies most intimately connected to Jesus’ gift of the priesthood.
The priesthood was instituted on Holy Thursday, along with the Eucharist, and if this were a typical year, we would have already we renewed the promises we made at ordination earlier in the week as we blessed the oils, which among other things would by now already have been put to use ordaining Joseph Friend and Daniel Velasco to the priesthood.
And, of course, in typical years we would also have celebrated by now the jubilees of priests celebrating their 25th, 50th and 60th anniversaries of ordination. But this is no typical year. Yet, as Job said, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” So, what do the adversities of the present moment have to say to us about our shared priesthood?
Well, first of all, what is a priest? You and I were ordained to the presbyterate, which is a broader concept — literally “elders” despite our young age at ordination. Elders with a role of teaching, governing and sanctifying the people of God — hence the three terms we often use: preacher, pastor and priest.
• As preachers we proclaim the word of God, a role that is not limited to presbyters — deacons preach too.
• As pastors we govern the flock, a specific community, but this we do only when assigned there by the bishop, the chief shepherd of the diocese.
• It is in our role as priests that we do what no one else can do: offer the sacrifice of the Mass. This is our greatest privilege and is why we are called “priests” a lot more often than we are called presbyters.
This is also why, in the months when public worship had to be suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis, we priests continued to celebrate the Eucharist privately every day for the benefit of the people entrusted to our care.
Priest is who we are, not merely what we do. But what we do does reveal something of who we are.
So, what is our basic role as priests? Obviously to gather the people and to intercede for them before God. But if we look at Scripture, we see that priests gathering the people and interceding for them is secondary to something more fundamental that has come into clearer focus during this time of COVID-19, namely sacrifice.
Shepherding our people, comforting them and guiding them require sacrifice on our part, especially in troubled times and this sacrifice finds its deepest meaning in the great un-bloody sacrifice of the Mass.
The role of a priest in the Old Testament is to offer animal sacrifice at the altar in the temple, but ever since the Last Supper this animal sacrifice has been changed to human sacrifice. Jesus himself is both the priest and the sacrifice offered, with one additional detail: He is not alone; in every Mass we offer ourselves to the Father too.
When Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me” he didn’t just mean “Do this ritual in memory of me,” he meant “Offer yourself for others like I will be doing tomorrow on Calvary — do that in memory of me.” That’s the promise that we will renew in this Chrism Mass.
Jesus was both priest and victim, the one who offered and the one who was offered — and so are we, in union with Jesus. He did so in the concrete circumstances and all the adversities present in 33 AD.
We do so in the concrete circumstances and all the adversities present in 2020, and I want you to know how proud I am of you, the priests of the Diocese of Little Rock. We are walking by faith. We do not know what the future will bring. We will ordain two priests and five transitional deacons this week and so we rejoice in how the Lord is providing for his people going forward.
These days are no darker than other difficult times the Church has faced in the last 2,000 years, and we know the Lord will bring us through, one way or another — it’s his Church, after all.
Jesus died for us and today we renew our commitment to die to self for him and the flock entrusted to our care.
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