Chrism Mass

Today’s Mass stands out. It’s one of those diocesan occasions when the Church puts on her best clothes. Here we are, laity, religious, deacons, priests and a bishop. Here is the diocese distilled within four walls, the gathered local Church, “in which the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is present and active” (Vatican II, Christus Dominus, 11). Here we are, “a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”  (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 4, quoting St Cyprian). It’s a reassuring sign of life and has a radiance of its own. The Ukrainian National Anthem has the poignant phrase, “we haven’t perished yet”. And neither have we, God’s beloved bride, despite ourselves.

In our country, we enjoy a religious freedom we can be grateful for; we’re not in Saudi Arabia. Nor are we in Northern Nigeria or Pakistan. But in the current cultural climate we can feel confined. We are so accustomed to being chilled in the expression of our faith that we hardly notice it. We are a people of clipped wings. But there are moments we can step out and breathe more freely. And this is one of them.

A Benedictine friend, a French bishop, when asked what he most missed now that he’s retired said, first of all, events like ordinations, the dedications of churches, the Chrism Mass and so on. I can understand this.

“These things I will remember / as I pour out my soul: how I would lead the rejoicing crowd / into the house of God, / amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving, / the throng wild with joy” (Ps 41:5).  “Wild with joy” might not quite fit a Mass in the diocese of Aberdeen – but still.

Anyway, here we are, come together in Christ – the primal liturgical act. And as we do, we remember priests whose poor health keeps them from being here, especially Chris Brannan, Richard Reese, George Hutcheon. We remember Bishop Peter who kept the 65th anniversary of his priesthood on St Joseph’s day, and Fr Stuart at work in Salamanca. I’d like to recall Deacon Brian Kilkerr who died last year and his wife Jacquie who followed him so swiftly. We want to include, too, our three seminarians and our candidate for seminary: Aidan, Anh, Rene and Richard. On the 14th April, Aidan will be ordained deacon in Rome

It’s uplifting too to see so many faithful with us, and religious among them.

Almost two thousand years ago, Bishop

Ignatius of Antioch wrote this to a local Church: “hurry together, all of you, as to one temple of God, as to one altar, to one Jesus Christ, who proceeded from the one Father and was with the One and returned to him” (Letter to the Magnesians, 7).

We’re doing well!


And what are we gathering for? For the priests to renew their priestly promises, for a new year’s worth of oils to be blessed– the oil of the sick, of catechumens, and the Sacred Chrism, for a Eucharist to be celebrated. We are acknowledging really the whole sacramental economy, that network of signs and symbols which as the years go by carries us more and more into God’s purposes. And acknowledging that, we reaffirm our unity, the communion of faith, order and worship the sacraments sustain, and this evening especially the unity of priests and bishop, the unity of clergy and people. The unity that evangelises. And above all, we recall the multiform grace of Anointing. Isaiah says it, “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me…” And when our Lord begins his public mission from the lectern in the synagogue in Nazareth, he simply echoes Isaiah’s words, while the Psalm evokes David:   “I have found David my servant, and with my holy oil anointed him.”

We could say that we are all here for an oil-change, for re-lubrication, for a renewal of the anointings we have received in baptism and confirmation and, if we are ordained, as priests on our hands and as a bishop on our head. We are on the eve of celebrating the Paschal Triduum – when humanity is given a new beginning. Yesterday, says my diary, was the first day of spring. The consoling thing about our Christianity is that we can always begin again, that God holds the reins. And the same with our priesthood. The oil is always running – from our High Priest’s head to his beard and on to the collar (or the hem) of his robe. Ex opere operato.


The first thing Jesus did on taking the bread and the cup into his hands was to give thanks. Every bishop wants to give thanks for the priests and deacons who assist him. And, brothers and sisters, you too, I’m sure. Here are men whom the Lord has called, anointed and sent, and who have said “yes”, who say it again every day by their lives. There’s a chorus of consent to God’s purposes here. What else can we be than grateful?


Here’s a simple thought on priestly ministry. Perhaps tonight’s oils can teach us. The first to be blessed is for the sick, an oil that heals. The second is for catechumens; it’s to strengthen. Finally, the chrism, which sends. To heal, to strengthen, to send. In those three verbs, we can capture our mission, the goal of our priestly endeavours: to heal, to strengthen and to send. To heal from the “passions” as the Desert Fathers would say, from the wounds we carry, “freedom for those in prison”; to strengthen against the world, the flesh and the devil, against everything that undermines from within and without; to send according to each one’s gift. These things are in those programmatic lines of Isaiah. To heal, to strengthen and to send: by befriending and listening, by word and sacrament, by accompanying. But we’re not the Messiah. Individualists we inevitably are. I doubt if we’d have become priests and remain priests, especially up here, if we weren’t. But it’s not always the best philosophy for our mission. The whole synodality thing is trying to tell us that. “I can’t do this by myself”, Jesus is supposed to have said to Mother Teresa when he called her to turn to the poor. If even he needs us, how much more we each other! How can we heal, strengthen and send without the spiritual, human, professional help of others, without the wisdom of others – struggle as we sometimes may to find it? (It’s always there, though, if we pray for it).

So, brothers and sisters, please pray for your priests, your deacons and your bishop: for our health, our sanity, our humanity, for the spirit of prayer and conversion, for love of Christ in our hearts. Pray we be healed and strengthened and sent – for you. And pray there may be others to follow us and that, in the beautiful ancient wish, the flock never lack the care of shepherds.

And now under the banner of this radiant Cross I invite the priests to renew their promises.


A reflection on Ps. 132, v.2, by Mgr Robert Le Gall, Archbishop Emeritus of Toulouse.

“It is like precious oil upon the head / running down upon the beard, / running down upon Aaron’s beard, / upon the collar [or ‘hem’] of his robe”.

“Here, we are talking about the high priest, who also receives an anointing. Christ is the head of his Body which is the Church: the anointing of the Spirit, which he received from the Father, spreads over all the members of his Body; it is called “capital” grace, because it comes from the head (caput in Latin). In and for the diversity of their functions, the different members of this Body receive the same Spirit, source and soul of their unity. All the faithful are united in this organism, where everyone has their place. This is why, at every level, we must work towards this living and lifegiving unity. In a local Church, endowed with all the means of salvation coming from Christ, which is what a diocese is, and in communion with the Pope and the other particular Churches, the sign and instrument of unity is the bishop. More than anyone else, he experiences the highs and lows of this unity, a unity always in need of being remade. At his ordination, he receives the anointing of Holy Chrism on his head, as high priest of his people, so as to spread upon them, with his collaborators, the priests, and with the help of the deacons, the gifts of God that everyone has to actualise. The anointing of the Spirit received at baptism and confirmation is necessary for all of us, so that the Body of Christ which is the Church may grow in unity and harmony.”

Translated from Les 15 Cantiques de Montées : Des Psaumes our nos chemins d’Eglise (Parole et Silence 2020), pp. 95-96

St Mary’s Cathedral Aberdeen, 21 March 2024


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
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