HOMILY FOR HOLY MASS OF CHRISM 2017 IN THE YEAR OF GHANA @ 60.
- Sermon: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pt. 2:9).
My dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, I chose this text from the First Letter of St. Peter, because it spells out the very import of the celebration of the Mass of Holy Chrism. Last year, thanks to Our Holy Father’s intention, I concentrated my reflection on the Jubilee Year of Mercy, laying my emphasis on 1 Pt. 2:10 which reads: “…Once you were not a people at all and now you are the People of God; once you were outside the mercy and now you have been given mercy.”
This year, in view of the celebrations of Ghana @ 60 and the Centenary of Fatima, my reflection will focus on Verse 9, where St. Peter exhorts that as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation…” we are a “…a people set apart to sing the praises of God who has called (us) out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” The question to answer then is: how are we living that mystical priesthood of the People of God, here in Ghana in particular? How are we singing the praises of God by our lives?
God has indeed been good to us in this country. For the past 60 years, we cannot but be grateful to God for his goodness to Ghana. Proudly and undeservedly, we were the first country in sub-Sahara Africa to gain independence, and we gained this freedom without bloodshed or armed conflict. Ghana as a country has been further blessed with enormous human and natural resources, rich traditions and socio-cultural wealth, as well as with a people of faith and religious diversity, enjoying very peaceful and harmonious co-existence.
In these six decades, yes, just a casual look at the nations around us, in the West Africa sub-region or in Africa as a whole, and we can only say that we have been blessed with political stability (of late) and democratic peace and transition of power from one political party to another. In fact, it seems that God has literally spoilt us, by doting so much on Ghana and showering us with his bounteous blessings. And, instead f singing his praises and doing his will, all we seem to know best how to do is to complain and express dissatisfaction with each other, politically, ethnically and what have you.
The question is: what has been our contribution to the bad state of things today, or how have we contributed to the better state of things in the country, if any? You may be asking, what has that got to do with this Chrism Mass? We are soon going to bring for blessing the Oils of the Catechumens, of Chrism and of the Sick. What is the message of Jesus Christ from today’s Scripture Readings? I believe the answer lies in the name JESUS CHRIST: GOD IS OUR SALVATION (see Lk 1:31).
1.1: The importance of Oil in the Holy Bible and in the culture of the Jews: My first reflection is on the oil which is the fruit of the Olive plant. The olive tree was a very common evergreen plant in the Mediterranean region, and, together with the vine, it symbolized God’s blessings and provision of plenty, food and even medicine, for the survival of his children. It was also symbolic of longevity, which was considered result of God’s blessings too (see Ps. 128:3). Its oil, known even today for its very rich nutritious properties, was used as medicine, both external and internal. It was used for the anointing of priests, prophets and kings, in the Holy Scriptures, symbolic of God’s empowerment of those called to divine office. In short, it was symbol of God’s divine providence and steadfast fidelity to his people, especially those called to his service.
Our First Reading from Isaiah 61:3 says that the Lord God will give his anointed one “the oil of gladness” in place of a mourning robe; in other words, God’s anointed will surely be clothed in victory, he will be called “priests of the Lord God” and “ministers of our God” “terebinths of integrity.” These are all titles that the Anointed One of the Lord God will be given, thanks to the Spirit of the Lord that would come upon him.
And this is what was fulfilled in Jesus Christ according to the Gospel of today. In fact, Jesus of Nazareth is the one Isaiah prophesied of as the Christ, the Anointed One of God. No wonder, rolling up the scroll…Jesus said to the crowd at the Synagogue of Nazareth: “This text is being fulfilled today as you listen!” Yes, God is saving his people. God is our salvation.
Now coming to the three different oils we are soon to bless and their significance, in short they all evoke Jesus Christ and his priestly, kingly and prophetic role in the salvation of humanity.
1.2: The Oil of Catechumens: This Oil of Catechumens, when blessed, is used to fortify the catechumen, one who is preparing to be “born again of water and the spirit” in his/her struggle to renounce evil and the father of evil. By the anointing with this oil, Jesus Christ the Saviour literally “possesses” the catechumen, becoming his/her strength and salvation. Yes, once a child of God has decided to go to God, Jesus Christ comes to lead him/her up by himself, the WAY, the TRUTH to the LIFE to victory, to salvation.
1.3: For the Oil of Chrism: This olive oil will be mixed with balsam, a sweet smelling raisin and, unlike the other two oils, it will be consecrated through the rites of breathing over by the bishop, by the imposition of his hands and of all concelebrating priests present, and through the prayers of consecration pronounced by the bishop alone.
By its very name, (the Oil of) Chrism evokes Christ the Anointed One. And so, through the anointing with the Oil of Chrism, first at Baptism then later during the Sacrament of Confirmation, and at the Ordination of Priests and Bishops, the person comes to share in what I have called the mystical Priesthood of the entire Body of Christ, namely of the Church, the Priestly, Kingly and Prophetic People of God.
In fact, the Consecratory Prayer B of the Rite of Consecration of Chrism very emphatically attests to this, which I quote: “…through the sign of holy Chrism you dispense your life and love to men. By anointing them with the Spirit, you strengthen all who have been reborn in baptism. Through that anointing you transform them into the likeness of Christ your Son and give them a share in his royal, priestly, and prophetic work…”
And so, we are expected in our lives to be to the world truly “the Anointed One”, clothed in the royal, priestly, and prophetic honour of Christ Jesus himself.
1.4: The Oil of the Sick: During his earthly life, Jesus Christ the Lord and Saviour encountered many sick people and he healed them in very many ways; some by the word of command, others through the application and mediation of material objects like the smearing of mud (???) the use of spittle, the inspection and touching of ears, tongue, wounds of lepers etc. In all of these encounters, Jesus showed loved and closeness to those afflicted and affected. His presence was one of comfort and support in times of human frailty and infirmity. He has come to serve and to save the sick and the weak.
Before leaving his disciples, Jesus entrusted his healing ministry to his disciples so that “…they will lay their hands upon the sick, who will recover” (Mk. 16:18).
1.5: My dearly beloved, by these three symbolic uses of oil and anointing, Jesus Christ give us very palpably the sign of his love, closeness, personal concern and presence for the children of God, and he calls us in that mystical priesthood of the Body of Christ as the Priestly, Kingly and Holy People of God, individually and in community to “sing the praises of God his Father who has called us out of the darkness into his wonderful light…” and furthermore, to bring them out of darkness into God’s own wonderful light of life. Literally, we are called to bring the salvation of Christ Jesus to humanity.
Jesus Christ brings us through the anointing with these three oils out of the darkness of sin and evil, out of the fear of illness and anxiety of death into the certainty of his own wonderful light of life, life that will never end, in to share Christ’s own eternal life.
1.6: Service to Ghana @ 60: This is where I would like to return with you and me in our reflection to Ghana @ 60 and the Centenary of the Apparitions of Fatima. I would like to believe that as we sit here, we all have been beneficiaries of the Spirit of the Lord. He has been poured out upon us at our Baptism and Confirmation, we have received him regularly and been strengthened in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ at Holy Mass, in the Sacrament of Penance, and some of us in Holy Matrimony or Holy Orders, or even the Sacrament of the Sick.
What have we done with the Spirit of the Lord upon us? He has anointed us and sent us to bring the good news to the poor. How are we doing this? To proclaim liberty to captives. How are we doing this? To give new sight to the blind, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour… Are we doing that as the Priestly, Kingly and Holy People of God?
With Christ Jesus, can we also say “This text is being fulfilled today in Ghana @ 6)”? Is this text being fulfilled today in the world where we live? In our community of priests, of religious brothers and sisters? In our Church associations and societies? In our marriages and homes? In our families and among our friends? In our places of work as civil and public servants? As political or traditional leaders? As health and medical professionals? Security personnel? As teachers of children? Where are the terebinths of integrity in the face of all the injustices, corruption, indiscipline, immorality, of ethnocentricisms, favoritisms, violence, wanton destruction of our heritage and our children?… Where are God’s priestly, kingly and holy people, those anointed with the oils of gladness? How are we as the people set apart, singing the praises of God in our country?
1.7: Conclusion: Renewal of commitment to priestly service: My dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, after I finish this sermon, we your priests will be renewing our commitment to priestly service. I know that you will be supporting us in our renewal by your presence and your prayers. And for this we are most grateful. However, may be the time has come for this renewal to be done not only by the priests, but by all of us.
May I be permitted to invite you, dear People of God, that since you are also members of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church made up of the Priestly People, Kingly People and Holy People, on that night of Holy Saturday, at the Easter Vigil, you also make a firm resolve to renew your commitment to our mystical priesthood and priestly service.
Permit me to conclude by saying that maybe, it is thanks to the Consecration of Ghana to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus which took place on March 03, 1957, that Ghana has been spared the convulsions and conflicts of our neighbours. Let us not take the Act of Re-consecration that was done last month for granted. The challenges of today are very formidable and I think the time has come to take up prayer more assiduously for the country and for its various leaders and citizens. Ghana @ 60 now needs more than ever the Anointed Ones of God, the Priestly, Kingly and Prophetic People, to bring our anointing to bear in our lives for God to come and save this country.
(I know that from Good Friday, Holy Mother Church invites us to take up the Novena to the Divine Mercy, which will end of Divine Mercy Sunday. I invite you all to let us take this up as our Easter commitment to Ghana and also to pray each of the nine days, as we did before the Re-consecration, to pray for a specific intention. This list will be sent to your various parishes and it should be out contribution to help overcome the darkness of sin and evil, of galamsey and corruption, of violence and indiscipline in our body politic, of immorality and …).
This is what St. Peter is exhorting us to do: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pt. 2:9).
By Most Rev. Charles G. PALMER-BUCKLE,
Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra,
Wednesday, April 12, 2017.