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Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: March 26, 2018
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock on Monday, March 26, 2018.
In ancient Israel the three most important agricultural products were wheat, grapes and olives. Wheat is easy for us to understand because even for us, wheat is the staff of life. It’s a little harder for us to appreciate how important grapes were in Jesus’ time because we have so many other fruits available, but even for us, wine is part of what turns a regular dinner into a banquet.
And all the more so because on Holy Thursday Jesus took the bread and wine of Passover, gave it to us as his body and blood, and instructed his Apostles to continue to do so in his memory — thus instituting two sacraments: the Eucharist and the priesthood.
But what about the olive? This is harder for us to understand. We eat so much fatty meat and fried food that we forget that people whose cuisines include far less meat need a lot more supplemental oil than we do. Moreover, people in dry climates have more problems with dry skin, and so in Jesus’ time people rubbed oil on their faces to improve their appearance and used it as medicine: by itself as a skin lotion and mixed with medicinal herbs as an ointment.
And this year we have the joy of knowing that the Chrism we consecrate today will be used to ordain eight new priests for the Diocese of Little Rock and two new priests for Subiaco (Abbey), 10 new priests altogether — the largest number of ordinations in a single year we have ever had.
So while wheat was the staff of life and wine turned meals into banquets, oil improved your appearance and health, and was a remedy for illness. In ancient Israel it was also used to designate someone specially chosen by God to be king or high priest — who they called messiahs, anointed ones, christs because oil had been poured on their heads. And of course that is the origin of this Chrism Mass during which we consecrate the sacred chrism and bless the oils of catechumens and for anointing of the sick.
The most sacred of these oils is the chrism which we consecrate — the other two oils we simply bless — but the Chrism is consecrated because this oil is used to ordain priests, who will consecrate the Eucharist and celebrate all the other sacraments as well.
That is why we priests renew our commitment to the service of the Lord in this Chrism Mass. And this year we have the joy of knowing that the Chrism we consecrate today will be used to ordain eight new priests for the Diocese of Little Rock and two new priests for Subiaco (Abbey), 10 new priests altogether — the largest number of ordinations in a single year we have ever had.
Priests who will then administer the other six sacraments to the faithful. So there is a real sense in which this Chrism opens the door to all the sacraments, including the other uses of the oil we bless in this Mass: catechumens preparing for baptism and the sacraments of confirmation and anointing of the sick.
This year is our 175th year as a diocese — and I must say, we have it a lot easier today than those intrepid Catholics of those early years. They were practically all immigrants and many did not speak English, yet they established and staffed parishes and schools and hospitals throughout our state.
Their footprint and their impact was far greater than their actual numbers would suggest. If we look back at the history of the Church in Arkansas we will see that it has never been “easy.” And one thing is certain: the specific challenges change with time, but faithfulness to the Lord always entails embracing the cross.
Why else do you think Jesus chose Holy Thursday to institute the priesthood and the Eucharist? When he told those first 12 priests to now “do this in memory of me,” he didn’t only mean celebrate the Eucharist in memory of him.
He also meant that we should offer up our own body and blood to the Father in union with that of Jesus, as he did at the Last Supper and as he did the following day on the altar of the cross — and in time, 10 of those 12 did just that, dying a martyr’s death.
And so today we gather to consecrate this Chrism, which makes us other “christs” and these oils of catechumens and for the sick, which we will use to minister to the people of God. May the Lord strengthen our good intentions this day and empower us to embrace with love whatever share God gives us in the cross of Jesus Christ, our Savior.