Following is the prepared text from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s homily for the Chrism Mass.
March 26, 2018
…the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at Him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Lk 4:20
Before Jesus spoke a word in the synagogue of Nazareth, the people had their eyes fixed on Him, noticing what He did with His hands, with what reverence He handled the Sacred Scroll of the Prophet Isaiah, and only then taking note of His words. St. Luke tells us: “He…was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” – Lk 4:16-18. After telling us this, the evangelist Luke again draws attention to Jesus’ hands, “Rolling up the scroll, He handed it back to the attendant and sat down…He said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
At the Chrism Mass each year, all the priests renew their Commitment to Priestly Service, remembering and reinvigorating their intention to be faithful servants of Jesus and good stewards of the mysteries of God. In the Chrism Mass, too, the blessing of Holy Oils takes place, Oils that priests will take in their hands and use to confer Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Anointing of the Sick. As these Sacraments are conferred through the priests’ hands, Jesus’ words spoken in Nazareth’s synagogue again come to life: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
It is worthwhile, at this Chrism Mass, then, to recall all the many ways that Jesus heals and brings life through the hands of His priests. And it is good for us priests to remember that sacred moment, on the day of Ordination, when our hands were anointed by Christ, and when He, acting through the Bishop, placed His hands upon us and gave us a share in His Eternal Priesthood.
The ancient rite of the laying on of hands, whose roots reach far back into the Old Testament, was chosen by Jesus to be the way He takes possession of a priest’s entire life. By the laying on of hands, Jesus says in a symbolic but very real way, “You belong to me;” “Under my hands, you are protected from the evil one.” “Look, I have carved you in the palm of my hand.” “Remain in me as I remain in you.” “Place your hands in mine.”
My brother priests and dear sons in Christ, today, we will consecrate the Oil of Chrism and it will, in turn, be used to ordain, in several weeks, three of our brothers to the priesthood. With the Sacred Chrism, their hands will be anointed as ours have been, as a sign of the Holy Spirit who confers the sacred power to sanctify, to shepherd, and to teach. After I have laid hands upon them and said the Prayer of Ordination, each of you, in turn, will lay hands upon them, reminding everyone of the sacramental brotherhood we share in Jesus and our fraternal participation in the one Eternal Priesthood of the living Christ.
Because we priests so frequently use our hands to serve our people, it can be deeply meaningful for us to say the Prayer of Abandonment, composed by Blessed Charles de Foucauld, since it allows us to place ourselves anew in the hands of our merciful Father. Please join with me in your hearts, then, as I say this prayer: “Father, I abandon myself into your hands. Do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you. I am ready for all. I accept all. Let only your will be done in me and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul. I offer it to you with all the love of my heart. For I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve and with boundless confidence for you are my Father.”
Remember, my brother priests and dear sons in Christ, it is Jesus who laid His hands upon us, just as it is He who takes the bread, using our hands, and says, using our voices, “This is my Body… This is my Blood.” He is the one eternal Priest whom we serve and who serves others through our hands and voices. If, at any time, we become disheartened, let us ask Him to take our hands and hearts in His, to heal and renew them for the service of His Kingdom. And let us place the work of our priestly hands in His with a spirit of reverence and fear of the Lord. Recall how St. Peter, after the miraculous catch of fish, instead of being overcome with joy was frightened by the immensity of what Jesus had accomplished through his hands as he tossed the net into the sea, being keenly aware of his own inadequacies compared with the miraculous work of the Lord. Peter, no longer feeling worthy even to be Jesus’ follower, cried out (Luke 5:8), “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” But Jesus, with great kindness, took Peter by the hand, and said, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
My brother priests, you and I know well the truth of those words we pray at every Mass, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” Let us allow Jesus to take all our unworthiness into His hands, just as we placed our own hands in those of the bishop’s on the day of Ordination. Within Jesus’ hands, we find the strength to be true to our promises made at Ordination. At this Chrism Mass, how good it is to lay our hands again in the wounded hands of Christ, entrusting to Him our priestly ministry, together with all the people whom we have the privilege to serve, including all those who seem far removed from God’s Kingdom but are so dear to the Good Shepherd who always seeks the lost sheep. Into your hands, heavenly Father, we place our destiny, our future, our priestly ministry. Father, do with us what you will.