18 Apr 2012

Diocese of Limerick Holy Oils Service - Meditation No. 1 - Br Martin Browne OSB

Each year, the bishop of the diocese gathers the priests and deacons of the diocese at a special Mass to bless the Holy Oils to be used during the year and for the renewal of priestly promises. However, as Limerick has been without a bishop for three years, our Holy Oils were blessed by Bishop Kieran O'Reilly of Killaloe diocese.

To mark their distribution in the diocese of Limerick, a holy hour was held at St John's Cathedral on Spy Wednesday and the meditations were lead by Rev. Martin Browne OSB.

Diocese of Limerick Holy Oil's Service
Meditation No. 1
Br Martin Browne OSB
St John's Cathedral
April 4th 2012

As we heard at the start, there is no Chrism Mass in the Diocese of Limerick this year. And so we find ourselves gathering tonight with oils blessed in another diocese, and in prayer before the Eucharist consecrated at a previous Mass. And so, in many ways, this gathering of the people of the diocese has more than a little incompleteness about it…. No matter how profoundly we pray, or how well any or all of the ministers in tonight’s liturgy perform their various roles, there’s going to be something of the ‘second-best’ about our gathering.

But the Lord Jesus is present… And as we become aware of his Presence, let us try to be aware of his love and his compassion too. Before he commissioned the Twelve Apostles, St Matthew tells us that Jesus looked on the crowds and, ‘he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’. It’s a text that might ring true here… not just in the literal sense of the diocese being a flock without a bishop, but in the ‘harassed and helpless’ sense too… The past few years have been a time of confusion and disorientation in the Church. We’ve slowly been coming to terms with criminal sinfulness. Some have given up on the Church and shaken the dust off their feet… some aren’t sure what to think or believe any more… some have retreated into the security of old certainties and a sense of being under siege. Many of us, lay, religious and ordained, including bishops, often don’t have a clear sense of what exactly we’re supposed to be or do: Harassed and helpless…. And so, this diocesan family of Limerick is in a very real way, a sort of icon of the Church in Ireland at this time: Sheep without a shepherd… But remember, when Jesus met such harassed people in his earthly ministry, the Gospel tells us that he had compassion on them. So, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament of his Body and Blood, let us trust in that compassion. Be still, and know…

But even though there’s a certain element of ‘second-best’ about our gathering tonight, in other ways there’s nothing remotely second-best about the people of God gathered to pray in the presence of the Lord. We’re not celebrating the Eucharist tonight, and we’re not blessing the oils tonight. All that has been done already… So, there’s nothing for us to do, as such. And so, even though there is something a bit passive about it, it also has the great benefit of allowing us to receive the oils as a gift… to reflect on them… and to contemplate the richness of the Church’s sacramental life – to delight and luxuriate in God’s generosity. And that’s a valuable opportunity – a healing treatment for the tendency towards fear and timidity and small-mindedness that can sometimes bedevil us. Our society today knows all about greed and selfishness and the damage they have wreaked. Tonight we give thanks for oil — and not just any oil, but costly olive oil, made yet more precious (in the case of Chrism) by the addition of perfume.

Apart altogether from their uses in the sacraments, the oils are sacramental in another way too. Precious, pure and costly, they point to the rich, lavish and downright extravagant love of God for us. It can be tempting to treat the oils as routine, or not very special. On the other extreme, it can be tempting too to treat them almost as magic potions.

So tonight, in the peaceful and prayerful atmosphere of adoration, maybe we can go a bit deeper, and appreciate afresh these holy oils we have received, as the privileged and precious signs of God’s compassion for us which they are….

High above this sanctuary, in the arch, hangs an image of Jesus crucified… The Lamb who was slain… The one who offered his own body as a sacrifice; a sacrifice pleasing to the Father. What he offered physically on the cross, he offered mysteriously in bread and wine the night before. They are one sacrifice, and one mystery. When he was dead on the cross, St John tells us, ‘one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out’.  The Blood of the New Covenant… The Waters of Everlasting Life…. Hanging on the cross, Jesus unsealed the fountain of Baptism for us. It is because of his perfect gift of himself that we are all able to call ourselves sons and daughters of God.

The grace of the sacraments flows from the side of Christ himself. Through them, and especially through the Eucharist, we become the Church. No longer strangers and aliens… no longer Gentile or Jew… No longer servant or free…. No, nourished by the Body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ. The Second Vatican Council described the the Eucharist as the ‘source and summit of the Christian life’. It also taught that ‘no Christian community is built up which does not grow from and hinge on the celebration of the most holy Eucharist’. The Church is not truly the Church without the sacraments. And it’s not fully the Church when it doesn’t have a bishop either, because the mystery of the Church is most clearly made visible when the faithful and the clergy gather to celebrate the Eucharist, with the Bishop presiding in love over the assembly.

Tonight, we have no bishop and don’t celebrate the Eucharist… Instead, we take time to gaze in amazement at the goodness and love of God. We take time to wonder at the graces unsealed for us through the sacraments of the Church. And we adore…

          Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine;
          Never was love, dear King, never was grief like Thine.
          This is my Friend, in whose sweet praise
          I all my days could gladly spend.

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