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Altar of the Confessio in St Peter's Basilica
Holy Thursday, 24 March 2005


This celebration is particularly full of significance. It is celebrated with solemnity in every Diocese because it expresses the communion of priests with their own Bishop, and because of the blessing of the chrism, the oil of the catechumens and the oil of the sick that takes place. Through these oils, divine grace will flow within souls, bringing light, support and strength, and at the same time the Church will be built up with the sacraments.

The Holy Spirit will work through these oils that are the principle of consecration in Baptism, Confirmation and Sacred Orders, and an outpouring of mercy in the Anointing of the Sick.

The liturgy of the Chrism Mass exalts the dignity that comes to all Christ"s disciples from their baptismal sanctification. Indeed, it reveals to our eyes the beauty of the whole People of God, a consecrated people and a kingdom of priests in the variety of their gifts and in the common root of Baptism.

And the Gospel text that has just been proclaimed reminds us that Christ was the first consecrated person and the principle of every other reality that is sanctified. We have heard the resounding words: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me..." (Lk 4: 18).

Jesus is the one Saviour precisely because he is the Christ, the One who was consecrated by anointing.

Although the liturgy of this Mass celebrates the priestly, prophetic and royal dignity of the entire People of God, it gives special attention and importance to the ministerial priesthood.

Today is the feast day especially of those of us who were consecrated through the sacrament of Orders: Deacons, Priests and Bishops.

It is a feast in which we are not only asked to renew the commitments connected with Ordination but also to relive the freshness of the feelings that inspired us to give ourselves to the Lord, deepening and savouring anew the beauty of our gesture, our response to the call to follow Christ closely.

At the same time, today's rite reminds us Priests and Bishops that we are closely bound with all baptized persons for we are Christians with them, as St Augustine effectively stresses, and also are constituted to benefit the whole of the People of God. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us: "Ex hominibus assumptus, pro hominibus constituitur".

Our first, deeply-rooted dignity derives from Baptism, from having become disciples of the Lord, Christians with other Christians. At the same time, we have been enriched by a special gift that entails a special conformation to Christ and a particular responsibility: the gift of being constituted for service to the People of God.

We are called to carry out a service for other people in God's name, and to do so with the characteristic ways of the Good Shepherd. This commits us especially to following Christ more closely and more faithfully.

The spiritual good of many people and perhaps also their salvation is linked to the holiness of our lives and our pastoral work.

By our fidelity to our priestly commitments, we can support our brethren in their fidelity to their Christian duties.

For us, Priests and Bishops, Holy Thursday opens our hearts to the renewal of the promises with which we bound ourselves to Christ the Priest on the day of our Ordination, and asks of us the commitment and, I would say, the pleasure of living to the full the beauty of our ministry, following Christ, joyfully dedicated to the service of others.

With regard to our assembly, for many of those present this means pastoral service to the Diocese of Rome, where God in his Providence desired the Apostle Peter to establish his Apostolic See, or it involves service in the Roman Curia, in the Petrine Ministry for the whole of the Church.

In a few moments we will joyfully renew our "yes" in the rite of Orders, aware of the precious gift we received in the Church and for the Church. Let us renew the first "yes" in the history of our vocation, that is, the decision to make him, Jesus Christ, the centre of our life and the culmination of our interest, in a "yes" said lovingly that will gradually become an existential configuration to Christ and a path of holiness and apostolic fruitfulness.

In spite of our weaknesses, we truly desire to renew our commitment to being witnesses of Christ's love, so that through our lowliness God's love may reach out to those we meet on our path.

Let us renew with joy and determination our priestly fidelity to the One who delivered us from our sins with his Blood, and let us persevere with consistency and dedication in our pastoral service as ministers of Christ.

This Holy Thursday, so full of intense feelings and thoughts, this birthday of the ministerial priesthood, strengthens within us, Priests and Bishops, the conviction of being more necessary than ever for humanity, because Christ is more necessary than ever.

In this Year of the Eucharist, which helps us to discover the beauty and power of the Eucharist and its central place, the words of the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia re-echo in our minds and hearts with particular eloquence: "The Church draws her life from the Eucharist" (n. 1); the Eucharist is "the heart of the mystery of the Church" (ibid.); it must also be "the centre and summit of priestly ministry"(n. 31).

These words that John Paul II wrote two years ago prompt us to think of him. In his absence, he is more present than ever at this Chrism Mass. Let us thank him for the witness he continues to bear for us, also through his own example of serene abandonment to God who associates him with the mystery of the Cross.

May the invitation to make the Eucharist the heart and summit of our ministry become for each one of us an experience that we treasure to the very end of our lives and the source of our pastoral dynamism and of our service to the Church and to humanity.