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Thursday, 29 March 2018

Chrism mass in St George's Madrid

Blest by the sun, the olive tree
brought clusters of fair fruit to birth
whose ripeness now we bring with prayer,
Lord Christ, redeemer of the earth.

Thus begins the ancient Latin hymn that accompanies the procession of the oils to the altar during the chrism mass to be blessed. The oil of catechumens is used to anoint those who are about to be baptized; the oil of chrism is used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and holy orders.  The oil of the sick is used in the sacrament of anointing of the sick.

This rite of blessing is at the heart of the chrism mass (indeed gives the service its name) and is the most ancient part of this liturgy. Since ancient times bishops gathered with their clergy during Holy Week to bless the oils which would be needed for those to be initiated into the Christian faith at Easter. Today, the priests still join with the bishop in the solemn prayer over the Chrism, recalling our unity in the priestly office. 

The public renewal of vows of ordination (and commitment to lay ministry) is a more recent innovation, but one which has grown to be highly valued among deacons, priests, bishops and lay ministers of the Church. It is a time when our collegiality and solidarity is expressed, and our unity in leading the people of God in a common mission.

Ministry is generally joyful work but it is also a lonely calling, perhaps even more so in this scattered diocese. To gather at times such as at the chrism mass is vitally important. It is an opportunity to build up our friendship and community. It is also an important time for me to thank the clergy and Readers, for their diligent and faithful service throughout the year. It was moving for me to hear from one of the priests who has recently moved into this diocese that, despite the distances, he feels genuine warmth and true collegiality among his brother and sister clergy.

It was a privilege to preside at this service in St George's Madrid this past Tuesday in Holy Week. Altogether about 20 priests from around the Gibraltar archdeaconry gathered for the liturgy. The welcome provided by Canon Paul Ormrod, and Reader Celia Paterson, at St George's was very warm indeed.

At the same time, Bishop Robert presided at a similar service in Brussels and on Wednesday in Paris.

After the service Deacon Frances and Reader Celia Paterson busied themselves decanting the blessed oils into containers for the clergy to take with them to their home communities, while the rest of us enjoyed a splendid lunch provided by the parishioners of St George's, on the Church patio, where we, like the olives were blessed by the sun.

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