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Mass of Chrism, 2019

St. Joseph’s Basilica
15 April 2019

Rumour has it that a provincial election will take place tomorrow. For quite some time now, we have been listening to the electoral platforms of the political parties and their candidates. Many issues face us. The one that seems to have loomed the largest in the minds and concerns of the population is the state of the province’s economy, and we have been presented with no shortage of proposals about how best to revive it.

In these holiest of days leading up to and including the Sacred Triduum, the Church is also focused upon an election. This one is not the result of a writ having been dropped in the provincial legislature a few weeks ago. It arises from a determination made by God from all eternity. I am speaking here of God’s election of a people, the divine determination to fashion and then re-fashion his people into a communion, one with him and with one another in the bond of covenant love. Here, too, we meet the issue of economy, but in an entirely different sense. Whereas the world is accustomed to speak of an economy of wealth, which deals with money, industry and trade, the Church speaks of an economy of salvation, that comprises creation, sin and redemption. The first is a human endeavour, which increasingly takes little to no account of God’s plan. The second is the action of Almighty God Himself, in which he invites human cooperation in the fulfillment of His saving purpose. 

Our provincial election is predicated upon a fundamental tenet of any liberal democracy: the freedom to choose. In consequence, we have a variety of candidates who have sought to convince us of their suitability for office, and tomorrow we shall make our choice, in full freedom. In the divine economy of salvation, there is only one person suitable for the fulfilment of God’s saving purpose; there is only one Saviour. This One is not selected by majority vote of the people, but designated by the Father in heaven. Nevertheless, the accomplishment of the divine purpose is also predicated upon the freedom of God’s people. It is freedom not to choose a Saviour, but to receive him, a liberty whose exercise is aimed at the acceptance of God’s love and the response of complete self-gift that we call the act of faith. 

Both divine election and human liberty come together in the passage we have heard proclaimed from the Gospel of St. Luke. Jesus identifies himself as the fulfilment of the messianic promise made by God through Isaiah – he and he only is God’s designate – and the purpose for which he has been sent is to announce and accomplish a jubilee that brings liberty. In the biblical tradition, such a jubilee is marked by release from the bond of debt. The jubilee of which Christ speaks is denoted by emancipation from the chains of sin. It will be accomplished and sustained by his paschal mystery, from which forgiveness pours into the world to set God’s people free from the oppression and captivity wrought by the power of evil, and thus enable them to live as the children of God.

Clearly, in what Jesus taught at Nazareth there is far, far more at stake than in any human election. The passage from Revelation helps us to articulate this. By divine election, Jesus Christ is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all history. This means that while political mandates are but for a span of time, Christ now rules for eternity. It means that while elected officials may govern a limited territory, our Lord presides over the universe. It means that even though temporal powers develop and enact policies, the force that guides all world events is the Holy Spirit, possessed in fullness by Jesus of Nazareth and released through his death and resurrection. 

This raises the question: how does the saving power of the Holy Spirit reach us, living now at a remove of more than 2000 years from the saving events of Calvary? Once more, the economic analogy can help our understanding. The economy of wealth, shaped by the flow of money, goods and services, is built upon a highly complex transportation infrastructure. What flows through the economy of salvation is the grace of the Cross, the Holy Spirit, transported through the sacramental celebrations of the Church. 

This Mass of Chrism underscores beautifully the sacramental nature of the divine economy. The anointing with the holy oils we are about to bless and consecrate makes visible in efficacious symbol the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the sacraments. By the Spirit’s agency, the paschal mystery of Christ is rendered present in the sacraments of the Church, in order to liberate our liberty for the praise and glory of Almighty God, who has elected to save us in His Son. 

Before we proceed to the blessing and consecration of the oils, we need to pause and take account of another election. At every Mass of Chrism, the priests of the Archdiocese gather to renew their priestly commitment. These are the men elected, or chosen, by Christ, to be one with their Bishop in the teaching, sanctification and governance of God’s holy people. Our priests have freely given their “yes” to this divine choice, fully aware of their weakness and need, yet with complete trust in the wisdom and providence of our Lord. This “yes” must be constantly renewed, and at times the circumstances in which we live make that a challenge. The past year has been an especially difficult one for the Church. We know, though, that no circumstance, however troubling, can nullify God’s choice or stand in the way of His saving help. Since Jesus remains always Alpha and Omega, we trust in his power and renew our acceptance of his call. The people of this Archdiocese are very grateful to you, Fathers, for your commitment and service. To their thanks I am happy to add my own personal expression of gratitude.

In the freedom that God gives us, and trusting in His saving help, I invite you now, Fathers, to stand and renew your commitment.

Richard W. Smith
    Archbishop of Edmonton

15 April 2019