This morning, Pope Francis warned Catholic priests around the world that “the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, lose heart and become in some sense collectors of antiques or novelties” comes from seldom going out of oneself, which leads to “missing out on the best of our people”. Instead, he strongly urged priests to be “shepherds who have the smell of their sheep'.”
The solemn Holy Thursday Chrism Mass celebrated in the Vatican Basilica opens the Paschal Triduum of Holy Week. During the course of the Mass, celebrated in all the churches and cathedrals throughout the world, priests renew the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience that they made at their ordination. Also, the oil used to anoint catechumens and the oil used to anoint the sick as well as the chrism oil—olive oil scented with balsam—used to anoint those being baptised, confirmed, or receiving Holy Orders is blessed.
The Chrism Mass presided over by the Holy Father was concelebrated by the over 2,000 cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and priests present and was attended by over 10,000 faithful. Francis pointed out to them that the “clear proof” to recognizing a good priest is “by the way his people are anointed”. He added that “it is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live our priestly life by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others”.
He developed this theme throughout his homily, which he began by recalling that this Mass was a reminder to all priests—including himself—of the day of their ordination. In this context the Pope explained what it means to be anointed ones, to “be for” others, and he focused on the meaning of the liturgical vestments. “When we put on our simple chasuble, it might well make us feel, upon our shoulders and in our hearts, the burdens and the faces of our faithful people, our saints and martyrs, of which we have so many in our times.”
At the same time, he noted how “the beauty of all these liturgical things ... is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics” as it is destined to the action expected of priests. “The ointment, dear brothers, is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.”
The Holy Father also gave concrete details to inspire priests in their pastoral mission, commenting that: “our people like to hear the Gospel preached with 'unction', they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the 'outskirts' where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: '“Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem', 'Bless me, Father', 'Pray for me'.”
“What I want to emphasize,” the Pope said, “is that we need constantly to stir up God’s grace and perceive in every request, even those requests that are inconvenient and at times purely material or downright banal—but only apparently so—the desire of our people to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it. To perceive and to sense, even as the Lord sensed the hope-filled anguish of the woman suffering from haemorrhages when she touched the hem of his garment.”
Before finishing his homily, the Holy Father also addressed the lay faithful, urging them to “be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.”