“Not so much about trappings and fine fabrics”: Pope Francis at Chrism Mass

In his homily at the Chrism Mass this morning in Rome, Pope Francis gave some hints of his liturgical priorities and his about understanding of how priests and the lay faithful relate.

After referring to sacred robes, precious oil, onyx stones, the ephod and breastplate of the priests of the Old Testament, Pope Francis said this:

From the beauty of all these liturgical things, which is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics than about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened, we turn to a consideration of activity, action.

Pope Francis emphasized that the activity and action of the priest today should become a sort of anointment for his people:

A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. This is a clear test. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. 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,

Speaking of the mission of priests, he said:

We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering…

He spoke critically of priests who fail to go out:

A priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little… misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart.

He said that

some priests grow dissatisfied, become sad priests, lose heart and become in some sense collectors of antiques or novelties..

Pope Francis concluded by addressing the laity before addressing the priests. He implored the lay faithful,

“Be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers.”

He then turned to priests, counting himself among them rather than addressing them:

“May [God the Father] renew his Spirit in our hearts, that this anointing may spread to everyone.”

Read the full homily here.



  1. Liturgical beauty as “the glory of our God resplendent in his people” is a beautiful thought. I will carry it with me into the liturgies of the Triduum at my parish.

  2. I’ve never thought of the chasuble as having the names of my parishioners upon it, whom I carry in prayer. That is something that I will remember from henceforth. Can we not also say that the fabric of the chasuble also can reflect the beauty of the Body of Christ, Head and members, that the people of God who the priest carries symbolically on his chasuble are as good as “gold” and God forbid, even lace! 🙂

  3. “A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. This is a clear test.” These are extraordinarily heartening words, and ring true with the experience of God’s people. We know these good shepherds, and long to know more of them.

    Pope Francis’ other extraordinary phrase this morning is “shepherds living with “the smell of the sheep”, shepherds in the midst of their flock.” There can be no shepherding without a whiff of “eau de barnyard,” which can be a heady melange of poop, grain, grass, sun and rain. These are the wise words of a man who lives close to the earth – and to people. He thereby sets out another criterion for discerning aptness for ministry – ordained or not: are we willing to wash feet? Are we willing to be perfumed by our people and their lives, with all the “notes” that this fragrance may include?

  4. It is important to understand that Pope Francis vision is a Vatican II vision that gives priority to service to the world rather than just focusing upon the internal life of the church. See my comment on another post.


    In regard to liturgy let me elaborate on my comment

    On that balcony Francis clothed himself not in the Papal vestments but in the love and the prayers of God’s people. These are the true signs of God’s anointing, of the presence of the Holy Spirit among us. Mutual love, service, and prayer for one another are at the heart of ecclesial communion and evangelization.

    This Ignatian Pope is a “contemplative in action.” Prayer and action are deeply combined in his life and ministry. He constantly askes people to pray for him.

    On the balcony he asked the people of Rome to pray for their retired Bishop, a sign of mutual love, service and prayer. Note that he did not pray on their behalf for Benedict, nor did he simply ask them to pray for Benedict in silence. Rather he joined with them in the three most common prayers of Catholicism (the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be). So common prayer, using prayers found in the liturgy, is important to this Pope.

    Before “blessing the people” he asked their prayers. However this time he did not ask them to pray in common, but rather in silence, everyone in their own hearts, in the core of their being, as they felt best. So silent prayer, like common prayers, is an important part of “liturgical” prayer.

    Finally, of course the Pope, used the formal liturgical blessing.

    But most importantly this was done within a communal setting that emphasized mutual love, humility and respect and service to one another rather than rank.

    So this Pope’s liturgical style is not going to be about rubrics, but rather it is likely to be an interpretation of the liturgy in the spirit of Ignatius and perhaps also of Francis. Think of the liturgy as a musical score that might be performed very differently by different musicians.

    It is much more than giving a “spiritual” or “scriptural” interpretation to vestments. This Pope has brought into the Papacy a religous life style, one that he did not leave behind him when he became a bishop.

    The liturgy in our hearts, the liturgy of our service to others and the sacramental liturgy are all contemplation in action, glorifying God and serving others.

    That religious life style is more Ignatian than Benedictine (in both senses of that word). It seems that the cardinals (and perhaps the Holy Spirit) thought that is what we need in a Pope at this particular time.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #4:

      Hello Jack,

      It is important to understand that Pope Francis vision is a Vatican II vision that gives priority to service to the world rather than just focusing upon the internal life of the church.

      With respect, I thought Vatican II’s vision gave priority to saving of souls (LG 7), not service to the world.

      I think this is what Pope Francis was getting at in his first homily: “We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord.”

      Service – especially to the poor – results from that saving mission, but we need to be careful not to confuse that with the mission itself.

  5. When I heard Pope Francis speak of the need of priests to “smell like our sheep,” I couldn’t help but think of those websites that advertise “The Pope’s Cologne” – and I enjoyed a hearty laugh!!!

  6. At the prison Mass of the Lord’s supper which I am listening to live, the Holy Father is celebrating Mass with a guitar ensemble for the sacred music. I should note that I have watched Pope Benedict celebrate Mass in local Roman parishes on Sundays where the music was guitar ensembles, so that’s nothing new for a pope since Vatican II, but I suspect this is a first for a papal Mass for the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper for it to be a “guitar Mass.” As well he is supposedly washing the feet of two girls, another first. So I guess we can expand this post’s heading to include “not so much about trappings and fine fabrics or fine music.” The Holy Father also gave a homily lasting about two minutes. I think mine tonight will be about 10 minutes, oh well!

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #8:

      Perhaps the pipe organ in the prison chapel is temporarily out of commission. I seem to remember the story about a “guitar Mass” at a Christmas midnight Mass some 160 years ago, a Mass at which one of the “finest” carols ever composed was sung for the first time.

      I hope Fr. Ruff will check out the music for himself before changing the heading. Guitar Masses may not be your cup of tea; they’re not mine. That said, I will be assisting at Mass this evening in a parish which employs piano, guitar, percussion, and choir at all its Masses. Six different choirs, all “guitar Masses.” And the music is mostly – fine.

      1. @Fr. Ron Krisman – comment #10:
        The primary instrument of liturgical music is the human voice. Whatever instrument that supports the full, conscious, and active participation of that voice in song works. A poorly played pipe organ or poorly played guitar does not offer that needed support. As a keyboard person I like the idea of an instrumental ensemble and I love the pipe organ,

    2. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #8:
      Pope Francis does not need to give a long homily. His actions are so loud he does not need to speak. Washing the feet of women, and two muslims.
      This is much more effective than a fifteen minute lecture on the deposit of faith or the doctrinal themes of the Eucharist from the Catechism. Something is happening in the Church….its different…and it will bring people home.

  7. “From the beauty of all these liturgical things, which is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics than about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened, we turn to a consideration of activity, action.”

    I’m not sure if this quotation was included at PTB as evidence for the pope’s movement away from liturgical beauty and trappings. To my mind, this is a wonderfully concise statement on the true importance of liturgical beauty. Beautiful art and music and vestments are not an end in themselves, but point us to something else – both to the glory of God, and to our call to activity and action.

    1. @Jared Ostermann – comment #9:
      Hear, hear! Well said.
      Pope Francis’ emphases on ministering to the unfortunate and satisfying people’s needs, of being credible representatives of our Lord, is not by any means a call for shabiness or cheapness in our worship. ‘Respelendent!’ is what our holy father said. It’s also in keeping with the commendations of his name-sake.

  8. Pope Francis’s succinct definition of the “outskirts” as “suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters” is quite perceptive. Sometimes persons consider “poverty” as synonymous with material or financial need. This is a very real possibility but not always true. Even the wealthiest people in the wealthiest countries suffer despite their luxurious dress and transportation. In my view, Pope Francis’s statement includes not only material poverty and violent strife, but also mental illness, emotional distress, disability, or even loneliness.

    Pope Francis will upset many Catholics (and not just traditionalists) because he is determined to challenge the notion that liturgy alone can fulfill all of our desires and needs. Liturgy cannot be a idealized escape from the human condition. Mass, as sacrifice and paschal mystery, is from one perspective the very human condition magnified.

    Pope Francis is out to shock, anger, and scandalize. This is no mistake. Our hearts cannot be remolded without fracture and re-formation.

    Blessed Easter and octave

  9. Didn’t John Paul II say that we can judge the effectiveness of our liturgy by the way we treat the poor?

    1. @Sean Whelan – comment #16:
      Archbishop William Temple, of Canterbury said:
      Some think conduct is the most important thing in Christian life, and worship helps it. But worship is most important, and conduct tests our worship.

      Or something close to that.

  10. Anthony Ruff, OSB : @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #11: I agree with Jared Ostermann at #9 and M. Joackson Osbron at #11! It’s a “both/and.” awr


    I think it would be instructive to observe the Eastern Church, whose bishops and patriarchs all dress very austerely, veiled head to toe in monastic black. When the time comes to approach the altar of God for Divine worship, however, austerity gives way to magnificence. The temple, its art, the sacred music of the liturgy, the vestments, the incense, and the ceremony are all splendid signs of a God whom we encounter in his Heavenly court.

    In the West it’s so often the case that the opposite approach is true. Odd.

    1. @James Murphy – comment #17:
      Hear, hear! (Again!)
      A very apt observation which shows forth the firm theological basis for splendidness in worship. As is so often the case, the Orthodox (and, one might add, Catholic-minded Anglicans) have a far clearer understanding of what divine worship is all about than do quite a few Catholics. When we enter our churches, we have entered into ‘the courts of the Lord’, and should behave appropriately with appropriate ceremony. Those who chortle against the ‘courtliness’ of our historic liturgy might well ponder this. There is nothing shabby about the Lord’s worship, nor any presumptuousness about whom we are in the presence of. God is dazzling, gorgeous, radiant, beyond any imaginable splendour, the fountainhead of all beauty, all knowledge, all virtue, and all that is, but one would never guess it by the tone and accoutrements of much Catholic worship.

      Too, I might echo an observation that was made on Pray Tell by someone else a few days ago, i.e., that the Oxford Movement and ‘high church’ liturgical praxis had some of their most notable success and appeal amongst the poor. Why this unfitting equation of concern for the poor with the most inconsiderate styles of worship?

  11. M. Jackson Osborn : @James Murphy – comment #17: Hear, hear! (Again!) A very apt observation which shows forth the firm theological basis for splendidness in worship. As is so often the case, the Orthodox (and, one might add, Catholic-minded Anglicans)

    And, one might add, Eastern Catholics, who, like the Orthodox, do not accuse their clergy of “opulence” for wearing the traditional liturgical vesture of the Eastern Church as they celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Furthermore, they do not accuse their clergy of attacking tradition when their prelates wear shabby black shoes. It’s only us Roman Catholics who seem to have these misguided notions and strange fixations about the things clergymen wear.

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