Today’s Eucharistic celebration is heavily loaded with different and distinct themes. Most of the key themes in our lives as Catholics are enacted here. I will list a few for the purpose of these reflections and celebrations. We are celebrating on a Tuesday largely because of the distances that priests have to travel. Otherwise, this is the Mass of Holy Thursday, the day when Jesus Christ instituted the priesthood and the holy Eucharist, the centre of our lives.
First, this celebration is so important that no priest is allowed to celebrate the holy Mass alone today. All private Masses without people are forbidden. The lesson here is that we priests are only as important as the people we represent and this day is the day we acknowledge and reenact these realities.
The second point here is the presence of the Priests across the Diocese with their Bishop and what it means. This is the apex of our priesthood and, surrounded by the people of God, everything about who we are and what we represent comes to its summit today. Therefore, except for health reasons of an interdict, any priest who fails to turn up at this Mass almost literally sacrifices the sacredness of his priesthood on a false altar. This celebration therefore is the highest representation of our priesthood and the Church of God on earth. We mark the ordination conferred by Jesus on that night when at table, after giving thanks He said: Take this and eat, for this is my body. Do this in memory of me (Lk. 22: 19ff). He did the same with the wine and from then till date, this is what we have continued to celebrate. This singular act laid the foundation for the ordination of the Priesthood of Christ and this is what binds us with the priesthood of Jesus Christ. This is what we, ordinary mortals, taken from among you and made high priests are called upon to do every time we stand on the altar (Heb. 5:1) Thus, the altar around which we gather today, represents that sacred table around which Jesus gathered with His Apostles. This leads us to the third point which is the renewal of priestly promises.
All Priests will renew their Priestly promises today, those promises they made on the day they were ordained to the priesthood, thus making this date superior to the ordinary days we all mark as our anniversaries of priestly ordination. Today is the real deal, the real date of our ordination from where the human calendar derives its power and legitimacy. Our rite says: On this anniversary of the day when Jesus our Lord conferred the priesthood on His apostles and us. The priests will renew their commitment towards seeking unity and conformity with the mind of Christ in serving the people entrusted to threir care, they will remind themselves that they are merely stewards of the Eucharist and that they undertake to teach the people of God.
The Bishop and the Priests cannot be without the people. So, next, the Bishop will turn to the people and ask them to please pray for their priests and he himself so that together, they will fulfill the mission of serving God’s people. So, the people are not spectators, but part and parcel of this mission.
Finally, the Bishop blesses the Oils of the Sick and Catechumens and further consecrates the Chrism Oil. The Oil of the sick is used to accompany the sick in their journey towards eternity. It is meant to bring succour to the sick and not a final boarding pass to eternity as we often think. The Oils of Catechumens and Chrism are used for Baptism, Ordination, and other sacred rituals in the Church. However, the importance and significance of the oil of Chrism must not be lost. It is only a Bishop who can bless the oil of Chrism. It is used for Confirmation, ordination of Bishops and Priests. It is used to anoint the head and hands of a Bishop at ordination and used to anoint the hands of a priest at ordination.
It is important to make these points because despite my warnings, some priests continue to literally connive with lay people to cheapen the use of various oils in the Catholic Church. I repeat what I have often said over and over: For us in the Catholic Church, all the oils that we use are blessed today and they are the ones listed above. No one else has the powers to bless any other oils for distribution for meeting many strange needs, ranging from attracting men, finding jobs, husbands or increasing customers in our businesses!
Again, I warn those priests who for pecuniary and not pastoral reasons continue to connive with unscrupulous charlatans to market strange concoctions that are more for sorcery and witchcraft than for the use in the Catholic Church. I again repeat: there is no anointing oil for people to anoint themselves. Most of the oils sold as so-called anointing oil are meant for you to fry your yams or eggs if you can, and not to anoint yourself. Those of you priests who continue to mislead your congregation are doing a disservice to the Church and to the people themselves.
Before I end, I wish to draw your attention to other issues concerning our pastoral life in the Diocese. First, as you know by now, last year, we issued a little booklet titled, Ecclesia in Sokoto. It is meant to encourage us toward our duties and responsibilities as evangelisers. I want to appeal to you all to wake up to the challenges of evangelisation. We must change the way that we have always done some things in the Catholic Church. The Lay people have continued to believe that their duty is just to come to Church or attend Mass as we often say. We think that the Rosary is for those who are Legionaries and those children we belong to Block rosary. We forget that this is one of the strongest and most effective personal and family prayers that other Christian and non-Christian worshippers have adopted because of their experience with its efficacy. Please try and read the little booklet if you want to join in our pastoral vision of strengthening our faiths.
Our Bishops and Priests are teachers, yes, but I now want Parents and those of us who are educated to step forward, our Knights, our Women, our Youth to all find a role for themselves so that our church and our worship can become more all engaging as opposed to being seen as something that the Priest conducts. Many of us come to Church as spectators, we watch the priest at the altar, we listen and perhaps enjoy the choir, drop a five, ten or a hundred naira note if we remember or are awake during offertory. Then later, after Communion, some leave because they have something more important to attend to, or that they wish to open their shops in case their Muslim neighbours need something in their shops, since they are not Christians, or they are rushing for a business or town meeting. Some greedy businessmen and women believe that since their services are badly needed or since we serve non-Christians, there is nothing wrong with opening our shops briefly in Sundays
We have produced a smaller booklet titled, Guide to Catechesis. Again, it is meant to be read by all. It will serve as a guide for deeper instruction of our people. Please pick up a copy and look at it. We hope that we will use it to engage in a Teach the Teachers’ programme, so that some of our members can become teachers. We continue to appreciate all that our Catechists are doing and we commend them. However, in reality, beginning with me, all of us are and should be Catechists. I am the Head Catechist of the Diocese and therefore our hope is that Fathers, Mothers, Uncles, Brothers and Sisters, we can all become Catechists to one another. So, please prepare to participate in this new phase of our evangelisation because an ignorant Church is like a see planted but not watered. Sooner than later, it will soon wither and die. We must know and strengthen our faith.
As a follow up to this, we hope to complete work on our Pastoral Centre in Malumfashi where we hope to start a programme on On-going formation of both Priests and lay people who are interested in improving their knowledge of the Catholic faith and also in being teachers of other people. This will go along with instructions within the Parishes and Outstations too. Here, I am appealing to all Members of Associations in the Church to understand that without a programme of spiritual formation and deepening of the Catholic, we might as well simply be members of either a Cult or a Social Welfare Club where we sew uniforms, collect money secretly and render accounts to no one, and throw big parties when our members die or have a ceremony. Many associations in our Church are becoming alternative Churches with members listening more, and fearing their local leaders more than they fear their Priest, heeding the command and orders of a little tyrant or dictator who is accountable to no one rather than the authority of the Church. This cannot continue. Any Association that does not imbibe the Catholic ethos, show visible signs of vitality and commitment to Catechesis, focus on Love and service of neighbour will have to rethink the reason for its existence. All Pious Associations and Societies in our Diocese must key into evangelization as the basis for their existence.
Added to this is the urgent need for our spiritual development. This is the Marian Year and it is a special Year because it marks the centenary of the Fatima apparition. To this end, we plan to dedicate our Diocese to our Blessed Mother later in the year. We are looking at an appropriate date, perhaps the feast of Assumption or birthday of our Blessed Mother in September in August and September respectively? We had planned for May but the state of the Cathedral and the need for preparation does not suggest that we can have a big event here in May. So, perhaps we can plan for a time when the Cathedral work might have been completed. Final plans will be communicated to you.
Following closely to this is the need for all Parishes to start a programme of building Adoration Chapels across the Diocese. A few Churches have already done this and I hear that it is our beloved Mothers, the Catholic Women’s Organisation that has undertaken this in some parishes. We will throw the doors open and ask Associations to please step forward and help in this work especially in parishes that might not be able to do this on their own. I will set up a Committee after consultation and to monitor the implementation across the Deaneries and ensure that by the end of the Marian year, we would have made commendable progress so that every parish will have an Adoration Chapel.
We will conclude our Cathedraticum today. The last week has been and was a challenging week for us. We buried the Vice Chairman of our Parish Council in St. Dominic in Kebbi, Chief Cyril and of course only yesterday, we buried Sr. Christiana. Sr. Christie ran the Health Clinic and did a great job of it. She died on active service and we are proud of what she accomplished. May God give her the reward of eternal life.
The last few years have been years of trials for us as a Diocese as we have lost many of our parishioners but we are not alone. We continue to pray for them while renewing our commitment to carrying on where they left off. May God rest their souls.
Thank God, it is not all bad news. In the course of our Cathedraticum visits last week, we dedicated a new Church, St. Gabriel’s in Daura and a second one in Gusau, St. Edward’s. We very successfully hosted between 6 and 7,000 Women of the Zumuntar Mata Katolika in Malumfashi from Thursday 6th to Sunday, 9th, April 2017. The meeting was a huge success with the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Hajiya Aisha Buhari and the Governor of Katsina State, Alhaji Bello Masari being very well represented by the First Lady of Kaduna State and the Commissioner for Health in Katsina. The former Chief Judge of the Court of Appeal, retired Justice Mamman Nasir also spoke to the Catholic Women all under the theme of Education and the Girl Child in Northern Nigeria. Mrs. Sheyin and her team did an excellent and marvelous job in representing the Diocese very well. Initial fears of meningitis which were real, were ameliorated by the State government which mobilised its Medical personnel to the venue and ensured that they stayed till the end of the events.
Finally, my dear people of God, the times remain very hard for Nigeria our country where bandits continue to loot our treasury rather than deliver services to our people. We are witnessing a rise in suicide cases and naturally, we are shocked by this. However, we must have an idea how it all started. Over the years, we have taken abortion for granted, we have watched as the quality of life has deteriorated among our people, we watch our people being slaughtered and human life counting for nothing. We have tended to take solace in self-help and a dubious miracle working, wonderful god who merely butters our bread even when we should be asking if there is bread.
We as Christians must step up especially as we prepare for Easter, a period of promise and fulfillment. We worship a resurrected Christ. We worship a God that we can call Our Father, not an object of fear. Let us rise up and infuse the public space in national life with the values taught by the Catholic Church for centuries, values anchored on understanding the workings and gifts of the Holy Spirit, the virtues of Christian life and so on. May the joy and the blessings of the resurrected Christ give us courage to stand up and be counted.
This sermon was delivered at the Chrism Mass on Tuesday 11th APRIL, 2017, at Holy Family Cathedral Sokoto by Bishop Matthew Hassan KUKAH