The Chrism Mass is a celebration of our joy and Thanksgiving as anointed members of the Body of Christ – as clergy, religious and laity.
That’s the message Bishop Ronald Gainer gave in his homily during the liturgy. It was also the message reflected in the witness of the priests, deacons, sisters and lay faithful who filled St. Patrick Cathedral to near capacity for the Chrism Mass.
Closed to the public in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19 safety protocols, this year’s Chrism Mass welcomed the return of the faithful, many of whom filled the Cathedral’s steps and sidewalks as they waited for its doors to open for the solemn liturgy on April 11.
“The Chrism liturgy takes us out of our current liturgical time to celebrate our joy and our Thanksgiving as anointed members of the Body of Christ,” Bishop Gainer said of the Mass, which, in the Diocese of Harrisburg, is celebrated on Monday of Holy Week.
“This Mass is about anointing. As members of the Mystical Body, we all receive a variety of anointings in our lifetime,” the bishop said, giving examples of the Oil of the Catechumens, received by those preparing the enter the Church; the Sacred Chrism placed on the foreheads of young women and men receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation; and the Oil of the Sick offered as a remedy for those who are ill.
“Each sacramental anointing is a reminder that we have been Christ-ened,” the bishop said. “The Holy Spirit has anointed us so that our lives can give faithful witness to the one who is first born of the dead.”
During the Mass, the bishop blessed the Oil of the Sick, contained in vessels adorned with purple ribbon, and the Oil of the Catechumens, in vessels with green ribbon. He also consecrated the Sacred Chrism, contained in vessels adorned with white ribbon. All of the oils were distributed into smaller containers that the priests returned to their parishes for use in the sacraments in the upcoming year.
The Oil of the Catechumens strengthens candidates for receiving the Sacraments of Initiation as they prepare to enter the Catholic Church. The Oil of the Sick provides the sick with a remedy for illness of mind and body, so that they may have strength to bear their suffering, resist evil and obtain the forgiveness of sins.
Sacred Chrism, mixed with fragrant balsam, is used in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, in the anointing of priests and bishops during ordination, and in the dedication of new churches and altars.
Commitment to Priestly Service
The Chrism Mass is also the context for the Renewal of Commitment to Priestly Service, in which the priests renew the promises they made on the day of their ordination.
Standing together before the bishop, and with the support of the congregation seated behind them, the priests responded in unison with “I am” to the following posed by Bishop Gainer:
- Beloved sons, on the anniversary of that day when Christ our Lord conferred His priesthood on His Apostles and on us, are you resolved to renew in the presence of your bishop and God’s holy people, the promises you once made?
- Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to Him, denying yourselves and confirming those promises about sacred duties towards Christ’s Church which, prompted by love of Him, you willingly and joyfully pledged on the day of your priestly ordination?
- Are you resolved to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist and the other liturgical rites and to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching, following Christ the Head and Shepherd, not seeking any gain, but moved only by zeal for souls?
In his homily, the bishop told the priests that the Renewal of Commitment to Priestly Service is not simply a repeat of the promises made at ordination. “Rather, my brothers, we are asked to make a renewal, not a repetition. At ordination, our promises were given once and forever. Today we renew our resolve to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to Him, to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God, and to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching,” he said.
After the priests renewed their commitment, the congregation rose and stood behind them, pledging their prayers for the priests and the bishop.
Showing support for priests is one of the reasons Randy and Marguerite Mentzell of St. John the Baptist Parish in New Freedom routinely attend the Chrism Mass.
“We come to support the priests. And it was beautiful to see the newest class of deacons, too, as they presented the oils for the bishop to bless,” Randy told The Catholic Witness after Mass.
“It’s the most beautiful liturgy that I’ve ever gone to,” Marguerite said. “We come every year that we can, and this is the first time in three years because of Covid. This year’s liturgy was so much more meaningful because we hadn’t been able to come the last two times. It’s so symbolic to see the bishop breathe over the Chrism.”
Janice Elsen, also a member of St. John the Baptist Parish, arrived well in advance of the start of the Mass so that she and a friend could find a pew nearest the rows of priests.
“It’s such a beautiful Mass. I love seeing all the oils blessed for the sacraments in the upcoming year – especially the Chrism because I’m an eighth-grade Confirmation teacher,” Elsen said.
“It’s also a beautiful thing to see the priests of the Diocese gathered to renew their vows and how dedicated they are in their ministry. It’s a great way to offer up prayers for our priests. That’s what we’re here for – to support each other and be here for each other as the Body of Christ,” she said.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness