Sunday, April 14, 2024

Chrism Mass Reflects the Unity Among Priests in the Diocese

On the anniversary of when Christ conferred His priesthood on His Apostles more than 2,000 years ago, priests and lay faithful of the Diocese gathered in St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg for the annual Chrism Mass – celebrated by Bishop Timothy Senior and concelebrated by Bishop Ronald Gainer, Emeritus Bishop of Harrisburg, on March 25.

At this most sacred Holy Mass, the sacramental Oils of the Sick and the Catechumens and the Sacred Chrism are all blessed and consecrated by the Diocesan bishop. This Holy Week marks the first time for Bishop Senior, who breathed over the Sacred Chrism near the end of Mass, witnessed by the faithful filling the cathedral as late afternoon spring light bathed the sanctuary in a warm glow. The oils are sweetly fragrant and are tapped from Holy Land olive trees; each parish in the Diocese receives vessels of oils after the blessing.

The Chrism Mass is also the solemn occasion for the Renewal of Commitment to Priestly Service, in which priests, standing in unison in front of the bishop, renew the vows they made upon the day of their ordination.

In his homily, Bishop Senior addressed the faithful before speaking directly to his brother priests. “Your presence with us in such large numbers is inspiring,” he said. “And I am sure it is also an expression of your love for our priests and our unity in the Body of Christ and the blessings and graces that flow from the diversity of ministries and apostolates in our local Church.”

Turning towards the priests in the pews, Bishop Senior told them they imitate Jesus “in reaffirming our mission – our true identity in Jesus Christ, priests who have been anointed – consecrated for service; to once again lay down our lives for those to whom we have been sent.”

“I want to call attention to you, the priests of the Diocese of Harrisburg,” the bishop said. “We are truly blessed with great priests. Daily, you selflessly lay down your lives in service of the people of God in ways that often go unrecognized and perhaps unappreciated, and known only to God.”

The Chrism Mass is also when transitional deacons to be ordained in May are called to Holy Orders; the bishop also called to Holy Orders the four men to be joyously ordained priests on June 1.

“We need to first receive the love and mercy of Jesus in the context of our friendship with Him if we are to be His living instruments for the good of the people…. We need the oil of gladness from Him so that we can then bring it to others in our ministry,” Bishop Senior said.

In closing his homily, Bishop Senior quoted from Pope Francis when he preached at his first Chrism Mass as the newly elected-pontiff during Holy Week in 2013:

“My dear brothers, the ointment 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. A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed – this is a clear proof.”

The Oil of the Catechumens strengthens candidates receiving the Sacraments of Initiation as they prepare to enter the Catholic Church at Easter. The Oil of the Sick provides the sick with a remedy for their illness so they may have the strength to bear their suffering and obtain the forgiveness of their sins. Sacred Chrism, mixed with fragrant balsam, is used in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation as well as the anointing of priests and bishops during the Rite of Ordination. It is also used when a new church and altar are dedicated in the Diocese.

At the conclusion of the Mass, Bishop Senior recognized the priests of the Diocese celebrating a milestone ordination anniversary. The longest serving priest in the Diocese is Father Gerald Heintzelman, who this year celebrates 65 years as a priest, having been ordained in 1959 by Bishop George Leech.

(Photos by Jen Reed and Rachel Bryson, The Catholic Witness.)

By Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness

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