Looking out on the congregation of priests spread throughout the pews of St. Patrick Cathedral for the Diocese’s Chrism Mass on March 29, Bishop Ronald Gainer borrowed a quote from St. Peter, uttered at the mountain of the Lord’s Transfiguration:
“Lord, it is good for us to be here.”
The celebration of the Mass of the Holy Oils marked the first time in nearly a year and a half that the priests serving in the Diocese were together in person.
Traditionally celebrated in the Diocese on the Monday of Holy Week, the Chrism Mass is the liturgy at which the bishop blesses the oils and consecrates the Sacred Chrism to be used in the celebration of the sacraments during the coming year. It is also during this Mass that the priests renew their commitment to priestly service made on the day of their ordination.
“It was wonderful to be with my brother priests at our Chrism Mass,” Father Peter Hahn, pastor of St. Leo the Great Parish in Rohrerstown, told The Catholic Witness. “The Presbyterate of any Diocese is truly a ‘fraternity’ or ‘brotherhood’ among men who share that sacred call to the priesthood. At the Chrism Mass, each priest renews the promises that he made on the day of his ordination, so there is this special bond among all of us, recalling that day – for some only recently, for many, so long ago – when, with family and friends present in our Cathedral at the Ordination Mass, each of us was given this incomparable gift of being configured to Christ in a unique way to serve His people in the Church.”
“It was the first time in nearly 17 months, since our Priests’ Convocation in October of 2019, that we were able to all be together and concelebrate Mass with our bishop, and there was such a sense of joy and gratitude to be together,” Father Hahn said.
Last year’s Chrism Mass was celebrated virtually, broadcast via livestream with priests participating from their individual locations. This year, priests donned face masks and were spread throughout the Cathedral, seated at a distance from one another in observation of COVID safety protocols. Due to the space needed to accommodate the priests, the lay faithful were unable to attend in person, and were invited to watch instead from a livestream on the Diocese’s YouTube channel.
A Fulfillment of Christ’s Work
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, adorned with white ribbon. All of the oils were disbursed 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, the anointing of priests and bishops during ordination, and in the dedication of new churches and altars.
In his homily, Bishop Gainer turned to the Gospel (Luke 4:16-21) proclaimed during the Mass, of Jesus reading the following passage from the Prophet Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
After reading from Isaiah, Jesus says, “Today, this passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
“Given the timelessness of our salvation, the salvation that Christ has won for us, it can truly be said that today is the acceptable time,” Bishop Gainer remarked. “This is the year of acceptance, so that whenever Jesus is accepted as Lord and Savior, the effects of his liberation, the release accomplished by the Paschal Mystery, is ever present.”
As the sacramental anointings take place this coming year with the Sacred Chrism and the Oils of the Sick and of the Catechumens, “those present will recognize – even if incompletely – that the living word and liberating work of Christ is being fulfilled at that very moment, in their hearing, in their being anointed,” the bishop said.
“The Mass of the Oils seems to stand above liturgical time to help us see that Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow,” he continued.
“It is this same Jesus Christ whom we encounter daily in our sacraments. He is with us from the very beginning to the very end of our life’s journey,” he said. “Today, at this time and in this place, let us be joyful and grateful, that we have been anointed with the oil of gladness.”
A Communion in Sacred Ministry
Renewing the promises of priestly service that they made on the day of their ordination, the priests stood before Bishop Gainer and resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus, to confirm the promises they made about sacred duties toward the Church, to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God, and to faithfully discharge the Sacred Office of teaching.
The bishop reminded them that the Holy Oils are “visible, tangible reminders of our communion in sacred ministry.”
He also spoke of other ways in which they are united in priestly fraternity: in the Sacrament of Holy Orders; in their efforts to address the challenges and struggles presented by the pandemic; in mourning eight priests who died in 2020 and the inability to celebrate traditional Funeral Rites for them due to COVID-19; and in their pastoral concern for the people of their parishes, many of whom have struggled financially and emotionally in this past year.
“Most especially, we are united in faith as we begin this Holy Week, soon to cross over into the three days of the Lord’s suffering, death and Resurrection,” Bishop Gainer said.
“I hope and pray that our lost opportunities to gather in person and the many challenges that we have had to navigate this past year have increased our appreciation for our priestly fraternity, our unity with our deacons, the religious and the lay faithful, and that these lost opportunities have deepened our resolve to cherish and support one another in every practical way that we can,” he told them.
Father Hahn expressed the significance of priestly fraternity, especially in the midst of the struggles associated with the pandemic.
“The past year has been one of great challenges for all of us, and it is vital for priests to share with one another those struggles that we have had,” he said. “Yet, all of us know that each of us – priests, religious and lay faithful – are united to Christ in our Baptism, and so that means for all of us that we are united to Him in our suffering, that He always carries our crosses since they are united to His.”
He also shared what he experienced as he renewed his promises alongside his brother priests.
“As I am sure for all priests, when I renew those promises made on the day I was ordained, I am taken to that day, for me now 19 years ago. I remember the awe and wonder that filled my heart. I remember the joy that filled my heart as I distributed Holy Communion to my mother, my brothers and sister and their families and all friends that had gathered that day. And my mind was filled with so many memories over the years of ministering to God’s people, of sharing great events of happiness like weddings and baptisms, but also those events of great sadness and loss, such as anointing one about to be called home to the Lord, celebrating Funeral Masses, hearing Confessions and trying to bring Christ’s healing to another,” he reflected.
“It’s hard to describe, but 19 years of memories flooded my mind and heart again in such gratitude and thanksgiving to God for His constant grace, mercy and peace,” Father Hahn added.
“One of the most humbling experiences of all priests is when the faithful send cards with prayers or express to them their continuing prayers and thanks for their priesthood. Over the past year, these expressions have been so uplifting as we know how all of us continue to suffer from the loss of loved ones and the continuing isolation and separation,” Father Hahn said. “The Chrism Mass simply brings all of this to mind and, this year, especially, left me with inexpressible thanks for the gift of the priesthood and for the graces that God continues to shower upon us and His people.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness