April 2, 2024 // Bishop

Chrism Mass Reminds Us We Are God’s Anointed

By Joshua Schipper and Kasia Balsbaugh

On back-to-back nights at the beginning of Holy Week – at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend on Monday, March 25, and at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne on Tuesday, March 26 – Bishop Rhoades celebrated Chrism Masses before throngs of priests, deacons, and the lay faithful who witnessed the consecration of the various holy oils and the renewal of priestly vows.

More photos from the Chrism Mass.

Three main types of oils are blessed at the Chrism Mass: the oil of catechumens (used during the Sacrament of Baptism), the oil of the sick (used during the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick), and oil for the sacred Chrism (used during baptism, ordination, confirmation, and church dedication). At the two Chrism Masses, Bishop Rhoades mixed the oil with sweet-smelling balsam to make the chrism. After Mass, the holy oils are apportioned to be used at the parishes throughout the diocese.

The celebration of the Chrism Mass dates to the early Church. Traditionally, the Chrism Mass is held in the morning of Holy Thursday, but most dioceses celebrate it on another day of Holy Week, in large part to make attendance easier for the laity.

Joshua Schipper

During his homily, Bishop Rhoades said that, in contrast to the rest of Holy Week where the Church focuses on Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, at the Chrism Mass, the faithful are brought back to the early days of Jesus’ public ministry.

First speaking of Christ’s baptism, Bishop Rhoades referenced Jesus’ reading from the prophet Isaiah.

“He unrolled the scroll and purposely chose to read the passage that we heard in the first reading: Isaiah’s prophecy about the ‘the anointed One, the Messiah’ – in Greek, the Christos, the Christ – and His mission. After reading the text, Jesus rolled up the scroll and sat down. The Gospel tells us that ‘the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at Him.’ Jesus then spoke those emphatic words that were like a thunderbolt: ‘Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.’”

He continued to recount that, initially, the people who heard these words were amazed and spoke highly of Jesus, but soon that acclaim turned into violent rejection.

“It was too much for them to believe that the One whom they knew as Joseph the carpenter’s son could be the long-awaited Messiah who would bring them salvation.”

Connecting this to the Chrism Mass, Bishop Rhoades spoke of the theme of “anointing,” explaining that the oils will be used for sacramental anointing understood in the context of God the Father anointing Christ with the Holy Spirit.

“The same anointing, the Holy Spirit, flows from Christ the Head into the Body, into us, His people. We thus participate in the three offices of Christ as priest, prophet, and king, and we bear the responsibilities for mission and service that flow from these offices.”

Priests look on during the annual Chrism Mass at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend on Monday, March 25. Each year during the Chrism Mass, priests are called to renew their priestly vows. – Kasia Balsbaugh

Then, turning to face the presbyterate, Bishop Rhoades addressed the promises that they made at their ordination and thanked them for their service.

“My brother priests, thank you for your priestly zeal and for your witness to Christ, the Good Shepherd. Of course, neither you nor I are perfect in our ministry. There’s only one perfect priest, Jesus. We’re His unworthy servants. We have human flaws and weaknesses. We are sinners in need of God’s pardon. We hear a lot of confessions, and like those we absolve, we need to also be penitents and go to confession.”

Continuing, he told them: “Let us never become discouraged by our human weaknesses, but, trusting in God’s mercy and love, may we experience the joy of His forgiveness and joy in our priestly ministry, remembering that we were anointed with the oil of gladness, not unhappiness. I pray that you are glad to be priests, glad to serve the Church, and glad to give your lives in love for the Lord. In moments of sadness or discouragement, may the Lord revive within you the joy of the priesthood.”

After the conclusion of his homily, Bishop Rhoades led his brother priests in the renewal of their vows.

Having reaffirmed their promises to God, the priests watched as members of the community presented urns of new chrism oil to the bishop, who consecrated and blessed them for a particular use in the ministry of the Church to the faithful.

Bishop Rhoades receives oil from the faithful at the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne. – Joshua Schipper

During his homily, Bishop Rhoades asked the faithful to pray for the sick, suffering, and dying. 

“May they know the closeness of God in the midst of their suffering,” he said. “Jesus always showed special concern for the sick and suffering, and so must we.”

Priests throughout the Church use the oil of catechumens before baptisms.

Kasia Balsbaugh
Bishop Rhoades prepares the sacred oils, assisted by Father Royce Gregerson, Pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Goshen, during the Chrism Mass at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend.

Joshua Schipper
Bishop Rhoades stirs oil at the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne.

“I think ahead to next year and those who will be anointed with the oil of catechumens that will be blessed tonight,” Bishop Rhoades said. “I hope we will have even more people preparing for baptism here in our diocese. The pre-baptismal anointing with the oil of catechumens signifies cleansing and strengthening for those preparing for baptism.”

He continued to cite falling numbers of baptisms in the United States, and the West generally, and said that the Church faces a challenge of an “increasingly secularist culture and the growth of the number of unchurched and religiously unaffiliated.”

“Rather than just bemoaning this trend,” he said, “we are called to intensify our evangelizing efforts, especially among young people. We need to be a more missionary Church – that includes all of us – sharing our faith, witnessing to our love for Jesus and His Church, and inviting people to our parishes.”

The third and final oil, known simply as the sacred chrism, will be used by the clergy both during confirmation and the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Bishop Rhoades expressed his excitement at how many people would experience the sacraments in the coming year, and at how the recently consecrated and blessed oils would an important role in these efficacious signs of grace by which divine life is dispensed. He quipped his hope that so many sacraments are administered that priests have to ask him to bless more oil of catechumens.

Bishop Rhoades blesses and dismisses the presbyterate outside of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception after Mass on Tuesday, March 26. – Joshua Schipper

After Mass, the presbyterate, diaconate, and seminarians formed a semi-circle around Bishop Rhoades outside as he blessed and dismissed them to minister to their flocks, having received new oils with which to carry out their ministry.

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