The Chrism Mass is one of the most joyful and intense liturgies of the year, in my experience as a bishop. It evokes the joy I feel when celebrating Masses of priestly ordination. I also feel the faith and vitality of the diocesan Church as so many laity and religious fill the cathedral to pray for our priests as they renew their priestly promises at the Chrism Mass. Their love for our priests is evident as they spontaneously erupt in applause for our priests at some point during the liturgy.
The readings and prayers at the Chrism Mass offer rich material for prayer and reflection, centered on the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the consecration that anointing brings about. The Anointed One, Christ Himself, was consecrated our great High Priest. At the Chrism Mass, we recall that His priesthood, by God’s design, continues in the Church. The consecration of the chrism which will be used at Baptisms and Confirmations reminds us that “Christ… adorns with a royal priesthood the people he has made his own.” The chrism will also be used to anoint the hands of the newly ordained priests and reminds us that “with a brother’s kindness Christ also chooses men to become sharers in His sacred ministry through the laying on of hands” (Preface of Chrism Mass).
The Roman Missal says that the Chrism Mass “should be, as it were, a manifestation of the Priests’ communion with their Bishop.” Though I experience that “communion” with my priests at other concelebrated liturgies during the year, the experience is particularly intense at the Chrism Mass. I am reminded of my own priestly ordination and thereby feel united “as a brother” to all the priests who renew their priestly promises. We share a special unity in consecration and mission, a shared love for Christ and His Church that flows from the grace of our priestly ordination.
When I look out at the priests during the Chrism Mass, I see younger men whom I was privileged to ordain. For me, they are “spiritual sons” in a unique way. I see priests my age, with whom I share a similar priestly and cultural formation and experiences. I see priests who are older, many who have served in the ministry many more years than I. They are men whose fidelity inspires me since they have truly born borne “the burden of the day and the heat” (cf. Mt 20:12). All these brothers in the one priesthood of Christ have given themselves to the service of the Church and witness to the Lord who is our Teacher, Priest and Shepherd.
The actual renewal of priestly promises at the Chrism Mass reminds us of the integrity to which we are called as priests of Jesus Christ. The Church, through the Bishop, asks the priests if they are resolved “to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to Him,… and to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God…”. The questions refer to self-denial, not seeking gain and zeal for souls. These questions humble us since we know our failures and weaknesses. It is good that we publicly express our desire and resolve, trusting in God’s grace, to be converted anew as disciples and witnesses of the Good Shepherd. We who are confessors are also penitents who need to seek again and again the pardon and strength of God in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
The Prayer over the Offerings at the Chrism Mass expresses in a succinct way the powerful petition we offer especially for our priests: “May the power of this sacrifice, O Lord, we pray, mercifully wipe away what is old in us and increase in us grace of salvation and newness of life.” This is a prayer filled with hope in the power of the Eucharistic sacrifice to renew us in our priestly life and ministry. The Eucharist, which Pope St. John Paul II called “the principal and central raison d’etre of the sacrament of the Priesthood,” which we offer every day for our people, also purifies us in the mystery of the Redemption. In His great mercy, the Lord truly wipes away what is old in us and bestows upon us an increase of His grace.
The renewal of priestly promises, the blessing of new oils and the consecration of new chrism remind us of the perennial “newness” of the Gospel, of our faith, and of the ministerial priesthood. Of course, we remember the past; we remember our ordination; and we remember the Paschal mystery. We remember with thanksgiving, yet in remembering, we experience new joy and hope which brings new fruitfulness to our ministry. For me, this is the beauty and the power of the Chrism Mass each year.
Reprinted with permission from Our Sunday Visitor’s The Priest magazine.
Chrism Mass schedule
Monday, April 10: 7:30 p.m.,
St. Matthew Cathedral, South Bend
Tuesday, April 11, 7:30 p.m.,
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception,
All are welcome and encouraged to attend these Masses.
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