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Chrism Mass in Holy Week helps with return to ‘normal’

Deacon Bill Fleming places the Oils of Catechumens on a table for blessing by Archbishop William E. Lori during the chrism Mass March 29 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

Attending the chrism Mass March 29 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland was part of getting back into the regular rhythm of church life, according to one attendee.

Jim McDonnell, business manager of Our Lady of Victory in Arbutus, said, “It’s important to do as many things normally as we can, that we are allowed to do.” 

He was referring to the fact that last year, all Holy Week celebrations in the archdiocese were celebrated without the presence of the public. The chrism Mass, at which the sacramental oils for all the parishes are blessed and consecrated each year, was moved from its traditional slot on the Monday of Holy Week to September 2020.

Other members of the delegation from Our Lady of Victory included McDonnell’s wife, Pat, who called herself a “volunteer extraordinaire,” and Deacon Dan Michaud, and his wife, Gabrielle.

Pat McDonnell teaches confirmation classes and one of the lessons they teach is about the oils used in the sacrament. 

“It means a lot to be here, especially when the oils are blessed,” Pat McDonnell said.

In his homily for the Mass, Archbishop William E. Lori noted that Holy Chrism is used for those who are to be baptized and confirmed and for those to be ordained deacons, priests and bishops. 

Archbishop William E. Lori celebrates a socially distanced chrism Mass March 29 at the Cathdral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

“Surely, we rejoice that God is blessing the archdiocese with many priestly vocations, yet, numerically, more laity are anointed with chrism than those of us in Holy Orders,” he said.

Acknowledging the “most difficult year” that everyone has endured, the archbishop noted that included illness and deaths, financial hardships and more.

“Those tensions and challenges extended to the practice of the faith, as our churches and ministries labored under restrictions and safety precautions. In the process, commitment to the faith may well have waned on the part of some,” he said.

A parishioner who strongly disagreed with restrictions on worship wrote to him that she was hoping to see some “light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Reading her note,” the archbishop said, “I did see light at the end of tunnel; it was a train coming toward me!” The congregation in the cathedral laughed at the notion.

He said some people who wrote to him said they found themselves praying more this past year.

Watch a video of the chrism Mass below. Story continues beneath.

The archbishop thanked the laity – those gathered in the cathedral as well as those watching via livestream – “for living out your baptismal anointing with patience, perseverance and love; and for sustaining a host of ministries, both parish and archdiocesan, ministries that embody and extend Christ’s mission ‘to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.’”

He addressed the deacons, priests and bishops at the Mass, thanking them for the delicate balance of keeping parishioners safe while trying to open churches and provide ministries as well as possible, given the restrictions.

Archbishop William E. Lori breathes over chrism as he calls down the Holy Spirit and consecrates the oil during the March 29 chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

“As we emerge, God willing, from this pandemic, we ask to be renewed in that mission foreseen by Isaiah, fulfilled by Jesus, and now entrusted to us as his priests,” the archbishop said. “Out of love for the Lord and for our people, may we personify this mission, dedicating our lives to evangelizing both the spiritually and materially poor, rekindling the church’s eucharistic faith in the Year of the Eucharist that lies ahead, offering spiritual freedom to those held captive by sin, opening the eyes of many to the light of the Lord’s truth and love, and working to bring justice to those oppressed by racism and other societal evils.”

After the homily, the priests in attendance stood to renew their priestly promises. The rite also included prayers for the laity and for Archbishop Lori, “that in your midst I may be made day by day a living and more perfect image of Christ, the Priest, the Good Shepherd, the Teacher and Servant of All.”

To begin the solemn ritual for the oils – the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens, which are blessed, and the Holy Chrism that is consecrated – four deacons brought forward vessels with each oil and the balsam that would be added to the chrism. 

The archbishop first prayed over and blessed the Oil of the Sick, and then the Oil of Catechumens. Putting on his miter, he then added the balsam to the vessel containing the chrism and stirred it. Then, after removing his miter, he blew over the vessel in the shape of a cross, calling on the breath of the Holy Spirit to sanctify the chrism. 

He then extended his hands over the vessel, as the priests in the congregation extended their hands at the same time. He invoked the prayer of consecrated over the chrism, which will be used for the ordination of deacons, priests and bishops, as well as for the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. 

Darron Woodus picks up sacred oils and chrism for Holy Family Church following the March 29 chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen In Homeland. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

Before the Mass, Darron Woodus, pastoral associate to the urban vicar, Bishop Denis J. Madden, said it is always good to participate in the Mass at which the oils that are used to welcome people into the church are blessed. 

“It’s refreshing,” Woodus said. “It’s great to be able to do this in Holy Week.”

He said it was not as hard to celebrate Holy Week this year, even with limitations on attendance, social distancing and masks. 

“It couldn’t get tougher than last year. It was painful” to miss all the worship opportunities last year, said Woodus, a member of Holy Family Parish in Randallstown.

With the cathedral configured with four of every six seating sections blocked, a little more than 300 people attended the Mass, including seminarians, who sat in the choir loft. Priests and deacons sat in the upper and lower sanctuaries and in the pews on the south side of the main aisle, and laity on the north side.

Priests who attended the Mass seemed pleased to participate in the Mass and eager to be able to help their parishioners celebrate Holy Week and Easter. 

Father Andy Aaron, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Davidsonville, said the parish held two well-attended outdoor Masses for Palm Sunday, even though it was raining. The parish distributed palms using gloves.

He recalled looking at a photo recently from Palm Sunday Mass last year, when the church was empty and the liturgy was livestreamed only. “It’s nice to be able to get people back to the expression of faith.”

All Saints Sisters of the Poor Mother Emily Ann Lindsey, right, and Deborah Rose Rosado pick up their community’s sacred oils following the March 29 chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

Over the past year, the parish formed small faith-sharing groups that meet via videoconference, and these have been well-received. 

“People have really stepped up,” Father Aaron said, noting that parishioners have also been coming in a lot for confession.

From St. Mark Parish in Fallston, Father Michael Foppiano, pastor, said he has seen a slow but steady uptick in attendance. His church does not have pews, but chairs, which has allowed the parish flexibility in configuring the space for social distance, allowing about 200 people to attend.

“The regulars are so happy to be back in church, they’re willing to do whatever we ask of them” in terms of distancing, wearing masks and cooperating with ushers.

He said there is a growing frustration that singing by the congregation is still not allowed. “There’s a little sense they want to break out of things,” Father Foppiano said, noting that it’s odd to get up at the beginning of the Mass with an announcement telling the faithful that they cannot linger after Mass chatting with fellow parishioners. 

“It’s the antithesis of everything church is supposed to be,” he said.

Email Christopher Gunty at editor@CatholicReview.org.

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