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Oils blessed, promises renewed at delayed chrism Mass

Deacons pray during the Sept. 14 chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

Clergy and some lay faithful gathered Sept. 14 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland to participate in the chrism Mass at which Archbishop William E. Lori blesses sacramental oils used in parishes and where priests of the diocese traditionally renew their promises.

With a stay-at-home order in place in the spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, the chrism Mass, usually celebrated the Monday of Holy Week (April 6 this year) was eventually celebrated on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, still with limits on attendance and social distancing, and with all in the congregation wearing face coverings. About 250 attended.

In his homily for the Mass, the archbishop reflected on the readings that the congregation would have heard during Holy Week as well as the readings for the feast of the Holy Cross. 

“Had we gathered for the chrism Mass during Holy Week, we would have heard Jesus announce to the people of Nazareth the mission which God the Father had entrusted to him. … In today’s feast, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, our eyes of faith behold how Jesus accomplished that mission, for which he was anointed and sent,” Archbishop Lori said.

“The Scriptures proclaimed this night tell how Jesus fulfilled his saving mission, and the blessing of the holy oils invites our renewed participation in that mission.”

The archbishop said the mission of those in the archdiocese is linked to Christ’s surrender on the cross. 

“By the oils we are to consecrate and bless this evening, we are anointed with the same Spirit who anointed Jesus in the Jordan, the same Holy Spirit that Jesus breathed forth at the moment of his death. Indeed, the oils that we shall consecrate and bless signify and convey the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who enables us, each of us, to participate in deeply beautiful ways in the saving mission of Jesus,” he said.

Archbishop William E. Lori breathes over chrism oil three times as he consecrates the oil during the Sept. 14 chrism Mass. The action symbolizes the breath of the Holy Spirit. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

“The anointing we received in baptism and confirmation carries with it the call to holiness and the call to spread the Gospel by word and deed.”

He reminded the priests at the Mass that they continue the mission and ministry of Jesus to baptize, celebrate the Eucharist, forgive sins and “the anointing we received in baptism and confirmation carries with it the call to holiness and the call to spread the Gospel by word and deed.”

“This night, dear brother priests, as we renew the promises of our priestly ordination, we ask the Holy Spirit to engender in us anew the holiness and humility of Christ, as we work together with one another to build up the church, the Body of Christ, as we work with our brother deacons, religious, and our lay collaborators, and as we accompany the people we are privileged to serve in these difficult days, opening for them a path for returning to full participation in the Mass and sacraments,” Archbishop Lori said. 

The archbishop thanked those present “not only for your ministry in ordinary times, but also in these difficult times.

“The coronavirus pandemic has indeed imposed upon us restrictions not to our liking, but we are here this night, firmly united in faith and hope, and utterly convinced, that nothing and no one can keep us from sharing in the unbounded victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death.”

Even the preparation and distribution of the holy oils was different from prior years. The oils are: the oil of the infirm, used for the anointing of the sick; the oil of catechumens, used in the preparation of catechumens for baptism; and sacred or holy chrism, used to anoint the newly baptized, seal candidates for confirmation, anoint the hands of presbyters, anoint the heads of bishops at ordination and to dedicate churches and altars. 

With the postponement of the chrism Mass, priests were advised in late March to use their current oil stocks until new oils were distributed at the chrism Mass, which was not yet scheduled. Priests were also reminded that the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens may be blessed by a priest on an ad hoc basis according to the blessings provided in the respective rites.

Ss. Philip and James parishioner Tilwana Walker-Griffin fills small vessels of holy oil Sept. 9 at the Catholic Center in Baltimore. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

Although those two oils are blessed, the chrism is consecrated, something only the bishop of a diocese can do. The oils all start with simple olive oil, 114 liters (about 30 gallons) for this event. A fragrance – usually a balsam mix – is added to the chrism. Although Archbishop Lori cannot be present physically for every baptism, confirmation and anointing in the archdiocese, he is able to be present through the holy chrism and blessed oils.

In years past, a group of about 40 volunteers from the cathedral would wait until the oils were blessed and then move to its basement, where they would carefully distribute the oils into vessels brought for the purpose by each parish. To minimize contact during the pandemic, this year Julie Grace Males, director of the archdiocesan Office of Divine Worship, several staff members and a few volunteers from the cathedral prepared individual bottles of each oil in advance. 

After pouring in the fragrance for the chrism, the archbishop breathed over the oil three times, symbolizing the breath of the Holy Spirit, to consecrate the oil. 

Priests or parish representatives picked up the quantities they had pre-ordered of chrism and the blessed oils on the way out of the cathedral.

Father Michael Triplett, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City, said priests in the archdiocese were encouraged to renew their ordination promises during livestreamed Holy Week services. While he found it encouraging that parishioners were praying with him and Father Robert Katafiasz, associate pastor, as they did that, “it is good to do it with the archbishop and our unity, our solidarity with him. He’s certainly been a great leader in the midst of these challenging days,” Father Triplett said.

Use the navigation arrows below to watch a photo slideshow; story continues beneath.

Vessels containing sacramental oils quietly waits near one of the side chapels at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland prior to being blessed by Archbishop William E. Lori during the Sept. 14 Chrism Mass. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)
Michael and Michelle Burke, parish representatives from St. Anges Catholic Church in Catonsville and St. William of York Catholic Church in Ten Hills pickup holy oils from Catholic Community of St. Francis Xavier, Hunt Valley, parishioner Pam Custer following the Sept. 14 Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland. The annual tradition was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic shutdown which started in March. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)
A maximum COVID capacity of some 300 priests, deacons and parish representatives attended the rescheduled Sept. 14 Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

He said the parish was not in danger of running out of the oil of the inform or the oil of catechumens, which can be blessed by priests. However, the parish confirmed 65 youths in five Masses over the summer. The priest had to use a separate cotton ball dipped in chrism (which were burned after the sacrament) for each of the confirmandi. Because of that, the parish used more chrism than normal, so the pastor went to the cathedral to get more from a reserve held there for such purposes.

Monsignor Carl Cummings, pastor of St. Jane Frances de Chantal in Pasadena, agreed that it was good to be with the archbishop and his brother bishops for the Mass, but that it was a little surreal that the number of people who usually attend the Mass were not able to be there. “Hopefully, it will be the last time we do something like this,” he said.

Melissa Haigley, from left, Gail Fennessey, Roxane Chambers and others prepare holy oils Sept. 9 for the Sept. 14 chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland. The annual tradition normally celebrated in the spring was rescheduled due to the global coronavirus pandemic. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

Monsignor Cummings said gathering for Mass and celebrating the Eucharist “means everything, really, because we’re here to serve the people and minister to the people who helped build the community. And without the Mass, there’s really not a community to build.

Before the Mass, Deacon Wardell Barksdale of St. Bernardine Parish in Baltimore and his wife, Sharon, prayed in the sparsely filled cathedral. For him, the Mass is an opportunity to be ministered to, because he doesn’t have to serve at the Mass. “I always enjoy (the chrism Mass) because it’s like a refresher. It gives me a pause to sit still.”

He said he has not let the pandemic affect his ministry. “I just thought about carrying on with the service that I do,” he said.

Karen McCabe, who attends St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Crofton with her family, said it was a blessing to be at the chrism Mass, the first since her husband, John, was ordained a deacon in 2019. 

The oils that are blessed in the Mass and used in the sacraments are significant. “You really realize how much the Catholic faith means to you and what the oils represent. This is very moving, very touching,” McCabe said.

Email Christopher Gunty at editor@CatholicReview.org

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