By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published April 15, 2004
Some 150 priests from around the archdiocese and their faithful parishioners gathered at the Cathedral of Christ the King on April 6 of Holy Week for the annual Chrism Mass, where they renewed their vows to the priesthood and holy oils were blessed for their sacramental use over the next year.
The principal celebrant, Archbishop John F. Donoghue, called it a time of reconciliation and healing for the church, referring to its mishandling of cases of sexual abuse by clergy. He shared a related message from the Holy Father from his recent visit with him in Rome.
“By your efforts the Church is being renewed from a bad time—a time of trouble and shame, brought by the few, but suffered by the many,” the archbishop said. “The Holy Father last Friday acknowledged the pain through which we have passed, and encouraged us all, saying: ‘I am confident that the willingness which you have shown in acknowledging and addressing past mistakes and failures, while at the same time seeking to learn from them, will contribute greatly to this work of reconciliation and renewal. This time of purification will, by God’s grace, lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate and a holier Church, a Church ever more convinced of the truth of the Christian message, the redemptive power of the Cross of Christ, and the need for unity, fidelity and conviction in bearing witness to the Gospel before the world.’”
The faithful who spilled out of the pews and lined the aisles came on the sunny and warm spring day to the Mass of blessing of the oils and consecration of the chrism to support their archbishop and priests, ranging from the aged and frail to the youthful, newly ordained, and from places ranging from Vietnam to Nigeria to Milledgeville.
Roberta Meadows of St. Stephen the Martyr Church, Lilburn, said she fell in love with this Mass a few years back.
“I’ve been in love with it. You realize why ‘catholic’ means universal. Our church is here in a microcosm.”
She noted how the archbishop called the oils the balm of faith for their souls and, at eight months pregnant, that her unborn child will be baptized with some of them.
“As they (the priests) bring back to our parish not only oils but the sacramental ministry, they provide to us that which soothes, that which comforts, that which brings forgiveness.”
In his homily the archbishop said oils are used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, holy orders and the anointing of the sick.
“The oils that we bless today bring all this sacramental blessing to mind, which is the life of the Church, invigorated when God reaches down, to prove His love, to lift us up, out of sin, out of indifference, out of despair—to restore our dignity, through these gifts, given and sealed by the life of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. And we are ministers of these gifts.”
He said that the recommitment to priestly service celebrates the sacrament of holy orders, through which the Lord has called priests to celebrate the other sacraments and to serve all the household of the church.
“Priestly chastity keeps us bound to the strength of Christ Himself—poverty releases us from considering the cost of our labor, so that we may rejoice solely in its results—and obedience—obedience, the commanding sister of the gentler promises—obedience weds us to the inevitable and unchangeable will of Jesus Christ, our Master, our Lord—and makes us, as priests of His Church, and like Him, in the words of St. Paul, ‘faithful witnesses’ to the will of His Holy Spirit.”
He called the priests to stay grounded in Christ, resisting pride. “…Obedience tied to humility is the very essence of how we survive, and at the same time, the hardest of all virtues to have and to hold … Pride fights obedience and humility every step of the way. And every step of our priestly way, in order to stay humble and obedient, we must supplicate the Lord, to wash us—hands, feet, head, body and soul. This is the true lesson of mandatum.”
He then addressed the Scripture reading where Jesus washes Peter’s feet. On that subject, the archbishop recently made a controversial decision to not allow women to participate in foot washing ceremonies of Holy Week. He told the congregation that Jesus’ assertion that ‘unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me,’ is (Christ’s) description of daily humility and obedience. And “Peter was answering for us, for priests of every generation until the end: ‘Master, not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.’”
He asserted that Jesus’ statement that “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later” speaks to how priests learn through experience the truth that all the answers exist in the “treasury of the church” and that the “wisest way” is to obey it and the Holy Spirit. “If priests do not do this, if they do not bow and live according to the will of God, then how will those they serve?”
He said that the people of God find within the priests of this archdiocese the light of Christ, revealed through Scripture and apostolic tradition. The pope had also told him, “The Council (has summoned us urgently) to pray, work and hope that the image of Christ may shine ever more brightly on the face of the Church—that summons calls for a constant reaffirmation of faith’s assent to God’s revealed Word and a return to the sole source of all authentic ecclesial renewal: the Scriptures and the Apostolic Tradition as authoritatively interpreted by the Church’s magisterium.”
To the priests he concluded: “I entreat you, this last time, to find your happiness in the Lord’s heart, to do His will as it is given to you, and to look for Him, as He has said, in the faces of those you are called to serve.”
He then read a final message from the Holy Father:
“As we strive to meet the challenges which lie ahead of us, let us never cease to thank the Triune God for the rich variety of gifts which he has bestowed upon the Church in America and to look with confidence to the future which his providence is even now opening before us.”
Following the homily, the priests stood and renewed their commitment to the priesthood and their bishop. The resounding words “I am” filled the Cathedral as the priests responded to the archbishop’s questions of whether they were committed to serve their brothers and sisters in Christ. Then the archbishop first blessed the oil of the sick, used in the sacrament of anointing to bring comfort and healing, and then the oil of the catechumens, used to prepare them for baptism. Lastly, he prepared, consecrated and blessed the chrism, which is used to anoint the newly baptized, seal candidates for confirmation and anoint the hands of priests at ordination. It is also used to anoint and dedicate new churches and altars.
The Chrism Mass was a time for Father Terry Crone of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Woodstock to gather with other priests and to reconnect his ministry to Jesus. The Mass “reminds me that we’re part of the universal church celebrating the same thing all over the world. All the ceremonies are consistent throughout the world. It’s one church called (through) the death and resurrection of Jesus,” said Father Crone, one of several priests to have graduated from Georgia Tech and been a member of its Catholic Center.
Leutario Perez, who is originally from Ecuador and attends daily Mass at the Cathedral, said that the Mass enriched his Holy Week experience in being joined with others from around the archdiocese. “The Holy Spirit enters the person. I feel happy, full.”
Kathy Brooks brought her 5-year-old son to the service. “I really want him to have an appreciation of the priesthood and to realize the priests are very special people and all they do for us and to point out priests we know to him and point out the consecration because I want him to understand the most holy time,” she said. “It’s just such a beautiful Catholic tradition he can look at, (and) the stained glass and see the beautiful statues and have an appreciation for our rich Catholic faith.”
Brooks received “a sense of peace from (seeing) all these men who have dedicated their lives to us, just a sense of gratefulness for all they do for us, laying down their lives for us. We just want to support them.”