Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Chrism Mass Witnesses To God’s Presence In The Mixing Of Water And Oil

By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published March 31, 2005

Some 170 priests from around the Atlanta Archdiocese joined their new shepherd Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory for the annual Chrism Mass celebrated March 22 at the Cathedral of Christ the King.

During the Mass on the Tuesday of Holy Week, the archbishop blessed the holy oils to be used by priests in the archdiocese for administering the sacraments during the coming church calendar year, and priests renewed their priestly vows made at their ordination. Following the Mass, the archbishop hosted a luncheon for the priests.

Catholics packed into the pews and spilled into the aisles of the Cathedral. In the choir loft music directors from over 10 parishes joined the Cathedral choir members for the solemn and prayerful liturgy, which featured three musical pieces that were specifically written for it.

In 1971 Hamilton Smith, the Cathedral’s director of music ministry, composed “O Redeemer” for then Archbishop Thomas Donellan’s celebration of the Chrism Mass. The piece accompanied the procession of the oils from the back of the church to the table of preparation. It has been sung at every Chrism Mass for the past 34 years. In 1988 the Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians commissioned the noted musician Robert Twynham, the longtime music director of the cathedral in Baltimore, to compose music for the entire Chrism Mass, and the Gospel acclamation was taken from that setting. And in 2000 the Cathedral of Christ the King commissioned Richard Proulx, arguably the most important figure in American Catholic music, to compose a Communion processional piece specifically for Atlanta’s Chrism Mass.

The priests, ranging from those newly ordained to the retired, from the Philippines and Haiti, to those who have always called Atlanta home, lined up two-by-two and processed into the church toward the altar, some smiling to parishioners and others resting their palms together in prayer. Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue and Dom Francis Michael Stiteler, OCSO, of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, sat behind the altar. Archbishop Gregory chanted an opening prayer, asking God’s help for Catholics to be faithful witnesses in the world.

Kate Oates, director of religious education at St. Monica’s Church, Duluth, attends the Mass yearly and likes how it brings all the diverse groups of the church together, from the Missionaries of Charity to the seminarians.

“It really is Catholicism on parade. Everything we love, who we are, is celebrated. It kicks off Holy Week,” she said.

The archbishop opened his homily recalling that while physics was his worst subject in school, he did manage to grasp the concept that oil and water don’t mix. But through the miracle of God’s power they do, he asserted. He began speaking about the power of the Oil of the Sick.

“This blessed oil seeks to reassure the sick that they continue to enjoy a unique bond with Christ as the ministry of healing and comforting the sick remains even today a sign of the mission of the Messiah. The Church continues Jesus’ own activity of seeking out those who are sick in body and spirit and touching them with His own healing power,” he said. “As we bless the Oil of the Sick, we must remember in prayer John Paul II who has made the care of the sick such a personal focus of his own Petrine Ministry and who himself this year relies upon the healing and comfort that come to him from the prayers of the People of God.”

He explained that those entering the church are first anointed with the Oil of the Catechumens to strengthen them for their Christian walk, and they will then be anointed with holy chrism as new images of Christ. He also applies the chrism to youth at confirmation.

“(Chrism) is a sweet scented oil that should reveal to the entire world the wondrous fragrance of Christ Jesus’ risen presence throughout all of creation” and is “the oil of choice” for those being ordained to the priesthood.

Addressing the priests he said, “My dear brothers, we have all been anointed in the name of the Lord not because we were better, more worthy, or holier than our lay brothers and sisters, but because we were all summoned, through the power of God’s own Spirit, to help all of those who belong to Christ to draw closer to the Lord by means of the service that we exercise in the name of and in the person of Jesus Christ.”

He acknowledged the special challenge priests face today following the sexual abuse crisis.

“There are many who doubt if any individual can or even ought to attempt to live or to love as Jesus lives within and continues to love the Church. There are great numbers of people who believe that chastity is an unreasonable way of living either for clerics or for anyone for that matter of fact. The world has increasingly little comprehension of and no understanding about such an exclusive way of living for God. Unfortunately, the too numerous examples of our human frailty and awful decisions have given the world a countersign of what true celibate love must and was always intended to mean,” he said. “We are mere mortals. We have far too many faults that are today known by far too many people. We have made solemn promises to live in the world in imitation of Jesus; we cannot do so without the Lord’s own grace. Pray for those who are called to ordained ministry.”

He also asked for prayers for increased vocations so that the dedication and service of those who minister “will continue to signify the power of Christ’s love for His Bride, the Church.”

He concluded by noting how later in Holy Week those entering the church will be cleansed with these sacred oils, and during the Easter season thousands of youngsters will be confirmed and new priests will be anointed with the chrism. The elderly and infirmed will be comforted and strengthened by the Oil of the Sick, as well.

“Those who many years before were brought to life through the waters of baptism will receive a final unction of salvation from the oils that we bless here today. Water and oil do mix. They do so by the power of God and the mixture is a witness of God’s presence in the world. It’s not a matter of physics but the very work of God’s Spirit.”

Following the homily, priests, answering their shepherd, renewed their commitment to the priesthood and their archbishop. The procession of the oils followed as large silver urns containing the Oil of the Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick and the chrism were brought to the archbishop by the deacons. The archbishop blessed the Oil of the Sick, used in the sacrament of anointing to bring comfort and healing, and the Oil of the Catechumens, used to prepare them for baptism. He poured balsam in one urn of oil and stirred it, and then consecrated and blessed the chrism that 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.

Archbishop Gregory incensed the altar and walked down the center aisle wafting the incense among the pews as the priests quietly looked on, wearing white vestments with a ribbon of hunter green, black and gold in a v-shape across the back.

Following the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the archbishop asked the congregation to show their appreciation for the priests, at which time those present engaged in extended applause.

Oates said she has a special appreciation for the function of the oils.

“When he breathes over the oils, it’s really remarkable and to see all the priests coming together. To me, it’s vocations support.”

She liked how the archbishop came into the assembly during the Mass.

“He just seems to be a very humble man, very approachable. His presence is very nice, very prayerful. I liked some of the different touches. It really was a celebration of both the oils and the priests. I liked how he brought them both together,” said the director of religious education. “I loved the Communion song that had Old English.”

Legionary of Christ priest Father Emilio Diaz moved to Atlanta only two months ago from New York. He is impressed with Atlanta’s vibrancy and expressed a sense that Archbishop Gregory really is “the good shepherd among us.”

“We’re very happy to join Archbishop Gregory for the Chrism Mass. He gave us a very beautiful homily and invites us to meet him. It’s really beautiful to see so many priests so faithful to the church and so enthusiastic about the priesthood which, for us, was a great encouragement so that was great.”

Father Diaz was preparing for the Holy Week Mega Mission, an organized effort in the archdiocese to visit people in their homes and invite them to church. The Chrism Mass was renewing, he said.

“It’s always a great experience to participate in Holy Week. You remember what Christ has done for you and how He died for each of us and opens heaven for us all. This week is an expression of His love and mercy. We can see there is a lot of hope in the church. We have to continue to pray, especially this year the Holy Father talks about (as) the Year of the Eucharist.”

Father Guyma Noel, pastor of Christ Our Hope Church in Lithonia, also felt strengthened as a priest.

“The renewal of my vows together with Archbishop Gregory just creates in me a sense of purpose in my priestly life,” he said.