By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published April 12, 2007
In a conference room below the Cathedral of Christ the King, Jackie Marcinko’s team is ready.
White paper cloths cover three long tables, marked with instructions written in black marker.
A little table, one constructed for children, surrounded by tiny chairs, is covered with containers of all shapes, sizes and varieties.
There are empty mayonnaise jars and water bottles, film canisters and jelly jars. There are large, beautifully ornate crystal vessels and smaller silver containers resting in felt-lined black cases.
It’s the Tuesday of Holy Week, April 3, and upstairs, more than 150 priests are concelebrating the annual Chrism Mass, during which Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory will bless the oils to be used for the administration of the sacraments during the coming year. The Cathedral holds a packed congregation—people lining the walls and spilling into the vestibule, watching as the archbishop prays over the three large silver urns of oil that will be used to bless all those in the archdiocese who will be baptized, confirmed, receive the sacrament of the sick or be ordained this year.
But little is known about the process of distributing all that oil from the Mass to the more than one hundred parishes and Catholic communities throughout the archdiocese.
Marcinko, a parishioner at the Cathedral and a teacher at Christ the King School, has been coordinating the division and distribution of sacred oil for well over a decade. For this mother of two, her role during Holy Week is more than a duty, it’s a calling.
“I take my baptismal call very seriously. I really feel called to serve, and I know there is something very important about this type of service. The church needs people who are organized and who don’t want the limelight and are happy to be behind the scenes,” she said.
On the day of the Chrism Mass, Marcinko and her team of three other women, plus her 12-year-old daughter, Beth, get to the Cathedral early to begin setting up the conference room. The priests begin to arrive, dropping off their various oil stocks that will be filled.
“We get all sorts of containers. Some parishes have really ornate and fragile stocks that they display their oil in, so they don’t want to bring those and bring other containers instead,” Marcinko said.
The team then attends the Mass, during which Archbishop Gregory speaks of the significance of the oils in his homily.
“Jesus is always faithful to His mission of healing, freeing, forgiving, and sanctifying all those who seek Him. He is faithful to His promises through us and in our works of ministry and service. Yet His fidelity far exceeds our works and remains constant even when we fail as His servants,” the archbishop said.
“These oils that we shall apply to the sick, to those who are preparing to join the Church, to those who are consecrated by the Church in Baptism and Confirmation and upon those designated for sacramental ministry are the signs that Jesus continues His prophetic service to the world. It is a promise that He makes to the Church, one that He never forgets nor ever abandons.”
Because the followers of Jesus are called to be his hands and feet, his eyes and voice, the oils are a sign of Christ’s own presence, Archbishop Gregory said.
“When we visit and comfort the sick, it is Christ Himself who heals and forgives them. When we form and teach the young, it is Christ Himself who explains the mysteries of God’s kingdom to them and invites them to enter God’s reign. When we bless and consecrate our brothers and sisters, it is Jesus who sanctifies them through our actions,” he said. “Christ remains faithful to His promises through us. These sacred oils are signs of His power, expressions of His strength, and witnesses to His fidelity in this local Church.”
Archbishop Gregory also had words for his brother priests, who annually renew their ordination promises at the Chrism Mass.
“I myself made those very same promises as did each one of you but in another local Church. I also made additional promises without then knowing your names, or having your faces etched clearly in my heart, or loving you then as I do now,” he said. “I promised to care for you, my brothers in Christ—to be your brother and your father in Christ. I also gladly renew those promises this day. I do so because I have witnessed your goodness, your generosity, your joy, and your devotion to me and to this local Church.”
He urged the priests to take better care of themselves—to watch their weight and cholesterol levels, and to take a vacation and a retreat each year.
“These are not unimportant concerns for you or for me. They are the prudent measures that we must take to provide the proper and fitting care of our people. They are one sure way that the renewal of our priestly promises will last as long as the Good Lord would have them last.”
Following the homily, the priests stood and renewed their commitment to the priesthood and their bishop, and the congregation committed to praying for their clergy.
The procession of the oils followed as three large silver urns containing the oil of the catechumens, the oil of the sick and the sacred chrism were brought to the altar.
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.
Marcinko and her fellow oil pourers leave quietly right after Communion. Soon after they make their way to the conference room downstairs, seminarians bring the large silver urns containing the blessed oil.
As the women pour, the room soon fills with the aroma of the balsam-scented chrism.
Janey Wilcox has been serving at the Chrism Mass along with Marcinko for more than 10 years. A parishioner of Holy Cross Church in Atlanta, she said she looks forward to the Mass each year.
“This is something most Catholics don’t ever get to see—where the oil comes from,” she said, while pouring. “It connects you to the archdiocese, in a way. Today, the first parish I filled was my parents’ church.”
This is the third year to participate for Linda Rozakis, a Cathedral parishioner.
“I never even thought about how the oil got blessed until I was asked to participate,” she said. “But the sense of the Holy Spirit I feel during this Mass is incredible. It’s almost overwhelming (to participate). We are pouring the oil that will be sent out into the community. In a sense, it’s like the way we are supposed to spread Christianity to the world.”
Beth Marcinko, who is in the sixth grade at Christ the King School, has been attending the Chrism Mass since “before she could walk.” Now she takes the day off from school to assist as a runner, going up and down the stairs taking the filled oil stocks to a table for the priests to pick up as they leave.
“It’s fun to be able to help. It’s amazing to see all those priests together in one place. I think it’s neat that they take the time out from their own parishes to come here and bless the oil,” she said.
Heidi Bergmann, like the other women, takes a day off from work to serve as an oil pourer.
“It’s worth it—a million times over. It’s just a joy. It’s a special way to celebrate the Lenten season. Not many people get to do this. It’s a special calling,” she said.
As a teacher, Marcinko’s primary service to the church is as a catechist. Her role within the Chrism Mass helps to bring her lessons to life, she said.
“As someone who teaches religion, I talk about these oils with my students, and because of this, I have intimate knowledge,” she said. “All the oil for the whole diocese flows from one Mass, and in a small way, we’re a part of every person who will be anointed—the sick, baptized, confirmed and ordained. This is really a calling.”