By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published March 27, 2008
By linking the oils of the church, waiting to be blessed, with living as followers of Christ, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory encouraged and challenged a gathering of more than 170 priests and hundreds of lay people at the Chrism Mass held March 18 at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
During this Holy Week Mass, the archbishop blesses chrism, a mixture of olive oil and balsam, which is used for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and holy orders in the archdiocese. The oil of catechumens for baptism and the oil of the sick for that sacrament are also blessed at this liturgy. Each parish receives a portion of the blessed oils following the Mass to use for the coming year.
In his homily, the archbishop examined the power of oil and invited those present, especially the priests, to renew themselves as earthen vessels of this transformed substance in order to strengthen and sanctify the people of the church.
“Oil has such a penetrating quality and power that makes it difficult if not impossible to completely contain,” the archbishop said. “It is this very power to permeate; to invade, to seep into the tightest spots, the closest quarters, and the most inaccessible places that ultimately makes oil helpful. Even the oldest, most corroded and stubborn material eventually will succumb to oil’s ability to penetrate and to loosen.”
The church’s use of oil builds upon this feature, the archbishop said.
“This quality of oil is not lost in the church’s ritual use of this product of human labor,” he said. “Summoning the very power of oil, the church blesses it and bestows upon olive oil its spiritual, transforming grace. Each year we gather in this Cathedral church to bless a new portion of oil. … We beg God to bestow upon this ordinary common substance his extraordinary grace and energy.”
The priests who will use these oils in celebrating sacraments also need to experience that penetrating alteration, Archbishop Gregory said.
“Our prayer this evening should also be that the oil really does penetrate anew our own hearts and minds,” he said. “We acknowledge that indeed we may have become rusty and stubborn and hard-to-move during the past year. The oils that the church uses to sanctify her people must also touch, lubricate, loosen, restore and energize the hearts of those who have become the vessels of the Holy Spirit for the life of all God’s people.”
Like the glass containers each parish brings to the Mass to receive “these precious oils,” he said, “may the oils touch our lives and soak into our very being” and work conversions in the hearts of those who consecrate the oils, use them and bring them to the parishes.
In addition to the blessing of oils, this Mass focuses on the priests’ commitment to their vocation and local church.
“Are you resolved to be faithful ministers of the mysteries of God, to celebrate the Eucharist and the other liturgical services with sincere devotion?” Archbishop Gregory asked the priests. “Are you resolved to imitate Jesus Christ, the head and shepherd of the church, by teaching the Christian faith without thinking of your own profit, solely for the well-being of the people you were sent to serve?”
The voices of the priests answered in unison with a strong, “I am.”
Following the renewal of commitment, the Cathedral Choir began to sing “O Redeemer” as the jars of oil and balsam were placed on a table behind the altar. The archbishop then invoked the ancient prayer of the church for the blessing of the chrism. A special prayer was said for the oil of the sick and the oil of the catechumens, followed by consecration of the chrism.
“Let us pray that God our almighty Father will bless this oil so that all who are anointed with it may be inwardly transformed and come to share in eternal salvation,” said Archbishop Gregory just before breathing on the open vessels of chrism.
The vessels were then placed aside as the Liturgy of the Eucharist began. Archbishop Gregory invited all the priests to join him at the altar for the consecration of the Eucharist, emptying the pews in the front half of the Cathedral.
All of the priests spoke the words of the consecration with the archbishop, signifying the unity of the local church that is celebrated during the Chrism Mass.
At the end of the Mass, Archbishop Gregory thanked the priests for the hard work they do every day throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The assembly responded with a loud round of applause to show their agreement with the archbishop’s sentiments.
Melissa De Leon, a parishioner at St. Patrick Church, Norcross, attended with her husband, Wilfredo, and their two children, Angel and Phoenix. She has been a parishioner at the church since she was baptized there as a child and was invited to the Mass by Msgr. Bill Hoffman.
“It was very beautiful,” said De Leon. “It really moved me.”
This year the Mass time was moved from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. so the priests could participate in a day of reflection beforehand. The two events are usually held on separate dates, but the Council of Priests voted to hold them on the same day out of consideration for priests who serve in outlying areas of the archdiocese.
Father Steven Yander, chaplain at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Atlanta, felt the day of reflection renewed the priests’ “commitment to be of service to the church.” He described the day as “very valuable,” noting that it was “a nice opportunity to be led in reflection of what it means to be a priest.”
The day for the priests began with lunch, followed by a talk from Benedictine Abbot Marcel Rooney, former abbot primate of the order. The priests were given some quiet time, then listened to another talk and ended the day with the sacrament of reconciliation.
Parishioners began filing into the Cathedral well before 5 p.m., and many priests were busy in a gathering area, visiting with other priests as they vested for Mass. Others could be found in the church, quietly talking with their parishioners who came to support them.
Following the joyous procession out of the church at the end of Mass, the priests again visited with their parishioners, friends and fellow priests before gathering in the Cathedral’s social hall for a dinner to end the evening.