By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published April 28, 2011
The sanctuary of the Cathedral of Christ the King was calm and quiet just before the annual Chrism Mass on Tuesday, April 19. A floor below, nearly 200 priests from around the archdiocese were quickly vesting in preparation for the liturgy.
Nearby, a handful of volunteers organized the varying glass stocks that would soon hold the newly blessed oils, while lay Catholics began filing into the archdiocese’s mother church for this unique liturgy.
Then, the long line of priests, preceded by deacons, processed into the sanctuary, along with Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
At this Mass during Holy Week, the archbishop blesses chrism, a mixture of olive oil and balsam, which will be used for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and holy orders in the local church. The oil of catechumens for baptism and the oil of the sick for the sacrament of anointing the sick are also blessed at this time. Each parish in the archdiocese receives a portion of the blessed oils following the Mass to use for the coming year.
The Chrism Mass also serves as an opportunity for the priests of the archdiocese to renew their commitment to the priesthood and to the people of the local church, a point the archbishop spoke about during his homily.
“These oils are a physical reminder of what the Lord Jesus wishes to do for his people through our priestly service,” Archbishop Gregory told his brother priests. “Christ Jesus seeks to comfort the infirm, to strengthen them for the struggle against physical illness and spiritual debility. Christ Jesus desires that his people be fortified in our struggle against the powers of evil and darkness.”
Following the archbishop’s homily, the priests participated in the renewal of commitment, during which they promised to be faithful ministers of the Church and to remain steadfast in their desire to imitate Christ in their daily work. The lay members of the church were asked by Archbishop Gregory to continue their prayers for the clergy of the archdiocese.
“My very dear brothers and sisters present here, please pray for your priests. Ask the Lord to bless them with the fullness of his love, to help them be faithful ministers of Christ the high priest so that they will be able to lead you to him, the fountain of your salvation,” said Archbishop Gregory.
Three large vessels of oil were then brought before the altar as the archbishop prayed over them, asking God to bless the oil and fill it with the power of the Holy Spirit.
“Make this chrism a sign of life and salvation for those who are to be born again in the waters of baptism,” Archbishop Gregory prayed. “Through this sign of chrism grant them royal, priestly and prophetic honor and clothe them with incorruption. Let this be indeed the chrism of salvation for those who will be born again of water and the Holy Spirit.”
“These oils are destined for the sanctification of young and old alike,” said the archbishop. “They belong to the mission of the Church as we use them to comfort those who have grown weary with age and sickness, those who are young and vibrant with hope, and those who are selected to share in the priesthood of Christ the Lord. We bless these oils and recommit ourselves to the ministry to which the Lord has called us.”
After the vessels of blessed chrism were removed from the altar, the volunteers downstairs worked quickly to fill the individual stocks brought by each parish and have them ready to be picked up by members of the parishes after the Mass.
Jackie Marcinko, a parishioner of the Cathedral, has been assisting with the distribution of the blessed oils for nearly 20 years.
“It is quite an honor,” she said. “My team feels connected to the whole archdiocese through this. Everyone who is baptized, confirmed or ordained in the archdiocese will use these oils.”
Marcinko’s daughter, Beth, a sophomore at St. Pius X High School, Atlanta, has been helping her fill the stocks since she was in fourth grade. Father Joe Shaute, pastor of St. Clement Church, Calhoun, has dubbed the mother-daughter team as the “queen and princess of oils,” as they have a very important role in preparing the chrism to be taken back to the parishes. Beth said the event has become a staple of Holy Week for their family.
“I like looking at all the different stocks,” she said, adding that parishes bring everything from mason jars to bottles to flasks to be filled with oil. Her favorite is the set from St. Monica Church in Duluth, which she said looks like a treasure chest from “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Janey Wilcox, another volunteer, said participating in the Chrism Mass “gives a whole new dimension to Lent.” She has been helping with the oils for about 15 years, though she has missed one here or there over the years.
“Holy Week just doesn’t feel the same without it,” she said.
The Chrism Mass also provides a chance for priests and laity to catch up with former pastors or the parishioners whom they may not have seen in a while. One priest likened the event to the Eucharistic Congress, where old friendships are rekindled and a revitalizing sense of commitment is established.
“This Chrism Mass is . . . a time for us to reflect on all that has happened in our lives,” said Archbishop Gregory to his fellow priests. “It is a moment to think back on what brought us to the Lord’s altar in the first place, a time to recapture the reasons we first decided to offer our lives as priests of the Lord Jesus.”
“So too, at this Chrism Mass, a few of the wondrous people of our archdiocese gather with this beloved Presbyterate to consecrate these oils, to witness our renewal of our priestly commitment, and to express their affection for us all,” the archbishop said.