The Chrism Mass and the Renewal of Priests in Continuity with the Priesthood of Christ
Each year on Monday during Holy Week, the Archdiocese of Washington celebrates the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle.
For the priests of our local Church, the Chrism Mass is one of the high points of the year – at that Mass, more than 200 priests in attendance, including veteran and recently ordained priests, stand together and renew their priestly commitments, the promises they made at their ordination to serve our Lord and his Church. They unite themselves more closely to Christ in the service of their people.
On that evening, we priests celebrate the memory of the first Eucharist when Christ shared with the Apostles the call to priestly service, the birth of the priesthood, saying, “Do this in memory of me.” Today’s priests continue to bring Jesus to people through the Real Presence of the Blessed Sacrament, which is what we do in memory of Jesus, and the priesthood is how we do it in his memory.
Also at the Chrism Mass, as the Archbishop of Washington, I bless and consecrate the oils that will be used throughout the year at sacramental celebrations at parishes. The oil of catechumens is used to anoint those preparing for baptism. The oil of the sick is used to anoint those who are seriously ill, and the holy chrism is used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Holy Orders.
The priests attending the Chrism Mass renew their priestly promises together, and they stand together around the altar to concelebrate the Holy Mass. United as brother priests serving our family of faith in the Archdiocese of Washington, their ministry renewed in Christ, they then go home to their parishes in the city, the suburbs and surrounding countryside. They take with them the oils they will use to administer the sacraments to their people, as a sign of Christ’s enduring love and hope for them.
The uniqueness of the Catholic priesthood is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ. The priest becomes in a sacramental way another Christ and is charged to do the things he did during his ministry – to serve and walk with his people, as their priest, spiritual leader, teacher, guide and minister of the sacraments. This is what we priests do from the day of our ordination, and what we will continue to do until the day we are called home to God our Father.
It is inspiring to reflect on how we as priests are living links in a chain reaching back over 20 centuries to contact the very person of our Lord, and reaching forward through and beyond time and the human condition to Christ, his kingdom and the fullness of his glory.
Our ministry is constantly caught up in helping people recognize that kingdom of God at work in our midst.
Thus it is that every time we as priests exercise our ministry at the baptismal font through the outpouring of water and the Holy Spirit, a person does truly receive new life, life in Christ, and membership in a spiritual and unending kingdom.
Thus it is that every time we as priests exercise our ministry in the sacrament of reconciliation when sins are absolved, or anointing of the sick when Christ’s physical and spiritual healing power is present, we participate in a physical and spiritual renewal that transcends our personal capabilities.
Thus it is that every time we as priests exercise our ministry and preside at the sacrament of matrimony, where the power of God is at work uniting a man and woman to be symbols of Christ’s own love for his Church, we bless the coming together of a man and a woman in a communion of life and love.
Thus it is that every time we as priests exercise our ministry in the holy sacrifice of the Mass where the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Christ in the Eucharist, do we truly realize the memorial of the Lord’s death and Resurrection in a way that this central event of salvation becomes really present and the work of our redemption is carried out.
The Chrism Mass – this annual reunion and homecoming for our priests where we renew our promises to serve the Lord and his Church, then go forth with the sacramental oils – should remind all of us of the gift of Christ’s priesthood, and the priests who by their lives and by their love make him present to us every day.