Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Merry Chrismas

It's official name might be the "Holy Thursday Mass of the Priesthood," but it's more frequently called something else... and it doesn't usually take place on Thursday, either.

Try not to be confused.

In the majority of Stateside dioceses, whether in their cathedrals or even larger parish churches, the Chrism Mass -- the lone "family reunion" mandated by the rubrics -- is happening today. Whether the issue is a local church's vast spread of ground or simply a desire to ease the already intense Thursday schedule, the celebration is predominantly held before its traditional time to allow the largest-possible participation of people and priests alike, and it almost always attracts overflow crowds. Many dioceses have also used the earlier timing to extend the observance with a day of recollection for their presbyterates, often including a shared meal before or after the liturgy.

The Chrism Mass takes its name from the last of the three oils blessed during the rite, which are then used throughout the diocese for the next year. While the bishop alone prays over the Oils of the Sick and of the Catechumens, the "Sacred Chrism" -- used at baptisms, confirmations, ordinations of priests and bishops and the dedication of churches and altars -- is consecrated in unison by the bishops and priests after the prelate ritually breathes over the oil (left).

The priests then renew their ordination promises, and the rite calls for the bishop to beg for prayers that he might "become more like our High Priest and Good Shepherd, the teacher and servant of all, and so be a genuine sign of Christ’s loving presence" among the people. (While the Mass is designed to be celebrated by the diocesan bishop, vacant dioceses often have to scramble to "import" a high-hat to fill the role.)

Dioceses holding their Chrism Masses today or tonight include Boston, New York, Chicago, Galveston-Houston, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Louisville, Atlanta, Miami, Manchester, Worcester, Raleigh, Belleville, Camden, Madison, Norwich, St Petersburg, Covington, and the archdiocese for the Military Services. While this Holy Tuesday marks the "peak" day for the liturgies, several others were held yesterday, with even more slated for tomorrow. And among the relatively few keeping to the traditional Thursday morning time are Brooklyn, St Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Detroit. Pope Benedict will celebrate Rome's diocesan Mass on Thursday morning in St Peter's Basilica.

Even with the disparity of timing throughout Holy Week itself, the celebration can even be held prior to Palm Sunday, as it was in San Jose, Santa Fe and Seattle last week and earlier still in Honolulu, where it took place in early March. In Utah's statewide diocese, Bishop John Wester presided over Salt Lake's Chrism Mass last Thursday night in the Cathedral of the Madeleine; videostream is up, and the audio of Archbishop Thomas Collins' homily on preaching and the Word at this morning's liturgy in Toronto has already gone live.

As another Triduum dawns and another Lent passes, no words could ever express enough thanks to the many priests who serve in our midst -- often heroically or amid great hardships, but always with the utmost love, compassion, kindness, fidelity and selflessness.

Stay strong, fellas, take care of yourselves and keep up the great work.

PHOTOS: St James Cathedral, Seattle(1,3); Southwest Kansas Register(2); Archdiocese of Toronto(4)