Now in most diocese, like our own Diocese of Harrisburg, the Chrism Mass is celebrated sometime during Holy Week - which the preference of the Church is that the Chrism Mass be celebrated on Holy Thursday morning. But, in most places it is not practical - or sometimes even safe - to gather all the priests together on Thursday morning and then rush them back to their parishes to begin the Sacred Triduum.
However here in Rome, with so many priests from around the world - it is entirely possible to do as the ritual books intend - that on the morning of the day on which we commemorate the beginning of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, all the priests of the Diocese of Rome (and those living and visiting here) gather with their Bishop - the Pope being first and foremost the Bishop of Rome - to renew their priestly promises in his presence - and to bless and consecrate the Sacred Oils (of the sick, of catechumens, and the Chrism) that will be used in the Sacraments of the Church during the coming year.
So, this morning I walked with the Cardinal to Saint Peter's Basilica to concelebrate the Chrism Mass.
While the Cardinal went off to vest with the other cardinals, I went once again to the Braccio di Costantino - where all the priests vested last weekend for the Bishop ordination. I again entered through he Bronze door - where the Swiss Guard and other security officials were checking our credentials - our celebret (the document from our Bishop that tells people I really am a priest and can celebrate the Mass - which is what celebret means - "let him celebrate"). Once inside I vested for Mass and, since I walked over with the Cardinal, immediately joined the pre-procession of the priests to their place inside St. Peter's Basilica.
Once more I walked down the center aisle of the Basilica, which normally is blocked off so that tourists don't walk on it. We approached the Papal Altar and the columns of Bernini, and I was ushered to the left side of the Papal Altar - and there sat down to prepare for the Mass. I had already made a Holy Hour this morning - praying over the Renewal of Priestly Promises which is part of the ritual for the Chrism Mass. But I once again reviewed them in the worship aid (the the Vatican provides for every Papal liturgy).
As I was reflecting, I looked at the altar - and remembered that it stands directly overtop the tomb of St. Peter--and I thought, here I am, sitting overtop the tomb of St. Peter... with Peter - the Pope- the Vicar of Christ and visible sign of the Unity and Universality of the Church - and I am surrounded by 100's if not 1000's of priests and bishops from every country and continent - gathered here with "Peter" to renew our promises and celebrate the Holy Mass.
AN ASIDE: I don't know if I've said it in previous posts or not - but these past two weeks have been VERY emotional for me. If you do not know me well, I'm a pretty emotional guy - and I'm OK with that. I may sometimes give an air of not having feelings, but they are often very close to the surface and it is in my own life of prayer that those feelings and emotions are brought to God. Well, these two weeks have been VERY emotional for me. When I boarded the plane in New York on March 9, I sat down and just started bawling, I couldn't stop... reflecting on all that I was leaving (family, friends, home, brother priests, all I knew and was familiar with) to begin a new job, a new ministry in a new country. I have no doubts that it IS God who brought me here, but none-the-less, it was (is) hard to leave everyone and everything...
OK, that said, with all the raw emotion that has been so close to the surface these past weeks, today was no different as I sat in St. Peter's reflecting and praying. And it came back several times during the Mass (keep reading...)
The procession begins (and I noted that the Holy Father was using, not his usual crozier - but the crozier of Pope Saint John Paul II), Mass begins, readings, homily (which I'll have to download and read later since it was in Italian) - then the renewal of promises by the priests. Here is where emotion hit once again: I was reflecting on the readings during the homily - and heard again the words of both the Prophet Isaiah and Luke (in the Gospel) - "the Spirit of the Lord has anointed me..." This is the deepest reality of the Sacred Priesthood: it is not mine, it is Jesus Christ's - HE is the One who has anointed me with the Sacred Chrism, configured me to serve as an alter-Christus (another Christ), to be his minister on behalf of God's people, nourishing and reconciling them in the Sacraments. Oh my, what God has done in my life!
The Renewal of Priestly Promises is always moving... The Bishop (Pope Francis) said: "My beloved sons, on the anniversary of that day when Christ our Lord conferred His priesthood on His apostles and on us, are you resolved to renew in the presence of your Bishop and God's holy people, the promises you once made?
"Are you resolved to more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to Him, denying yourselves and confirming those promises about sacred duties towards Christ's Church with, prompted by love of Him, you willingly and joyfully pledged on the day of your priestly ordination?
"Are you resolved to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist and the other liturgical rites and to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching, following Christ the Head and Shepherd, not seeking any gain, but moved only by zeal for souls?"
I AM - the priests respond to each question. I AM. I am resolved - and this yearly renewal of promises helps every priest resolve once more: to serve God, not myself; to faithfully teach what the Church teaches; to minister to God's holy people with a zeal for souls, and to remember the love, joy and willingness we felt on the day of our ordinations (which this year is 20 years ago...).
Then the Holy Father addresses the people of God: "..."pray for your priests..."
I have been asking so many of you to pray for me as I begin this new ministry of service to the Church - the larger Church and most especially the people of the Holy Land. AND YOU HAVE BEEN PRAYING! THANK YOU! As I said above, it's been an emotional time for me - yet knowing the many prayers you are offering for me has been a source of GREAT strength and encouragement. Please know that as you pray for me, I am also praying for you... Daily. Each day, as I pray my rosary, I remember the people of every parish in which I have ever served, asking God to shower His blessings upon you. As I wrote in previous posts, I visited the Basilica of St. Andrew and the relics of St. Francis Xavier - and when I find something of St. Joseph, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Jude and St. Margaret Mary (for Sacred Heart, Lewistown), I'll remember you in those places as well.
|The Pope breathes on the Sacred Chrism - sign of the breathe of the Holy Spirit|
There's another reflection I have on today's Mass. At the conclusion there is always a Marian Hymn - in this moment, the Ave, Regina Caelorum. As that was sung today, the Holy Father went before the image of Mary at the altar and prayed - and at the conclusion he lovingly and tenderly reached out and touched the image of Mary - then made the sign of the cross. What a gesture of devotion and love for Mary our Mother. It speaks to his interior love for Mary. I was moved...
Sorry for so LONG a post today - but I wanted to share all that I was thinking and praying about as I was joined with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for today's Chrism Mass - the Mass of the Oils.