Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson J. Perez consecrates the chrism oil during the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul on April 6, 2020. CNS photo/Sarah Webb, CatholicPhilly.com

‘Anointed to Anoint’

The renewal of priestly promises and going forth with the oils

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We celebrate Chrism Mass in my diocese on the Wednesday of Holy Week. The pews fill with Catholic schoolchildren in white shirts and navy pants and skirts. Buses from Lakeland, Ocala, and the coast unload elderly parishioners who would not otherwise be able to make the two-hour drive to Orlando. I enjoy seeing familiar faces from past parishes. Some are former parish staff. Some went through RCIA. Some hold up a cellphone with one hand and wave with the other while calling out, “Hi, Father David!”

My mom leaves my dad at home and arrives an hour early so she can get a seat near the action. The religious sisters and the permanent deacons and their wives add even greater life to the gathering. The Chrism Mass puts the people into the People of God.

If the Chrism Mass is like a family reunion, the gathering of the priests is the reunion of brother priests. Father Ed, may he rest in peace, sat in a motorized wheelchair in front. Returned to the priesthood after alcohol had lost him everything, he was an icon of redemption and gentleness. (He was a favorite confessor for priests.) I look forward to seeing two of my former parochial vicars who are teaching at the regional seminary and forming the next generation of priests. With the passing of years, I know more of the priests and their stories, and I feel great love and gratitude for them.

Renewal of Priestly Promises

After the bishop’s homily, everyone leans in for the Renewal of Priestly Promises. What is striking is that we do not repeat our original promises from ordination. It is a renewal, not the repetition, of priestly promises.

I am not a liturgist, but there seems to be at work the same principle as in the Order of Blessing a Married Couple where the couple does not repeat the exchange and consent from their wedding, which is given only once and forever. We priests, rather than repeating the promises of prayer, celibacy and obedience, renew instead our resolve “to be more closely conformed to the Lord Jesus,” “to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God,” and “to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching.”

“To be more closely conformed to the Lord Jesus” puts our relationship with the Lord prior to our ministry in his name. Father Adrian Nocent, OSB, wrote in “The Liturgical Year (Volume Three): The Paschal Triduum, The Easter Season” (The Liturgical Press, $9.19), “What redeems us is not, strictly speaking, the shedding of his blood and his death (many people suffer and die all the time), but what these signify, namely, his perfect self-giving to the Father by doing the Father’s will.”

Christ’s obedient offering of himself to the Father redeems us. Even as Christ’s relationship with the Father was lived out in his self-offering, being conformed more closely to the Lord Jesus makes us more able to offer the sacrifice that sanctifies us.

The “faithful steward of the mysteries of God” came home on a three-day private retreat. I had set up for a private Mass in the outdoor pavilion of the retreat center. It was midmorning on a weekday. No one was around. Approaching the altar to reverence it with a bow and a kiss to begin the Mass, I sensed an unseen person brushing past my right side and going to the altar.

He was purposeful and almost indifferent to me. If I could put words into his mouth, he was saying, “Make way. I got this.”

My response was, “Okay. That was weird.”

The moment made clear that Christ was the one making the eternal offering. He offers himself through the Mass for the salvation of the world. He is the priest. I am his faithful steward of the mystery. Every Mass, when I stand ready to process up the main aisle, I hear those words: “Make way. I got this.”

Sacred Office of Teaching

Another of the priestly promises, “to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching,” was last year put to the test.

In homilies and weekly pastor letters, I addressed the racism made manifest in the killing of George Floyd. I taught with the statements from the bishops. The parish held a holy hour of prayer. We organized study groups on the 2018 pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts.” Some parishioners differed. They thought that I should condemn protesters and dismiss systemic racism as a few bad apples.

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ANOINTING OF OIL AND THE CATECHISM

“Anointing with oil has all these meanings in the sacramental life. The pre-baptismal anointing with the oil of catechumens signifies cleansing and strengthening; the anointing of the sick expresses healing and comfort. The post-baptismal anointing with sacred chrism in Confirmation and ordination is the sign of consecration. By Confirmation Christians, that is, those who are anointed, share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit with which he is filled, so that their lives may give off ‘the aroma of Christ’” — Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1294.

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In the month before the November general election, I again took seriously the responsibility to “discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching,” this time teaching the fullness of the bishops’ statement on political responsibility, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” and its nuances. Again, not everyone wanted to hear what the Church had to say. It would have been easier to say little or nothing. But there stood that promise, “to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching.”

Mass Is About Anointing

The Chrism Mass is the context of the Renewal of Priestly Promises. It is called the Chrism Mass, not the Mass of Renewal of Priestly Promises, for a reason. We priests are not the main attraction. The Mass is about anointing. The collect reminds us that the Son was anointed with the Holy Spirit. The title “Christ” means “the Anointed One”:

“O God, who anointed your Only Begotten Son with the Holy Spirit and made him Christ and Lord, graciously grant that, being made sharers in his consecration, we may bear witness to your Redemption in the world.”

Sharers in His Anointing

All the People of God, not just priests, have been made sharers in his anointing. The rubric for the homily instructs the bishop to “speak to the people and his priests about priestly anointing” [emphasis added]. In other words, the Chrism Mass homily is for the schoolchildren, the busloads of elderly, the deacons and religious, the volunteers and my mom — and we priests, that “we may bear witness to your Redemption in the world.”

The people, by virtue of baptism, share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. They live it out when they join the Lord Jesus in taking up their daily cross and offering their own lives in constant surrender to God.

We priests, in turn, have been consecrated — set apart — to assist our brothers and sisters in becoming truly self-giving. The blessed and consecrated oils are means of sanctifying them. When we preside at the Eucharist, the ordained priesthood in service to the baptismal priesthood, our sacrifice is joined with the all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Pope Francis, in his homily for the 2019 Chrism Mass, put it more simply: “We are not distributors of bottled oil. We have been anointed to anoint.”

Oils that Go Forth

Father Paul Turner, the pastor of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City, Missouri, and the director of the Office of Divine Worship for the diocese, in a Pray Tell blog post from April 4, 2012, reflected that the assembly at the Chrism Mass is praying “especially for our sick, our catechumens, our infants, our confirmandi, our new priests, and our new churches and altars.”

The prayers, like the oils, go forth from the Chrism Mass. If I may offer a personal example, my brother and his daughter suffer from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). They deal daily with extreme fatigue unrelieved by rest or sleep. Other daily companions are brain fog, fibromyalgia, burning sensations, vertigo, dizziness, muscle weakness, eye sensitivity and resultant social isolation. ME has unknown causes and is progressively debilitating. (Ironically, the pandemic has brought attention to ME as some victims recovering from COVID-19 report similar symptoms.) When I bring them Communion and the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, I bring with me the healing power and prayers of the Chrism Mass. The Chrism Mass renews my anointing to anoint them.

We anointed ones, the priests and bishop of the diocese, anoint with the oils from the Chrism Mass. The anointings renew and strengthen those baptized and anointed with Christ’s death and resurrection. “Being made sharers in his consecration, may we bear witness to your Redemption in the world.” We have been anointed to anoint.

FATHER DAVID SCOTCHIE is a priest for the Diocese of Orlando and has served in five parishes. He holds a doctorate of ministry in preaching from the Aquinas Institute in St. Louis and is an instructor in homiletics.

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RENEWAL OF PRIESTLY PROMISES

“The actual renewal of priestly promises at the Chrism Mass reminds us of the integrity to which we are called as priests of Jesus Christ. The Church, through the bishop, asks the priests if they are resolved ‘to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him, … and to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God … .’ The questions refer to self-denial, not seeking gain and zeal for souls. These questions humble us since we know our failures and weaknesses. It is good that we publicly express our desire and resolve, trusting in God’s grace, to be converted anew as disciples and witnesses of the Good Shepherd. We who are confessors are also penitents who need to seek again and again the pardon and strength of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” — Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, “The beauty and the power of the Chrism Mass,” Today’s Catholic newspaper, April 5, 2017

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