CHARLESTON—Priests affirmed their commitment to the sacred beauty and the challenges of ministry at the annual Mass of the Oils held April 11 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
The chrism Mass is held on the Tuesday of Holy Week in the Diocese of Charleston, although it is traditional to hold it on Holy Thursday in many other locations.
It is called the Mass of the Oils because the bishop consecrates the sacred oils that will be used in sacraments over the coming year. Priests also renew their vows at this time.
The sacred oils are oil of catechumens, used in baptism; oil of the sick, for anointing those who are ill; and sacred chrism, considered the Church’s chief anointing oil and used for dedicating churches, altars and other sacred objects, at baptisms and confirmations and for holy orders.
More than 110 priests and dozens of deacons processed down the Cathedral’s center aisle at the beginning of the Mass. The priests sat together in rows surrounding the altar and prayed aloud in unison during the liturgy, their mingled voices offering a testament to the power of God’s word.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone delivered a meaningful homily that touched on both the spiritual triumphs and the daily trials of priestly life. He based it on the Gospel reading of Luke 4: 16-21, which is used each year at the chrism Mass and tells of Jesus arriving in Nazareth, reading the prophecies of Isaiah in the synagogue and telling the crowd the Scripture passage has been fulfilled. Shortly after this announcement, people started berating Jesus for claiming to be the anointed one.
Similarly, Bishop Guglielmone said, priests face adversity as they go into their ministry after being anointed at their ordination.
“The message of this Gospel is harsh and many will not find it easy to accept,” the bishop said. “As priests, we must realize that the words of Christ’s teaching won’t be heard by all the people to whom we are called to preach.”
“When we were anointed at ordination, in a real sense we were to become Christ for others,” the bishop continued. “When we said yes, we committed ourselves to give our lives away, to offer ourselves joyfully in sacrifice to our brothers and sisters … to reach out through sacraments, through counseling, teaching and healing, and being available to people in tribulation. We may be persecuted, but we are committed to give of ourselves.”
Bishop Guglielmone said that recent years have been difficult for men who give their lives to the priesthood.
He noted how priests and Christians overseas face persecution and sometimes death for their beliefs. He spoke of the challenges of ministry here in South Carolina, including the shortage of priests trying to serve every parish in a state with a growing Catholic population. He also touched on the isolation and loneliness many men may deal with because they serve a diocese that stretches across a state.
Bishop Guglielmone reminded everyone that despite the challenges, there still is great joy in serving God in a growing diocese only two years from its bicentennial celebration.
“We forge on with the support of our people and reflect on the excitement we felt when we heard God’s call,” he said. “We rejoice in our history and look ahead to ways we might find new ways to share God’s word.”
After the Mass, many of the priests stood outside the Cathedral talking with each other and with friends and parishioners who had attended to show support for their spiritual shepherds.
Father Dennis Willey, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Church in Chapin, said the chrism Mass is an important chance to spend some time with his brothers in ministry.
“Like the bishop said, it is very difficult for all of us as priests to get together and communicate because we are so spread out around the state,” Father Willey said. “This Mass is a very important celebration of the fraternity we share.”
The chrism Mass is also a time to honor priests celebrating milestone anniversaries. Celebrating their 25th jubilees are Father Jesuprathap Narichetti and Father Patrick Eyinla. Fifty-year jubilarians are Benedictine Father Paul Brenninkmeijer, Father Frederick LaBrecque and Father Jerome Ward.