MIRA MESA — Bishop Robert W. McElroy celebrated the diocesan chrism Mass April 11 at Good Shepherd Parish.
The annual liturgy derives its name from the perfumed oil that is used in conferring the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and priestly orders.
Among the highlights of this special liturgy is the moment in which the bishop consecrates the sacred chrism and blesses two other sacred oils: the oil of the sick, used to administer the anointing of the sick, and the oil of the catechumens, used as a preparation for baptism.
The oils are distributed to each parish, where they are used throughout the year in sacramental celebrations. Parish representatives picked them up at the conclusion of Mass.
Early in the liturgy, Bishop McElroy described these oils as “symbols to us of God coming into the world and touching us at the very core of our lives, overpowering us with love, and mercy, and compassion that knows no bounds.”
In his homily, he recounted the story of a Catholic parish in Ruhango, Rwanda, during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. That parish has come to be seen as “a miracle amidst all of the turbulence” of that time and is now a peace shrine.
The parish community was almost evenly divided between members of the Tutsi and Hutu tribes, the bishop said. When Tutsi militias came to the church seeking Hutus to slaughter, they found the parishioners intermingled, not segregated according to tribe. And the Hutus refused to abandon their fellow parishioners.
Bishop McElroy said this true story illustrates “in a very real way” what the chrism Mass is really about: the sacraments that will be celebrated over the next year with the oils that he was about to bless, and the significance of those sacraments.
Those Rwandan parishioners had come to understand that, through baptism and confirmation, “everyone has to be active in defense of the faith; we cannot be passive,” the bishop said. The parish’s weekly celebrations of the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, he said, brought the recognition that we are all in need of healing. And their missionary priest’s selfless decision to remain with his parishioners instead of evacuating provided an example of a shepherd willing to lay down his life for his sheep.
“God’s salvation has taken place once and for all in the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord,” Bishop McElroy said, “but takes place again, and again, and again in our own celebrations of the sacraments in our parish communities, the sacraments which we prepare for by the mysteries of this chrism Mass.”
The chrism Mass, in addition to being the occasion for blessing the sacred oils, also serves as a celebration of priestly ministry. The entrance procession for this year’s liturgy included about 80 priests, who concelebrated the Mass with Bishop McElroy and filled an entire section of pews. Seated in the sanctuary with Bishop McElroy were retired Bishop Robert H. Brom and Auxiliary Bishop John P. Dolan.
In another traditional highlight of the chrism Mass, Bishop McElroy invited the priests in attendance to publicly renew the promises they made at ordination.
He beseeched the congregation to pray for their priests, “that the Lord may pour out His gifts abundantly and keep them faithful ministers of Christ, our high priest.” He also requested their prayers that he might “faithfully execute the apostolic office entrusted to me in my lowliness” and, each day, conform himself more closely to the image of Christ.
When the bishop invited the congregation to give thanks for their priests, the entire church broke into applause.