I always enjoy photographing the annual Chrism Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral. The sight of clergy from all corners of the diocese processing into the church, the sound of the Diocesan Festival Choir joined by the congregation as they belt out beautiful hymns, the smell of the incense as Bishop Clark begins the Mass by incensing the altar – all of it is grand and exhilarating to behold.
But what I always enjoy most is the part of the evening when I duck down into the cathedral’s basement to watch as a group of volunteers carefully fill hundreds of vessels with the oils blessed during the Mass. Even though they are missing an inspiring Mass, the volunteers seem energized and happy to help. They carefully pour the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of Catechumens and Sacred Chrism into anything from a small steel vial to a thin glass pitcher to a plastic jug. Some of the vessels look like they could be 100 years old, others look shiny and new.
I love taking photos of the bottles and thinking about how each has its own history and how each embodies the spirit of the church it comes from. Some of the vessels are housed in new, pristine baskets, maybe only touched by a few hands. Others sit in weathered leather cases, worn over time by the hands of dozens of dedicated parishioners and priests. One vessel I saw even travels in an old, wooden cigar box (photo below). Some vessels are slightly ornate, others are simple and unadorned. Each has its own character but all share a common purpose, to hold the holy oils that will anoint people and things throughout this diverse diocese in the coming year.