ROCHESTER — Nearly 900 people streamed into Sacred Heart Cathedral April 7 to be present when Bishop Matthew H. Clark blessed the oils that will be used during sacraments this year. People traveled to Rochester from every corner of the diocese for the annual Chrism Mass, where dozens of diocesan priests also renewed their commitments to priestly ministry.
“There are few times that rival the splendor and joy and wonderful spirit of this Tuesday night of Holy Week,” Bishop Clark said during the liturgy.
As the liturgy began Thomas Warfield, director of the Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf Dance Company, performed a liturgical dance as the Diocesan Festival Choir provided instrumental music. Then the cathedral’s new Halloran-All Saints Organ came to life as more than 60 priests slowly filed down the center aisle two by two. The line of priests flowed down the center aisle and around either side of the altar and ambo like water flowing around a rock in a stream bed. After all the priests, deacons and Bishop Clark had arrived in the sanctuary, the ordained joined in with the congregation and the choir in a triumphant final verse of the gathering song.
After the Liturgy of the Word, Bishop Clark turned to face his brother priests and asked them to continue to sacrifice for the good of their flock, imitate Christ and celebrate liturgical services with sincere devotion. He then turned to those in the congregation and asked their blessings for himself and the other priests.
“Ask the Lord to bless them with the fullness of love, to help them be faithful ministers of Christ, the high priest, so that they will be able to lead you to Christ,” Bishop Clark said. “Pray also for me, that despite my own unworthiness I may faithfully fulfill the office of apostle which Jesus Christ has entrusted to me.”
After the priests had renewed their commitments to priestly service, representatives of various faith communities and health-care institutions came forward bearing vessels containing the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of Catechumens and the Sacred Chrism. Bishop Clark asked God to bless the oils and those who would be anointed with them. After the oils had been blessed they were poured into many smaller vessels. After the liturgy had ended more parish representatives picked up these vessels and brought them back to their own faith communities, where they will be used to anoint the sick and as well as those being baptized, confirmed and ordained this year.
Bill Ritz, a member of Holy Ghost Parish in Gates, said that these sacraments somehow take on even more meaning after having been a part of the Chrism Mass and watching the bishop bless the oils. Ritz, who has faithfully attended every Chrism Mass held during the last decade, has fallen ill and been anointed with the Oil of the Sick several times, and each time he’s recalled the joyful celebration during which the oils were blessed.
“It does something for you,” Ritz said of the Chrism Mass.
Jeanette Housecamp, who was attending her first Chrism Mass, said she’ll never watch another baptism without thinking about the liturgy, which she described as beautiful and emotional.
“I cried twice. What a prayerful experience,” said Housecamp, faith-formation coordinator and youth minister at St. Michael Parish in Newark. “It’s so rich with tradition, but what I liked about it was that even though there was so much tradition, it was so contemporary as well. It was a good mix.”
The blessing of the oils was the single most important part of the evening, but all of the liturgy’s elements combined created a beautiful celebration, noted Jack Black of St. Paul Parish in Webster.
“It’s very uplifting to see the priests renew their vows, and there’s a tremendous sense of celebration through the music, through the singing and through the dancing,” he said.
Marian Cool, a member of Holy Family Parish in Auburn, went to her first Chrism Mass in the 1970s and has made a special effort to attend each year since then.
“I think that the liturgy itself is so exciting and beautiful because it’s a special celebration, and everything has so much meaning because of Easter coming,” Cool said.
Cool said she also enjoys the reunion atmosphere present at the liturgy and the reception afterwards, where she gets to visit with friends from other areas of the diocese.
“Sometimes that’s the only time you see people,” she said. “There’s a real unity, a sense of the whole diocese coming together.”
“That’s the joy of it, agreed Sister of Mercy Edna Slyck, pastoral minister at Immaculate Conception Parish in Ithaca. “It’s always an awesome experience of church coming together.”