By Catholic News Service
(Editor’s note: Bishop Joseph Kopacz’ chrism Mass homily can be found on page 3 of this issue.)
WASHINGTON (CNS) – A number of Catholic bishops referenced the clergy sexual abuse scandal during local chrism Masses in calling for a renewal of the priesthood and greater partnership in serving the church among ordained priests and the laity, whose priesthood of service is guaranteed by baptism.
Each diocese celebrates a chrism Mass to bless the oils used in sacraments and long-standing prayer rituals throughout the year. Priests also renew their vows of service to God and the church at the Mass.
A chrism Mass traditionally is celebrated the morning of Holy Thursday, but it can be moved to another day to accommodate the needs of a local diocese. In the Diocese of Jackson, it is on the Tuesday of Holy Week.
Citing Pope Francis’ letter to U.S. bishops as they met in retreat in January to pray and reflect on their role as ordained clergy, Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, said the pontiff called for a “new ecclesial season.”
The retreat was planned in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis that rose anew in 2018, in part around questions about how some prelates handled abuse allegations.
“(The pope’s) words to the bishops are also a good instruction for every priest: ‘What is being asked of us today is a new presence in the world, conformed to the cross of Christ, one that takes concrete shape in service to the men and women of our time,'” Archbishop Etienne said.
The new ecclesial season, the archbishop said at the April 10 Mass, can be found in the way Jesus encountered people, engaging them in the “reality and messiness of their lives.”
“He invited them to a fuller experience of life, by entering a personal relationship with him, inviting them to follow him, and asking that they make a free gift of their life to others,” he said.
The chrism Mass serves to raise awareness and renew the fundamental belief that “despite worldly distractions and allurements, suffering, persecution, even death by martyrdom – no matter what the Christian endures – fidelity to Christ gains us the ultimate victory,” Archbishop Etienne told the congregation gathered at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral in Anchorage.
He described the new ecclesial season as one in which all members of the church accompany each other on their pilgrimage of faith. The new season, he continued “is about a great partnership between all members of the church” and requires growth in love and unity that emerges from a closer relationship with Jesus while putting individual faith and gifts “at the service of the broader community.”
In Reno, Nevada, Bishop Randolph R. Calvo reminded the priests at the chrism Mass April 11 at St. Rose of Lima Church that their renewal of their commitment to carry out the sacred duties of priesthood was a recognition of the importance of service and ministry to others.
Such a renewal, he explained, was to be taken against the backdrop of the clergy sexual abuse crisis that has “shaken” the Catholic Church and “called into question among many faithful Catholics their trust in their priests and bishops” and even the church institution itself.
Acknowledging that priests have suffered from “this scandal,” Bishop Calvo said “the crimes of our confreres have left them feeling humiliated, sad and vulnerable. The perception that bishops have not advanced far in appropriately handling abuse cases make them angry and frustrated.”
Still, he said, the scripture readings from the Mass, including the Gospel’s reference of Isaiah 61 can offer hope to a saddened church.
“They tell of the Anointed One who declares that God has sent him to proclaim glad tidings to the lowly, to heal and uplift, to free and console, to bestow the oil of gladness,” Bishop Calvo said. “He is Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One. We turn to him, our hope and salvation, and stand ready with you to receive the oil of gladness.”
The people to whom Jesus has been sent are responsible to “rebuild and restore” the church, he told the congregation. “That’s our mandate. … The place to start is the upholding the primacy of the sacrament of baptism.”
Bishop Calvo said the priesthood of the church involves both the ordained and “all the baptized, the entire church.”
He also took on clericalism, which he described as “placing the clergy as an elite class and raising the sacrament of holy orders above the sacrament of baptism in importance.”
The bishop called baptism the most important of sacraments and said all the baptized are anointed with chrism to share in Christ’s mission of creating a just society for all.
He called for clericalism to be “dealt with” because it puts priests “on a dangerous pedestal.”
“Priests need respect and affirmation as all of us do, but clericalism is different,” Bishop Calvo told the congregation
“The clergy sexual abuse scandal has pushed priests off the pedestal. But let’s go further. Why don’t we just smash the pedestal of clericalism to bits,” he said, explaining that doing so would “rebuild and restore the ordained ministry or priests.”
In Arlington, Virginia, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge in his April 18 chrism Mass homily called to mind the words of the day’s responsorial psalm: “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”
“Yet some may ask how is that possible in light of the challenging times we have faced in our church and continue to face at this very moment,” he said. “As a diocese, we can readily point to many instances we have that enable us to sing of the goodness of the Lord. We are about to welcome hundreds of individuals who will be fully initiated into our Catholic Church at Easter.
“We were so inspired to see countless numbers of people celebrate God’s mercy in the sacrament of penance throughout Lent. We are uplifted by the example of our young people.”
Within the chrism Mass, Bishop Burbidge said, the church does not ask the bishop to renew his promises of ordination.
“But in light of the fact that in recent months the trust of the bishops have somewhat been eroded, I want to make my promises known and be held accountable for them,” he said. “I promise to be a more perfect image of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, the teacher and servant of all. I promise to encourage and stand by my brother priests in every way possible, to love them and our seminarians as a spiritual father.”
“I will continue to the best of my ability to teach the truth and the joy of the Gospel with fidelity and constancy,” he continued. “I will continue to work daily for the protection of children and the vulnerable, and with the appropriate transparency and necessary collaboration, that work will always be a priority. I will also continue in every way possible to support victims and survivors and be with them in their time of need.”
Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik told the priests of the diocese that Jesus “is counting on you and me, just as he counted on the exhausted apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane.
“We are here in this place and at this time because of them. They passed on the faith to us,” he said in his chrism Mass homily April 18. “And trust what can and will happen through us as we pass on the faith to others. Many, many more will come to learn, love, and live Jesus through you, through me. And how can that happen?”
“Jesus teaches us all by his example. Stay the course. Be men of prayer. Trust in him. Be men of hope. Build the kingdom of God,” Bishop Zubik continued.
He acknowledged that he and many of his brother priests are experiencing “emotions as raw” as what the first apostles experienced, but he said they all must “renew our yes to Jesus, right here, right now … help to build up the church as the body of Christ.”
The bishop added: “With Jesus as our model, our foundation, and our high priest, no fatigue, no tiredness, no exhaustion can ever take our eyes off the task or rob our hearts from preaching the Word or celebrating the sacraments or serving our people. You already know that! You are doing that so valiantly, so faithfully. … Nothing is impossible with God.”
(Contributing to this story was Elizabeth A. Elliott in Arlington.)