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Priests concelebrate Chrism Mass as hundreds of faithful watch the livestream

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On the morning of Holy Thursday last April, the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington was dark and mostly empty. The Chrism Mass, a joyous occasion that fills the cathedral and typically is celebrated on that day, was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. But months later, the Diocese of Arlington was able to unite in prayer as Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrated the special liturgy Oct. 5. More than 115 priests in blue and white vestments gathered in person to concelebrate the Mass and renew their priestly vows. More than 1,500 people tuned in to the livestream. 

The diocese was a different place on Holy Thursday, said Bishop Burbidge in his homily, and much has changed since then. “Parishes began livestreaming Masses. Individual and family prayer strengthened. Evangelization flourished in new and creative ways. Schools found opportunities to continue learning and charity increased significantly as demands for help and assistance increased,” he said. 

“Yet we know we are still living in the midst of uncertainty. Many people are carrying many crosses and burdens. They’re living in fear and anxiety,” he said. “With this Mass, we pray for that gift of perseverance, we pray for all those who are suffering, all those who have died. At this Mass, we ask for the grace (to) be a sign to others in need that God is ever near to us.”

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge pours balsam into olive oil during the Chrism Mass. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD

121 VERTBishop Burbidge then thanked the priests for the strength and leadership they showed in the early days of the pandemic as well as the friendship and fraternal care they extended to one another. He asked them to renew the priestly promises they made on their ordination day and asked the laity to pray for him and all the priests. 

During the offertory, deacons carried up bread and wine as well as three glass vessels containing olive oil. Bishop Burbidge then poured the golden liquid into large metal vessels, one for the oil of the sick, one for the oil of catechumens and two for the sacred chrism, as chrism is used more frequently. He also poured fragrant balsam into the sacred chrism and stirred it. 

He then blessed the oil of the sick and the oil of catechumens and consecrated the chrism. In the middle of the consecration, priests extended their right hands toward the chrism until the conclusion of the prayer. 

The oils and chrism are used throughout the year while administering sacraments. The oil of the sick is used for the anointing of the sick. The oil of catechumens is used to anoint those about to be baptized. Sacred chrism is used during baptism, confirmation, ordination and the dedication of altars. 

A priest fills a glass vessel with sacred chrism during the Chrism Mass. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD

chrism 2020149“Chrism has been traditionally used for the major sacramental rites of the church,” said James Starke, director of the diocesan Office of Divine Worship. “It's really about our share as Christians in the priesthood of Christ — that’s why it’s given elevated status. We really see chrism going back to the Old Testament and anointings with oil perfumed with fragrances.

“The oil of the sick and oil of the catechumen can be blessed by priests if necessary. But consecration signifies a higher kind of solemnity and honor. (Chrism) can only ever be consecrated by a bishop.”

The Liturgy of the Eucharist continued with most of the masked and socially distanced clergy participating from the pews. During communion, the priests processed up to the altar to partake in the Eucharist. 

At the close of the Mass, Deacon Donald P. Libera, a permanent deacon assigned to St. John the Evangelist Church in Warrenton, announced Bishop Burbidge would bestow a papal blessing that would grant a plenary indulgence to those who devoutly watched the Mass at the time of the livestream, prayed for the pope and intended to receive Communion and go to confession at their next opportunity. 

The clergy headed back to their parishes with vials of blessed oil and sacred chrism, a tangible sign of God's grace in an uncertain year. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020