Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Hail Holy Oils!
Holy Thursday morning is the traditional time for the celebration of the Chrism Mass in cathedral churches throughout the world. During this liturgy the local bishop blesses the oils that are used in the sacraments for the next year. It is a time of celebration, a time of expectation and a time of renewal. During the morning liturgy priests, deacon and bishop are united at the mother church of the diocese to renew their priestly promises as well as celebrate their fraternal ministry. One of the key indications of the degree of celebration this day holds is the singing of the Gloria during the liturgy. We have not heard this joyful annunciation of Christological manifestation since the last Sunday before Lent.
Holy Thursday is a joyful celebration of the sacraments of Holy Orders, as well as a celebration of all the sacraments that shape the worshiping life of the Church. In the Archdiocese of Philadelphia the Chrism Mass is attended by nearly all of the priests, bishops and deacons of the local Church. The liturgy is a time to not only worship during the Eucharistic sacrifice, but a period of enjoying the fraternity of Holy Orders. Whatever parish, whatever county, whatever neighborhood the local parish priest is there with the bishop on Holy Thursday morning in Philadelphia. That is the special point of the ecclesiastical gathering, not only does it celebrate the unity of the local Church, it celebrates the diversity that exhibits itself in each parish, each community as well as each faithful individual. His Eminence Cardinal Rigali has requested more of the parishes send representatives to this liturgical celebration.
This is an exemplary request, not because it is made by an Archbishop to his people, but because it incorporates the true pastoral role a bishop exercises in his respective diocese. One of the things that are frequently forgotten in a diocese is that those ordained share in the Holy Orders of the Bishop. Their activities as priests and deacons emanate from the Episcopal ministry entrusted to the Bishop. The Bishop is the source of all sacramental activity in a local community. The ministry of the local bishop clearly links the local Church with the Apostles, the first priests and the Last Supper which instituted the Church’s Eucharistic sacrament.
Such a union also represents solidarity with the Bishop of Rome as well, as each bishop exercises their apostolic authority in union with Peter’s Successor. In Philadelphia for example, the Archbishop will wear a pallium, which is an external symbol of his union with Benedict XVI and his successors. The signs and symbols of Catholic beliefs and union are prominent on Holy Thursday morning. Most significantly present are the Catholic people that are the recipients of the sacramental life of the Church, as well as the procreators of new generations of faithful Catholics. The celebration of the Blessing of the Oils as well as Holy Orders and most especially Eucharist indicates how uniquely inclusive our faith is. All members, regardless of rank, ordained and laity, young and old are invited to participate in this magnificent expression of the Church’s liturgical life.
Today is a sort of theological synopsis of the Church’s life and activities, past, present and future. While the Chrism Mass reminds us that we are one Church throughout the world, we most clearly see, sense and feel that we are one Church united through our sacramental activities. Holy Thursday morning is the embarkation point from which we travel to this evenings Sacred Triduum and the rest of Holy Week. It is a great start to conclude our Lenten journey and shows us very clearly our Christological union through the sacraments.