Cardinal Wuerl Celebrates Founding of Priesthood, Blesses Oils to Be Used in Sacraments

“It’s time to reflect, as the Church asks us to do, on the priesthood itself and its significance.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Cardinal Donald Wuerl, apostolic administrator of Washington celebrated the annual Chrism Mass on Monday night at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. Concelebrating the Mass with the cardinal were Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, Bishop Roy E. Campbell, Jr., and Bishop Michael W. Fisher, auxiliary bishops of Washington, and close to 200 priests from throughout the Archdiocese of Washington. The Mass celebrated each year during Holy Week commemorates the founding of the priesthood by Christ. During the Mass, the oils used by all parishes in the archdiocese to administer the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick during the upcoming year were presented and blessed. The priests also renewed the promises made at their ordination of their commitment to Christ, to his Church, and to priestly ministry during the Mass.

At the beginning of the Mass, Cardinal Wuerl offered brief remarks mourning the destruction of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which was ravaged by a fire that day, and shared that he had sent a message to the Archbishop of Paris, promising that “here in the Church of Washington, we are united in prayerful solidarity” with the people there.

Cardinal Wuerl began his homily by explaining how the Church’s use of symbols, such as oil, bread, wine, water, fire, and incense, communicate a spiritual reality. Likewise, the Chrism Mass, he said, imparts a deeper meaning. “This Chrism Mass…is an occasion not just to bless sacred oil, distribute them for use in the parishes, and invite all of us priests to renew their priestly dedication,” he said. “It’s time to reflect, as the Church asks us to do, on the priesthood itself and its significance.”

The cardinal recounted how, not long ago, a man approached him after Mass and commented, “It’s a rough time today to be a priest.” But he continued, “It is also true that there has never been a time when being a priest was particularly easy or cushy. There have always been challenges to living out to the full the ministry each day, to teach, to guide, to sanctify.”

Despite and all the more because of the woundedness in the Church, the cardinal noted the need for priests to bring about a renewal of healing, trust, and confidence.

“This Chrism Mass is as much a time to recognize the fidelity of our priests and bishops as it is to lament exceptions to that commitment,” he said. “Not that we gloss over any failings; that there can be no healing without the ‘mea culpa.’ There can be no rebirth, without contrition. Yet, that same sorrow is the seed for true renewal. Like Saint Peter, we can move through failure and repentance, once again, into confidence Gospel life.”

Through the priestly ministries of administering the sacraments, offering words of counsel and pastoral care, sharing the joys and sorrows of the faithful, “you bring them Christ!” the cardinal told the priests. Acting in the person of Christ, priests become instruments of Christ’s work in the world.

“Such an understanding of priesthood should make us all the more aware that it is precisely in this identification, in a unique and special way with Christ, that we are called just as was Christ to offer our lives, our talents, our ministry, our efforts, precisely as He did, as a ransom for others,” he said.

Following the homily, the priests of the archdiocese renewed their priestly promises made at their ordination. The Oil of the Sick (to anoint those who are ill), the Oil of Catechumens (to anoint those preparing for Baptism), and Holy Chrism (used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders) were then brought forward to the sanctuary and presented to the cardinal where he blessed them in a tradition that dates back to the early Church. In his consecration of the Chrism oil, the cardinal breathed upon the open vessel of Chrism. This breathe signifies the Holy Spirit moving over the waters at creation (Gen 1:12), and Jesus conferring the Holy Spirit to his disciples (John 20:22). After the conclusion of the Mass, the cardinal greeted the bishops and priests of the archdiocese who were in attendance, as well as the seminarians and those in religious and consecrated life who had attended the Mass.

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