One of the most beautiful liturgies of the Church, the chrism Mass, was celebrated by Bishop Edward Malesic on April 12 in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. (See photo gallery above.)
The Mass was attended by many priests and deacons of the Diocese of Cleveland. Concelebrants included Auxiliary Bishop emeritus Roger Gries, Bishop Martin Amos, retired bishop of Davenport, Iowa, and Abbot Gary Hoover, OSB. Prior to the Mass, the priests gathered for a speaker and fellowship before heading to the cathedral, where they renewed the priestly promises made at their ordination.
During the liturgy, Bishop Malesic blessed the holy oils and sanctified the chrism which will be used for sacramental purposes throughout the diocese. Deacons carried large containers of the unblessed oil for holy chrism, oil of the sick and oil of catechumens which were placed in the appropriate places in the sanctuary.
In his homily, the bishop mentioned that his maternal grandmother sometimes used Oil of Olay, a distinctive scent he still remembers. He said the oil of chrism also has a distinctive smell. He mixed olive oil and an aromatic liquid balsam to make the chrism. The balsam gives it what the bishop called “a Churchy odor. It oozes the odor of sanctity, in fact,” he said.
After mixing the oil and balsam, he breathed into each container and offered a blessing to sanctify the chrism. This special oil is used for baptisms, confirmations and at the ordination of bishops and priests. It’s also used for the consecration of churches and altars.
“In each case, when chrism is used for the sacraments, a person is marked as changed forever and set apart by God. They are never the same again. A baptized person cannot be unbaptized. A confirmed person cannot be unconfirmed. A priest is a priest forever,” the bishop explained.
When he confirms people, Bishop Malesic said he talks with them about the chrism he will anoint them with. “I tell them that once they are confirmed with chrism, we will be able to smell them. They will smell confirmed,” he said, adding, “eventually, the physical smell of chrism will wear off, but the spiritual smell, the fragrance of Christ on them, should remain with them forever.”
And, as the priests prepared to renew their promises, he reminded the congregation that by our common baptism, we all were made to share in the priesthood of Christ. “Together we form a priestly people who offer prayers and supplications, sacrifices and offerings that will bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom to those who are oppressed. We work together as a Church. We walk together as a Church,” he said, adding all of us listen to the same Spirit and follow the voice of the same Lord.
The bishop compared the Church to a boat with Jesus as captain. He also reminded the congregation to remember the suffering of the Ukrainian people and to ask for the healing ointment of God’s mercy to be applied to the wounds caused by war, hatred and violence there and anywhere.”
He also reminded the priests that if they’re like him, the smell of chrism invokes a strong, real and deeply personal memory of the bishop anointing their hands with chrism immediately after ordaining them as priests. “The chrism made our hands set apart for the work of God in the world,” he said, asking every priest to use the chrism smell to remind them of their ordination and that they were “a newly minted priest of Jesus Christ. You had been chosen and set apart by God.”
No one said the life of a priest would be easy, the bishop said, noting there are times when people can demand more from them than they can give. Like parents, he said priests are asked to make sacrifices. But the cross they are asked to carry has two sides, the crucifixion and the glorious side of the Resurrection, where sin is forgiven, death is conquered and redemption is found. The Resurrection is present in signs that are all around priests, especially when the faithful say a priest’s words moved them or parishioners say they are praying for a priest. He urged the priests not to be worn down or disheartened by the last two pandemic-filled years.
He said they also find Christ rising up in confession and the “Resurrection is present whenever we use our anointed hands to take the bread at Mas and say the words of Jesus, ‘This is my body’ when we take the chalice filled with wine and say, ‘This is my blood’ and Jesus comes to be food for the hungry and drink for the thirsty by your consecrated hands.”
How powerful is the presence of the life-giving God when those words are spoken the bishop said.
In addition, Bishop Malesic told the faithful that he needs them. “We need the smell of God’s fragrant presence to remain fresh in you. In fact, let everything you do rise up like a prayer, as sweet incense rises up to God.”
He asked those gathered to take the oils that were blessed and consecrated by him to every corner of the diocese and to use them to bring the anointing of God to those who will receive the sacraments in which they will be used. “Let the goodness of God’s presence seep into the spiritual bones of all who will be touched by them. And know the abundant joy that comes from the presence of Christ, our risen Lord, who abides with us always, like a precious ointment that has been rubbed into our souls,” he added.
After Mass parish representatives presented containers to be filled with the oil of catechism, the oil of the sick and the sacred chrism.