By Katie Ascough - 12 September, 2020
The Chrism Mass is usually held during Holy Week in every Catholic diocese. During this Mass, the priests, deacons and representatives of the entire diocesan community gather around their bishop who blesses the Holy Oils — that is, the Oil of the Sick, Oil of Catechumens and Sacred Chrism — for use in the coming year.
The Chrism Mass is also a key moment in which the unity of the Bishop with his priests (together, they form the presbyterate) is manifested and renewed. During the liturgy, the entire assembly is called to renew its baptismal promises; deacons and priests also renew their vow of obedience to the local bishop and their commitment to serve God’s people. At the end of the Chrism Mass, the Holy Oils are brought back to parishes of the diocese for use in the coming year.
Bishop Paul Dempsey, Bishop of Achonry, recently celebrated the Chrism Mass for his diocese, delayed from Holy Week because of the regulations surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. The Diocese of Achonry includes parts of counties Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo. The patrons of the diocese are Saint Nathy and Saint Attracta. The diocese has a Catholic population of 34,826 and there are 23 parishes and 47 churches.
In his homily, Bishop Dempsey spoke about the call to priesthood, asking the priests present to “take a journey back” to their ordination day. He spoke especially of two moments during an ordination: the laying prostrate before the altar and the laying on of hands which are “important moments for us to return to in the priesthood. They remind us of the heart of what we are about as priests. It is so important to return to those moments especially when expectations weigh heavily upon us and there are many.”
He then continued to speak about the expectations people have of priests, such as being “great with the young people”, “a great preacher”, having “a word for everyone”, and being able to “reach out to those who are seldom at church while at the same time able to keep the more traditional parishioners happy”.
“Then there’s the finances, the data protection and safeguarding procedures,” the bishop continued, “that all have to be in place and up to date. You are to have a flourishing Pastoral Council, you are always expected to be in good form and to be visionary while also conscious that people don’t like change. You are to be on top of things, ready to be there at an impending death while at the same time planning a baptism for first-time parents, a great man with the sick, great at visiting houses, but not too imposing, great at organising the parish and the volunteers to satisfy the challenges of Covid-19 and the reduced numbers and sanitisation of the churches, the list goes on …”
He even dared to bring up the question: “Is it worth it?” When that question arises, the bishop said, “return to the moment you lay on the floor of your church, return to the moment the Lord laid His hands upon your head … He called you to be His priest, he called you to be His disciple not just in that moment as you lay on the floor or the hands were imposed upon you. He calls you to be his priest now, in this very moment! He calls you as much today as he did on your ordination day. ‘You did not chose me, no, I chose you!’” (John 15:16).
He spoke about the importance of priests rooting themselves in that call at this time: “The cliché reminds us that there are two options around change: do we fear it or embrace it? As we face the future, we must remember that the Lord who called us, whom we surrendered to on the day of our ordination, the Lord who placed His hands upon our head, that same Lord is calling us now!”
Bishop Dempsey quoted Pope Francis, who in Evangelii Gaudium issued the invitation: “I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelisation in their respective communities” (EG 33).
“So, is it worth it?” the bishop concluded. “Yes it is! As we lay prostrate before the altar on the day of our ordination, we were making the statement with our very bodies saying, we believe in Him, we trust in Him, we depend upon Him, we love Him. Let’s renew that belief, that trust, that dependence, that love this night …
“‘You did not chose me, no, I chose you’” (John 15:16).