Bellarmine Co-Cathedral. He breathes over the vessel in a symbolic gesture of the breath of the Holy Spirit. Craig Pittelli photos
Bellarmine Co-Cathedral. He breathes over the vessel in a symbolic gesture of the breath of the Holy Spirit. Craig Pittelli photos

By Rose O'Connor | Correspondent 

Fran Thompson was exuberant as she described witnessing for the first time the sacred traditions of the annual Chrism Mass.

“It was nothing like what I expected. It was just beautiful. You have to see it to believe it.  You have to experience it,” the St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, parishioner said. “I’m bringing my husband next year.”

Photo Gallery: 2019 Chrism Mass

Thompson was among 1,000 faithful from across the Diocese who filled the pews of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, April 15, stretching and craning their necks hoping to catch a glimpse of their parish priests and deacons as they processed into the church, followed by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., principal celebrant.

Joy was palpable as smiling faces greeted the priests during the Mass, which was livestreamed on diocesan media and watched by hundreds of viewers in real time and nearly 1,000 the day afterward, allowing faithful who could not attend to offer prayers for their faith leaders.

During the Chrism Mass, traditionally held the Monday of Holy Week in the Diocese, the priests gather to renew publicly their commitment to their vocation, and the Bishop blesses the holy oils that will be used in parishes throughout the upcoming year.

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell spoke of the importance of these events in the life of the Church.

“In ancient times until recent years, the Chrism Mass was celebrated on Holy Thursday morning before the celebration of the Mass commemorating the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood,” he said. “Now we bless and consecrate the holy oils and sacred Chrism at the beginning of Holy Week here in the Diocese of Trenton. We do so, still mindful of the truth of Pope St. John Paul II’s words, ‘Without the priesthood, there is no Eucharist; without the Eucharist, there is no Church.’ The oils, however, belong to us all and are blessed and consecrated for us all: the bishop, priests and deacons, and the faithful.”

A Purposeful Message

Turning to the more than 160 priests gathered, the Bishop referred to the current abuse crisis in the Church and its connection with the wounds on the body of Christ.

“We cannot ignore the wounds on his body in recent times any more than we can turn our gaze from his wounds on the Cross of Calvary, wounds occasioned by the sins of our hands, including those hands and heads anointed by sacred, consecrated oil,” Bishop O’Connell said. “You know the sins of which I speak.”

“Sadly, we are reminded of those sins almost daily, sins of years gone by ... sins of our lifetime. Many words have been spoken and written, many apologies have been uttered in the Church. The oils have dried on our hands and heads, but the wounds of sin remain on the body. The gates of hell have been swung wide open for all to see into the fires ... but they shall not prevail. The Lord Jesus made that promise to his Church and we, all of us priests and faithful, must believe it.

“The Eucharist is his guarantee, the Eucharist that is the priest’s to celebrate and offer, the Eucharist that is ours to celebrate and receive: bishop, priests and deacons, and the faithful who make up and are his wounded body. And the gates of hell, of sin, of evil shall not, shall never prevail. Now is the time to slam those gates shut and throw away the keys.

“Remember that as you renew your priesthood together and bring home the oils of the Sacraments of our salvation,” he continued. “You are their priests united in our Diocese, not lone rangers or freelancers. Be humbled by your priesthood and in proclaiming the Gospel of Truth, be kind. My brothers, believe what you read. Teach what you believe. And practice what you teach.”  

A Community Celebration

Following the Liturgy of the Word, the priests renewed their commitment to priestly service and renewed their personal dedication to Christ. Reflecting on the moment later, Father Jeffrey Kegley, pastor in St. Mary Parish, Middletown, said he took to heart Bishop O’Connell’s directives “to know what you’re doing, to be men of prayer, men of the Eucharist and to be authentic.”

During the Presentation of the Gifts, the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of Catechumens and the Holy Chrism were brought forward, followed by the bread and wine.          

The Oil of the Sick was blessed prior to the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer; after the reception of Communion was the Blessing of the Oil of the Catechumens.

St. Rose High School, Belmar, seniors Jack Chinery, Luke Remail and Brady Shea presented the Oil of Catechumens. Chinery, who is preparing to receive the Sacrament of Initiation in St. Rose Church during the Easter Vigil, said he was honored to be selected to participate in the Chrism Mass with Remail, his sponsor, and close friend Shea.

“They are the future of the Church and it’s great to see, as a young priest myself, the future of the Church,” said Father Christopher Dayton, St. Rose Parish parochial vicar, who was ordained a priest last year. “What a great beauty it is for them to see the diocesan Church at its full capacity and to participate in the celebration. I hope it’s a moment they always remember.”

Many clergy and laity reflected on the importance of witnessing the Chrism Mass.

Father Martin O’Reilly, pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church Parish, Bordentown, said the Chrism Mass shows solidarity with the Bishop and other priests. It’s also about “the affirmation that you get from the parishioners who are gathered. They’re making the sacrifice to be there with their priests to affirm them and to reassure them and express their appreciation. That’s what makes the Chrism Mass very, very special.”

Added Father Kegley, “It’s the annual surrendering of our lives again to the Lord. Just to be with our Bishop and to hear his words of encouragement is special.”

Deacon Robert Gay of St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville, said it’s important for the faithful to support the priests in their work. “This is the time that they connect as a community to share ideas, to share a meal and reinforce a special bond that they have
as brother priests.”

That special bond was evident to all ages.

“It was really impactful to see all of the deacons and the priests coming together to unite as one, to show that they’re really all one Church, they’re a family,” said Yanelly Cruz, 12, of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville.