Signifying the breath of the Holy Spirit, Bishop O'Connell breathes over the Sacred Chrism which is used in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, the ordination of priests and bishops and the consecration of altars and churches.
Signifying the breath of the Holy Spirit, Bishop O'Connell breathes over the Sacred Chrism which is used in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, the ordination of priests and bishops and the consecration of altars and churches.
Extending his arms outward in a gesture of welcome, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., warmly greeted his brother priests – the majority of whom he had not seen in person since the start of the pandemic.

“What a great joy it is for me to see you again. It’s been over a year for some of us, so I’m very happy we can join together as brothers, as a family,” Bishop O’Connell said to the priests gathered for the annual Chrism Mass held March 29 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.

“We also greet those who are with us virtually, the deacons, the consecrated religious, the lay faithful who are joining us through the miracle of livestreaming,” the Bishop said, referencing the video stream shown on all diocesan media platforms. The Mass was closed to the public to safeguard against COVID-19.

Photo Gallery: Chrism Mass

Traditionally celebrated on the Monday of Holy Week in the Diocese, the Chrism Mass is when the priests renew their commitment to their ministry. It is also during this Mass when the Bishop blesses and consecrates the oils to be used in parishes in the coming year.

The Bishop blessed the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of the Catechumen and consecrated the Sacred Chrism, which is used in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, the ordination of priests and bishops and in the consecration of altars and churches.

What usually draws a crowd to overflowing capacity in the 1,100-seat  Co-Cathedral, this year was limited to only the priests who concelebrated, the seminarians of the Diocese, some deacons who assisted during the Mass, and diocesan and Co-Cathedral staff members.

To ensure safety, the approximately 160 priests in attendance did not participate in the entrance procession or recessional and they did not join Bishop O’Connell in the sanctuary for the Consecration. The priests concelebrated the Mass from the pews where they were also able to observe social distancing measures..

Before sharing some thoughts in his homily, Bishop O’Connell announced that he had formally called Deacon Rjoy Ballacillo, a transitional deacon, to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders and be ordained a priest for the Diocese on June 5. Rev. Mr. Ballacillo, who served as the deacon for the Chrism Mass and was seated in the sanctuary, smiled and waved as the congregation of priests applauded. 

Message of Unity

In his homily, the Bishop wove a message of unity, reminding the priests that even though “we have been shaken by the ravages of a worldwide pandemic that has left us wounded and hurting and socially distant … we are not alone. We are never alone. We are always in the presence of God and in his Church.”

Bishop O’Connell spoke of how the Chrism Mass dates back centuries to the early Church.

“We bless oils so that these oils given to us can bless the faithful with the holiness of God’s presence as it has blessed us as priests and bishop,” he said. “We consecrate Chrism so that Chrism can consecrate the faithful in the Sacraments of Initiation and vocation as it has consecrated us as priests and bishop and our altars and churches, where we celebrate the presence of God among us.”

During the Presentation of the Gifts, the vessels containing the three oils were brought forth by Mariano DelValle and Nicholas Alescio, both of whom are planning to enter Mount St. Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., in the fall, and Dominic Amilcare, a Frassati Scholar, which is a new program available through the diocesan Office of Clergy and Consecrated Life. Also, Father Richard Osborn, parochial vicar in St. Mary Parish, Middletown, presented the gifts of bread and wine.

Heart of the Matter

Bishop O’Connell also offered words of encouragement to his priests to remain faithful to their vocation.

“Tonight, we renew our priesthood so that, as priests, and Bishop, we can open the ears of the faithful to hear God’s Word, we can teach the faithful God’s truth, we can forgive the faithful with God’s mercy, we can touch the faithful who are sick with God’s hands, we can warm and fill the hearts of the faithful with God’s love,” he said. “Our priesthood, given to us by the Lord Jesus, is our way, it’s the Church’s way to ‘practice the presence of God.’

“We see Christ’s face in the breaking of the bread, just as the apostles did on the Road to Emmaus, in order to show us his face in the Eucharistic breaking of the bread to those who believe, for those who want to believe, who need to believe in the presence of God among us,” the Bishop continued.

Bishop O’Connell exhorted his priests to reflect on their years of priestly service and ask themselves, “What is in your hearts?”

“Remember why you answered God’s call,” he said. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon you because he has anointed you. He loved you first. He loves you always. In your hearts, love him in return and welcome the faithful there, into your hearts, in love. With the Lord Jesus, because of the Lord Jesus, they live there, too.”

At the end of the Mass, the Bishop again extended his appreciation to the priests for their presence at the Chrism Mass saying, “I’m so grateful for your effort to be here. I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you and to be with you in prayer. And thank you for all you did for the faithful during the past year, reaching out, serving, keeping their faith alive.

“This Diocese is so lucky to have you,” said Bishop O’Connell, who then added, “What’s in my heart? You. Thank you so much.”