UPDATE: Chrism Mass celebrates the Church’s rich traditions and sacramental life

March 27, 2024 at 4:15 p.m.
Bishop O'Connell prays over the holy oils that he blessed and consecrated during the Chrism Mass. Mike Ehrmann photo
Bishop O'Connell prays over the holy oils that he blessed and consecrated during the Chrism Mass. Mike Ehrmann photo

By Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor, and Angelica Chicaiza, Correspondent

Catholics from throughout the Diocese gathered to witness a Holy Week tradition: the blessing of sacred oils used in Sacraments and the priestly renewal of vows.

Parishioners from Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties filled the 1,100-seat St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, nearly to capacity March 25 for the annual Chrism Mass that Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., said "belongs to the entire community of faithful in the Diocese -- clergy, religious and laity -- all united by their common Baptism and the sacramental life that use the oils consecrated and blessed by the Bishop."

PHOTO GALLERY: 2024 Chrism Mass

PHOTO GALLERY: 2024: Bishop hosts dinner for priests

During the Chrism Mass, the holy oils were presented to the Bishop by representatives of various parishes. After the Mass, parish delegates then carried their supply of blessed oils and chrism back to their faith communities to be used in sacramental rites throughout the year.

“The gathering itself, usually in the Cathedral or another large diocesan church, is a celebration of unity meant to strengthen the ties of the diocesan community of faith in the parishes with their local shepherd, the Bishop, in his role as ‘Successor to the Apostles,’” Bishop O’Connell said to the congregation that included 150 priests and 50 deacons. “It is one of the most solemn, symbolic and significant Masses of the Church year.”

Historical Roots

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell explained that the Chrism Mass takes its name from the ancient Church practice of the clergy and faithful gathering around their bishop each year for the consecration of the sacred chrism used for Baptism, Confirmation, the Ordination of priests and bishops and the consecration of churches and altars. The Bishop also blesses the Oil of Catechumens and Oil of the Sick used in rites and Sacraments throughout the local Church.

Bishop O’Connell said the earliest description of the Chrism Mass is found in a third-century text called the “Apostolic Tradition.”

“At that time,” he said, “these oils were consecrated and blessed by the bishop during the Easter Vigil at a ceremony only to be moved later to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.”

However, that Mass became such a crowded event that tickets had to be distributed, he continued, so last century, Pope Pius XII established a separate Mass earlier on the same day; dioceses then were permitted to celebrate the “Chrism Mass” on another day and time during Holy Week.

“Although many dioceses, including Rome, still hold the Mass on Holy Thursday morning, here in our Diocese, we chose Monday evening,” Bishop O’Connell said.

Bonds of Brotherhood

As the Chrism Mass highlights the role and responsibilities of ordained priests in relationship to their bishop — amid all the clergy, religious and faithful of the Diocese — Bishop O’Connell took the opportunity to focus on the relationships that priests have with the Bishop, the people they serve and each other by reflecting on three words —fraternity, fidelity and fruitfulness — and how “they have a unique and compelling meaning for your ministry as priests.”

Speaking about fraternity, Bishop O’Connell said, “In and through your priestly ordination, you become true brothers, you belong to one another under the fatherhood of the bishop.

“No priest is alone,” he added. “No priest should seek to be alone. No priest should allow himself or another priest to be alone.

“My dear priests, be true brothers to one another because of the priesthood we share.”

Bishop O’Connell defined fidelity as “faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ, who called and gave you a share in his priesthood; a fidelity which is faithfulness to the Church in which, through which, for which you are a priest in this fraternity here; a fidelity which is faithfulness to the truth of the Gospel as proclaimed in the Church’s teachings.”

“We don’t make truth up. We don’t adapt truth to society and culture and their whims. We evangelize the world through preaching and teaching truth. We don’t vote on truth as though it depended on majority rule or opinion or acceptance,” he said. Reminding the priests that it was Jesus who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Bishop O’Connell said that, as priests: “We look to him. Our fidelity as priests is to him and to his truth. That is what we embrace. That is what we teach. That is what we live.”

Reflecting on fruitfulness, Bishop O’Connell said, “Who we are and what we are as priests must bear fruit in the Church, for the people of God.

“In our preaching and teaching, my brothers, bear fruit. In our sacramental ministry and presiding at Eucharist and worship, bear fruit. In our outreach and presence to the sick and those in need, bear fruit. For the young and the old and those in between, bear fruit. Through our administration and leadership and oversight, bear fruit. In all these activities and more, we must make a difference in the lives of those we are called to serve, a difference that people can see,” the Bishop said.

From The Faithful

Many agreed that the Chrism Mass had a profound impact on their Holy Week observances.

For Sanjay Jethani of St. Paul Parish, Princeton, it was a double blessing to attend the Chrism Mass for the first time and to participate in the Procession of Oils.

“I felt blessed and a lot of spirituality during the Mass,” said Jethani, who carried the Oil of Catechumens. “I have never seen so many priests in one setting at the same time. It was truly a good feeling.”

While Vickie Robles of St. Ann Parish, Browns Mills, has previously attended the Chrism Mass several times, this year marked the first time for her husband, Pete.

“It was a wonderful celebration,” Pete Robles said, noting that he had “never seen so many priests together” at one time. He added that he was trying to determine the average number of years of priesthood times the number of priests in attendance and figured that “there was probably about 4,000, years’ worth of service in this church today.”

Noting that she was inspired by both the Procession of Oils and when the priests renewed their vows, Vickie Robles said that the Chrism Mass is “an overall beautiful celebration, especially knowing that the oils will be used in [the celebration of the] Sacraments.”

Maria Marin Uvera of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, sees her participation at the Chrism Mass as a way to show her support for priests of the Diocese.

“Because of them, we all have true conversions and, thanks to them, they give us Jesus alive in the Eucharist,” she said. Two priests who are close friends, she noted, were Father Javier Diaz, pastor of Christ the King Parish, Long Branch, and Father Carlos Aguirre, pastor of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Trenton.

“We are all so happy to be here for them,” she said.

Father Jeff Kegley, pastor of St. Mary Parish, Middletown, reflected on the significance of standing before Bishop O’Connell and joining his brothers in the renewal of priestly vows.

“It was so impactful to see so many priests together ... it's amazing,” he said, noting that the annual Priests Convocation is another occasion that draws a large number of priests.

But the Chrism Mass “is a very formal Mass, and it's beautiful,” Father Kegley said.

Father Kegley added how heartened he was to hear the Bishop speak about priestly fraternity in his homily.

“We all came together as brothers around our spiritual father, our Bishop, and it was a really great blessing,” he said. “He just affirmed everything that we're all about.”


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Catholics from throughout the Diocese gathered to witness a Holy Week tradition: the blessing of sacred oils used in Sacraments and the priestly renewal of vows.

Parishioners from Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties filled the 1,100-seat St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, nearly to capacity March 25 for the annual Chrism Mass that Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., said "belongs to the entire community of faithful in the Diocese -- clergy, religious and laity -- all united by their common Baptism and the sacramental life that use the oils consecrated and blessed by the Bishop."

PHOTO GALLERY: 2024 Chrism Mass

PHOTO GALLERY: 2024: Bishop hosts dinner for priests

During the Chrism Mass, the holy oils were presented to the Bishop by representatives of various parishes. After the Mass, parish delegates then carried their supply of blessed oils and chrism back to their faith communities to be used in sacramental rites throughout the year.

“The gathering itself, usually in the Cathedral or another large diocesan church, is a celebration of unity meant to strengthen the ties of the diocesan community of faith in the parishes with their local shepherd, the Bishop, in his role as ‘Successor to the Apostles,’” Bishop O’Connell said to the congregation that included 150 priests and 50 deacons. “It is one of the most solemn, symbolic and significant Masses of the Church year.”

Historical Roots

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell explained that the Chrism Mass takes its name from the ancient Church practice of the clergy and faithful gathering around their bishop each year for the consecration of the sacred chrism used for Baptism, Confirmation, the Ordination of priests and bishops and the consecration of churches and altars. The Bishop also blesses the Oil of Catechumens and Oil of the Sick used in rites and Sacraments throughout the local Church.

Bishop O’Connell said the earliest description of the Chrism Mass is found in a third-century text called the “Apostolic Tradition.”

“At that time,” he said, “these oils were consecrated and blessed by the bishop during the Easter Vigil at a ceremony only to be moved later to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.”

However, that Mass became such a crowded event that tickets had to be distributed, he continued, so last century, Pope Pius XII established a separate Mass earlier on the same day; dioceses then were permitted to celebrate the “Chrism Mass” on another day and time during Holy Week.

“Although many dioceses, including Rome, still hold the Mass on Holy Thursday morning, here in our Diocese, we chose Monday evening,” Bishop O’Connell said.

Bonds of Brotherhood

As the Chrism Mass highlights the role and responsibilities of ordained priests in relationship to their bishop — amid all the clergy, religious and faithful of the Diocese — Bishop O’Connell took the opportunity to focus on the relationships that priests have with the Bishop, the people they serve and each other by reflecting on three words —fraternity, fidelity and fruitfulness — and how “they have a unique and compelling meaning for your ministry as priests.”

Speaking about fraternity, Bishop O’Connell said, “In and through your priestly ordination, you become true brothers, you belong to one another under the fatherhood of the bishop.

“No priest is alone,” he added. “No priest should seek to be alone. No priest should allow himself or another priest to be alone.

“My dear priests, be true brothers to one another because of the priesthood we share.”

Bishop O’Connell defined fidelity as “faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ, who called and gave you a share in his priesthood; a fidelity which is faithfulness to the Church in which, through which, for which you are a priest in this fraternity here; a fidelity which is faithfulness to the truth of the Gospel as proclaimed in the Church’s teachings.”

“We don’t make truth up. We don’t adapt truth to society and culture and their whims. We evangelize the world through preaching and teaching truth. We don’t vote on truth as though it depended on majority rule or opinion or acceptance,” he said. Reminding the priests that it was Jesus who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Bishop O’Connell said that, as priests: “We look to him. Our fidelity as priests is to him and to his truth. That is what we embrace. That is what we teach. That is what we live.”

Reflecting on fruitfulness, Bishop O’Connell said, “Who we are and what we are as priests must bear fruit in the Church, for the people of God.

“In our preaching and teaching, my brothers, bear fruit. In our sacramental ministry and presiding at Eucharist and worship, bear fruit. In our outreach and presence to the sick and those in need, bear fruit. For the young and the old and those in between, bear fruit. Through our administration and leadership and oversight, bear fruit. In all these activities and more, we must make a difference in the lives of those we are called to serve, a difference that people can see,” the Bishop said.

From The Faithful

Many agreed that the Chrism Mass had a profound impact on their Holy Week observances.

For Sanjay Jethani of St. Paul Parish, Princeton, it was a double blessing to attend the Chrism Mass for the first time and to participate in the Procession of Oils.

“I felt blessed and a lot of spirituality during the Mass,” said Jethani, who carried the Oil of Catechumens. “I have never seen so many priests in one setting at the same time. It was truly a good feeling.”

While Vickie Robles of St. Ann Parish, Browns Mills, has previously attended the Chrism Mass several times, this year marked the first time for her husband, Pete.

“It was a wonderful celebration,” Pete Robles said, noting that he had “never seen so many priests together” at one time. He added that he was trying to determine the average number of years of priesthood times the number of priests in attendance and figured that “there was probably about 4,000, years’ worth of service in this church today.”

Noting that she was inspired by both the Procession of Oils and when the priests renewed their vows, Vickie Robles said that the Chrism Mass is “an overall beautiful celebration, especially knowing that the oils will be used in [the celebration of the] Sacraments.”

Maria Marin Uvera of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, sees her participation at the Chrism Mass as a way to show her support for priests of the Diocese.

“Because of them, we all have true conversions and, thanks to them, they give us Jesus alive in the Eucharist,” she said. Two priests who are close friends, she noted, were Father Javier Diaz, pastor of Christ the King Parish, Long Branch, and Father Carlos Aguirre, pastor of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Trenton.

“We are all so happy to be here for them,” she said.

Father Jeff Kegley, pastor of St. Mary Parish, Middletown, reflected on the significance of standing before Bishop O’Connell and joining his brothers in the renewal of priestly vows.

“It was so impactful to see so many priests together ... it's amazing,” he said, noting that the annual Priests Convocation is another occasion that draws a large number of priests.

But the Chrism Mass “is a very formal Mass, and it's beautiful,” Father Kegley said.

Father Kegley added how heartened he was to hear the Bishop speak about priestly fraternity in his homily.

“We all came together as brothers around our spiritual father, our Bishop, and it was a really great blessing,” he said. “He just affirmed everything that we're all about.”

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