HARTFORD —During a solemn yet joyful gathering that marks Holy Week, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair led more than 200 bishops, priests, deacons and religious, as well as the lay faihful, in the celebration of the annual Chrism Mass on March 27 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
The Chrism Mass is the occasion for priests to renew their commitment to priestly service and unity with the archbishop and for three oils to be blessed for the administration of the sacraments throughout the archdiocese for the year. The oil of the sick, oil of catechumens and holy chrism are distributed to all 127 parishes and Catholic hospitals.
Archbishop Blair blessed the oil of catechumens and the oil of the sick, which are pure olive oil; he consecrated the sacred chrism, a mixture of olive oil and balsam.
He noted that one of the most vivid images on Good Friday occurs when the soldier pierces the side of Jesus, from which poured out blood and water.
“According to ancient tradition, our Savior’s wound in his side is the source of all sacramental life in the Church,” said Archbishop Blair.
“All salvation passes through the body of the crucified and risen Jesus by the power of the Holy Sprint,” he noted. “His very flesh has become the means to eternal life.”
Think of the waters of baptism, he urged; or the of Eucharist, as “the source and summit of all the sacraments,” which was implemented when Christ changed bread and wine into his body and blood on Holy Thursday.
“These are not mere symbols. These are the very reality, the very substance of the flesh and blood of the risen Lord,” he said.
Emphasizing this “sacramental realism” of Christ’s work in the Church, he turned to the Chrism Mass and the sacred oils that are used for “healing us, strengthening us, even transforming us through the power of the Holy Sprit.”
The Chrism Mass also reveals the “priestly heritage” of priests who exemplify Christ, Archbishop Blair said. “What is decisive for a priest is the extent to which he lays down his life in priestly sacrifice of all that he is and all that he has in union with Christ,” he said.
As for the lay faithful, he urged those gathered to love and pray for priests that they may be faithful instruments in the Lord’s service.
Principal concelebrants were Archbishop Emeritus Henry J. Mansell and Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Peter A. Rosazza..
The blessing of oils is an ancient tradition that dates back to the early Church. Over the centuries, the oils were blessed at the Easter Vigil or Holy Thursday. But in 1955, Pope Pius XII created a separate Mass of Chrism to be held close to Easter. After the Mass, the holy oils are distributed to the parishes of the diocese for use in the coming year.
The name “chrism” is taken from “Christ,” which means the anointed one.
The oil of the sick is used to strengthen the sick. Oil of catechumens is imposed on a person just before baptism. And the sacred chrism is used at confirmation and after baptism, as well as for the ordination of a priest, consecration of a bishop and consecration of the altar and walls in the dedication of a church.
For the blessing of the holy Chrism, the bishop breathes over the vessel of chrism, which symbolizes both the Holy Spirit coming down to consecrate this oil, and the life-giving, sanctifying nature of the character of the sacraments for which it is used.
Before the final blessing, Archbishop Blair acknowledged jubilarian priests who are marking 25, 50, 55, 60, 65 and 70 years of their priestly ordination this year. Noting that the archdiocese will celebrate its 175th anniversary next November, he singled out Father A. Leo Spodnik, who is marking the 70th years of his priesthood this year.
Archbishop Blair also thanked the cathedral's Schola Cantorum and instrumentalists who performed under the direction of the cathedral’s music director, Ezequiel Menéndez. Joining them was a visiting choir from Argentina, Vocal Cámara Platense, a 30-member group conducted by Fernando Tomé that is comprised of singers, conductors and music teachers from renowned musical groups and schools in La Plata and Buenos Aires.
Also attending were students from Catholic high schools in the archdiocese and middle school students from St. Paul School in Kensington.
“It helps the students understand their Catholic faith more fully by participating in the fulfillment of the paschal mystery,” said St. Paul eighth-grade teacher John Grant about students’ attendance at the Mass. “It brings them closer to Jesus who is the purpose of everything.”