Chrism Mass sign of unity within diocese


CHARLESTON — Bishop David B. Thompson joined with the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Charleston in celebration of the Chrism Mass last Tuesday, March 30, at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The Mass offered the entire diocese a unique opportunity to gather for the celebration of some of the Church’s most treasured gifts and resources: the priesthood of Jesus Christ and the oils used within the sacramental life of the Church.

At the beginning of the ceremony, Bishop Thompson gave special recognition to three priests celebrating 25 years of priesthood this year, two of whom were in attendance: Father George Moynihan, pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in North Myrtle Beach; Paulist Father James Brucz, associate pastor of St. Andrew Church in Clemson; as well as Oratorian Father Halbert Weidner, who is currently in service in the Diocese of Honolulu and is working to establish an Oratory in Hawaii.

The three priests were also presented gifts by Bishop Thompson at a luncheon following the Mass.

The bishop also recognized the main concelebrant of the day, Bishop Walter F. Sullivan from the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He spoke to clergy of the diocese after the service on “Love for the Priesthood.”

The Charleston ordinary referred to the many similarities the Catholic Church in South Carolina and the Richmond Diocese have in common. Both were founded in 1820, both currently bishops are the 11th respective heads of their sees, and both prelates have spoken out forcefully against the death penalty.

In his homily, Bishop Thompson offered reflections on the lives of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa (for the complete text of the homily, see next week’s Miscellany).

The Chrism liturgy is celebrated only once a year and is a sign of unity of the bishop to the church within his diocese. This unity is first expressed as the priests of the diocese, together with the bishop, renewed their commitment to priestly ministry.

Unity is also evident in the consecration and blessing of oils used for the sacramental celebrations of the church. First among these oils is the Sacred Chrism, consecrated by the bishop for use at baptisms, confirmations and ordinations, as well as the rites of dedication of a church and altar. Also blessed was the oil of the catechumens, used in preparation for the sacraments of initiation, and the oil of the sick, used to bring healing in the anointing of the sick. The oil thus distributed becomes one of the ways by which the bishop is able to minister to his people.

Huge silver urns containing the oils were brought to the altar by Deacons Charles Easterling, Thomas Elliott, C. Thomas Miles, James Johnson, Michael Oenbrink, and Joseph Cahill.

During a convocation for priests and pastoral administrators following the liturgy, Bishop Sullivan, who said he entered minor seminary at age 14, told those gathered that, “I’ve always loved being a priest. No vocation touches so many lives.”

He asked his brother priests to, “Think of all the good that you do … think positively … have optimism. Do not be afraid. The Holy Spirit will be with you.”

Bishop Sullivan told the assembled clergy that they need to, “Find a sense of holy order; to bring Christ’s love and healing. Be a center of unity among diversity in all parishes. The communion we have validates the community at the table of the Lord.”

The ordinary of Richmond emphasized to the priests that their vocation is, “God’s work, not our own. It’s not that important that people love us. But it’s vitally important that you love the people you are called to serve. You are to love as Christ loved.”

He described being a priest today as “quite exciting, and very much needed. Priests are needed more today than ever. People hunger for leadership, inspiration, and spirituality. They seek order out of chaos in their lives; a reason to hope. You are ordained to be a proclaimer of God’s word. Your attitude must be that of Jesus Christ, to take people beyond mediocrity.”

In meeting with over 1,100 catechumens who were initiated into the Catholic Church in his Virginia Diocese at the Easter Vigil, Bishop Sullivan, head of the Richmond see since 1976, said he marveled at the excitement of these people, and he called to the clergy to be on the cutting edge of the critical issues of the day.

“People have more material comforts, but are enjoying life less. A priest is an icon of God’s love … a priest calls people into communion. Parishes are a center of hospitality and acceptance. Catholic means universal — room for everyone. We’re not for perfect people, but broken ones. We can lead them to holy lives. We’re called to embrace people and lead them to holiness,” he said.

The bishop then asked his listeners, “How can I help you be in love with the priesthood?”

In answering that question, he stressed that priests must have the support and encouragement of their bishop. “A bishop’s number one role is his relationship with his priests,” said the Richmond ordinary. “The bishop’s role is critical. He is only successful if his priests are successful.”

He also called on the clergy to, “Be your own person. Be authentic. Be good to yourself without feeling guilty. Be there for the long haul. Have balance.”

In closing, Bishop Sullivan again emphasized, “I cannot think of a greater calling” than the priesthood. “Hold onto it, cherish it, celebrate it.”