CHARLESTON—Priests from the Diocese of Charleston reaffirmed their commitment to priestly service, worshipped together and received thanks for their devoted work at the annual Chrism Mass, or Mass of the Oils, held March 30 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated the liturgy. Priests who attended processed together, sat at the front of the Cathedral and assisted in the consecration of the Eucharist.
The Chrism Mass is traditionally held on the Tuesday of Holy Week. It is when the bishop consecrates sacred oils that will be used in sacraments during the coming year. Priests then take jars of the oils back to their parishes.
The three consecrated oils are the Oil of Catechumens, used in baptism; the Oil of the Sick, used to anoint those who are ill; and the Oil of Sacred Chrism, the chief anointing oil used in dedications, sacraments of initiation and holy orders.
Bishop Guglielmone’s homily focused on the role that priests play in the life of the church, one that requires them to take on the person of Christ through actions such as blessing the sick, marrying couples and forgiving sins through reconciliation. He said their priestly vows commit them to a life of constant service.
“We do our work day in and day out with a sense of commitment and purpose,” he said. “Our numbers here in this diocese are small, and they’re not growing, yet the numbers of the people of God continue to grow, and the demands on us are greater and greater.”
He said priests must always try to spread the Gospel even to people who might question it or reject its message of salvation. He compared their experience to Christ’s ministry on earth.
“Like Jesus, we too live always in the shadow of the cross, and that’s how it must be,” he said. “One can’t be Christ’s disciple without living in the shadow of Christ’s cross.
“By accepting the cross and recognizing the beauty of Christ’s life, we are able to grieve with others at the death of loved ones, share in the struggles of victims of abuse, of the victims of addiction,” he said. “We are in solidarity with suffering people. We share the wonder of a newborn child, rejoice in forgiveness of the sinner, and walk with people as they move from the shadow of the cross to the gift of new life.”
The bishop said the Year for Priests, which continues through June 19, is a perfect time for the clergy to meditate on the precious gift of Christ’s incarnation, the Holy Spirit’s role in their daily lives, and the gift of the priesthood itself.
“We must continue to live with each other, challenge one another to live in the person of Christ, and thank God for the challenges the priesthood offers us,” he said.
The bishop honored three priests celebrating their 25th jubilees: Benedictine Father Bartholomew Leon, Franciscan Father Aubrey McNeil, and Father Bernard Okokon. He also honored two priests celebrating their 50th jubilees: Father Frederick F. Masad and Benedictine Father Karl Roesch.
Father Bernardino S. Yebra, administrator of Transfiguration Church in Blythewood and St. Theresa Church in Winnsboro, was officially incardinated and is now a priest of the Diocese of Charleston.
As a group, the men renewed their vow to the priesthood and promised to celebrate the sacraments with devotion.
Members of the congregation were asked to pray for the priests and the bishop, and at the end of the Mass gave a standing ovation to their shepherds.
Bishop Guglielmone also encouraged extra prayers for Pope Benedict XVI, and for the worldwide church in light of recent revelations about sexual abuse by clergy in Europe.
He said negative stories in the mainstream media highlight genuine mistakes in the church’s past, but also can cause great pain to clergy who are genuinely dedicated to their work.
“We cannot just look to the past,” he said. “Certainly in this country and specifically in this diocese, the church has made every effort to provide a safe environment for children. As a church, we must continue to be vigilant within our own structures … and challenge those parts of society where this issue has yet to be addressed.”
Several priests said the Chrism Mass is a welcome chance to get together with their peers and to renew their spirits through worship and prayer.
“This Mass is very important in the life of a priest, because it’s a day when we commit to be faithful to our call to the priesthood,” said Father Michael Okere, administrator of Holy Trinity Church in Orangeburg. “In these tough times, we need to pray that God sustains the priesthood.”
Father Yebra said his new role as a priest of the diocese made him feel as if he has a true spiritual home.
“I am so thankful and happy, I feel like this is an experience of the church as a mystical communion,” he said.