Chrism Mass marks joyful return to Church

All Photos, Miscellany/Doug Deas: Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone consecrates the oils of chrism during a special Mass on March 30 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston.

CHARLESTON—Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated a Chrism Mass on March 30 that was joyfully different than the one a year before.

Everyone in the Cathedral wore face masks, but other than that, the differences were immediately apparent.

Instead of the stark, sparsely attended event held at the Chapel of the Holy Family in 2020’s pandemic, this year’s Mass was attended by more than 90 priests and 21 deacons from around the diocese. Lay people sat in the pews, observing social distance but happy to be present. Members of the Cathedral choir sang moving hymns and antiphons. 

It was all a wonderful sign that the life of the Church in the Diocese of Charleston is gradually returning to normal. 

“Last year you could not exactly call what we had a celebration, but we did what was necessary,” Bishop Guglielmone told the crowd. “This year, we are beginning to see the conquering of the virus and are happy that we can come together to praise God.” 

In many other locations, the Chrism Mass is held on Holy Thursday, but it is held on the Tuesday of Holy Week in the Diocese of Charleston. 

The liturgy is also known as the Mass of the Oils, because during it the bishop consecrates sacred oils to be used in sacraments over the coming year. Priests also renew their vows at this time.

The three sacred oils are oil of catechumens, used in baptism; oil of the sick, for anointing those who are ill; and sacred chrism, considered the Church’s chief anointing oil and used for dedicating churches, altars and other sacred objects, at baptisms and confirmations, and for holy orders.

Bishop Guglielmone reflected on the annual tradition in his homily, noting that this was the 13th Chrism Mass he has celebrated in South Carolina, with the first one coming only two weeks after he was installed as bishop in March of 2009. 

He noted that priests in the diocese have shared a series of trials and challenges along with their brother priests nationwide, both from an increasingly secular culture and from the abuse crisis that has rocked the Church in recent years. He also acknowledged the remarkable diversity of the priests, who come from all over the U.S. as well as many other nations. 

“We are unique, but all anointed with chrism for the same purpose — we serve in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) and we embrace the crosses we encounter,” Bishop Guglielmone said. 

He also reminded the priests that change is coming sometime in the near future when a new bishop will be selected to lead South Carolina’s faithful. As required when he turned 75, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Francis and is now awaiting news of his successor to come from the Vatican. 

As the priests headed back to their parishes, he encouraged them to share the joy of their vocation with the faithful. 

“Use the power of the Holy Spirit well — it is the gift that God gives those anointed with these sacred oils,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “As we celebrate the sacraments, we celebrate the life of Jesus Christ in the lives of those we serve.”

He reminded the priests that despite changes that may come in both the diocese and in society “the message of the Gospel is constant.”

During the Mass, Bishop Guglielmone welcomed several priests who were incardinated into the diocese in the past year: Father Ray Leonard, pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in North Myrtle Beach; Father Wilbroad Mwape, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville; Father Arnulfo Jara Galvez, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in Charleston; and Dominican Father JohnBosco Ikemeh, clinical chaplain at the Medical University of South Carolina.