PORTLAND---“The oil we bless has a purpose,” said the bishop. “It is intended to strengthen the Christian faithful through the sacramental life of the Church. These holy oils - oil of the catechumens, oil of the sick, aacred chrism – each of them is a privileged channel of grace.”
It is one of the most significant and solemn liturgies of the Church, and each year, the annual Chrism Mass, held traditionally on the Tuesday of Holy Week and celebrated by Bishop Robert Deeley, has attracted a crowd of hundreds and hundreds of clergy, religious, and faithful that fill each and every pew in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.
The scene so familiar and associated with the days leading up to the Easter Triduum looked very different on Tuesday, March 30 (additional pictures below), due to restrictions on capacity and the ongoing pandemic. The smaller assembly this year was comprised mostly of invited clergy, including 65 priests and nearly 20 deacons and wives, though a large number of parishioners and community members participated via livestream on the diocesan website and multiple social media platforms.
“I feel it a true blessing that we have been able to gather so many of our priests and deacons who are here this afternoon,” said Bishop Deeley during his homily on Tuesday. “It is, of course a disappointment that we are not able to have more of our lay faithful with us for this Mass. It is always a wonderful celebration of our communion as Church. All the same, we are grateful that we are moving in a positive direction. We know that, in addition to those we gather today here in the Cathedral, others are joining us on livestream, both from our priests and our people. I want to begin this afternoon by thanking everyone for the cooperation you have given to our safety protocols. It has not been easy, but it has been effective.”
During the Mass, Bishop Deeley consecrated the sacred chrism by adding balsam to olive oil and blowing into the urn, a sign of the Holy Spirit. The sacred chrism is used for baptism, confirmation, and the consecration of altars and churches. Bishops are the only ordained ministers who can consecrate chrism, but he does so in union with his priests who are present.
“We beseech you, O Lord, that by the power of your grace, this mingling of fragrance and oil may become for us a sacrament of your blessing,” prayed the bishop. “Pour out in abundance the gifts of the Holy Spirit on our brothers and sisters anointed with this oil; adorn, with the splendor of holiness, the places and things signed by sacred oils; but above all, by the mystery of this oil, bring to completion the growth of your Church, until she reaches that measure of fullness in which you, resplendent with eternal light, will be all in all with Christ in the Holy Spirit, forever and ever.”
Bishop Deeley also blessed the oil of the sick, which is used to anoint the sick, bringing God’s healing, strength, and forgiveness to those in need at all Maine parishes.
“Send forth from the heavens, we pray, your Holy Spirit upon this oil, in all its richness, which you have graciously brought forth from the verdant tree to restore the body, so that by your holy blessing, everyone anointed with this oil as a safeguard for body, soul, and spirit may be freed from all pain, all infirmity, and all sickness,” prayed the bishop.
In addition, the oil of the catechumens (individuals preparing for baptism in the Catholic Church) was blessed by the bishop to strengthen catechumens in avoiding sin and growing in faith.
“Graciously bless this oil and grant courage to the catechumens who will be anointed with it,” prayed the bishop, “so that, receiving divine wisdom and power, they may understand more deeply the Gospel of your Christ, they may undertake with a generous heart the labors of the Christian life, and, made worthy of adoption as your sons and daughters, they may rejoice to be born anew and to live in your Church.”
Once consecrated and blessed, respectively, the sacred chrism and oils were prepared by a small group of oil caretakers for distribution to Maine parishes. Safety protocols were followed to ensure the safety of those handling the packaging and distribution.
Priests and laity from Corpus Christi Parish in Waterville, St. Anne Parish in Gorham, Parish of the Holy Eucharist in Falmouth, Our Lady of Hope Parish in Portland, and Holy Spirit Parish in Kennebunk/Wells served as the representatives of all the parishes in Maine in ceremonially receiving the oils during the Mass. The oils will now be distributed to Maine parishes, hospitals, and other ministries for use during the next year.
In the renewal of another Chrism Mass tradition, Bishop Deeley invited the priests present to renew their commitment to priestly service, resolving, as they did on the day of their ordinations, to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist and the other liturgical rites and to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching, following Christ the Head and Shepherd.
The bishop also thanked the priests for their witness to Jesus and dedication through such a difficult year.
“Gathering your people and keeping them as safe as possible and as connected to each other as was feasible has been a focus of these many months, and it will continue for a while longer as we work toward the immunity that widespread vaccination will bring. I am grateful for the good you have done in leading your parish communities and helping our people to care for each other.”
The large choir, thunderous music, a packed assembly of the faithful, and a hundreds of clergy members were missing on Friday. The familiar Chrism Mass scene had changed, but its function, importance, beauty, and tradition were served well.
“‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.’ Anointed, Jesus knows himself sent on mission, the reason for his coming among us is set out for him,” said the bishop. “And as we bless these oils today, we remind ourselves of the fact that we are anointed. We are sent.”
On Wednesday, Bishop Deeley will head to Holy Rosary Church in Caribou to celebrate the Mass of the Holy Oils at 6:30 p.m. The Mass will be available via livestream. Bishop Deeley will be joined by clergy from around Aroostook County for the Mass during which the oils that will be used in the sacraments during the upcoming year will be distributed to the priests serving in northern Maine. As is the case at the Chrism Mass, the Mass of the Holy Oils is also an opportunity to celebrate and thank the priests of the diocese and for them to renew their commitment to priestly service.
A special Holy Week section is available on the Diocese of Portland website that includes Mass times and locations at all Maine parishes, listings of parish events, daily prayers and reflections, and many other resources. In addition, stories from many Masses and services, messages, and other resources throughout Holy Week will be posted on the diocesan website, the diocesan Facebook page, the diocesan Twitter page, the diocesan Instagram page, myParish App, and on Bishop Deeley’s personal social media pages on Twitter and Instagram.