By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Yes, it is a day to celebrate the priesthood.
But the Chrism Mass is also a day for priests to remember why they are priests, and to celebrate the people to whom they have dedicated their lives in service.
“My brothers, here is my call to you,” Bishop Robert W. Finn told the scores of priests assembled in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception as he blessed the three sacred oils to be used by the church throughout the coming year.
“Let us be priests, complete priests. And let us be brothers, co-workers in the mission entrusted to us,” the bishop said.
“As priests and intercessors, we stand before the throne of the High Priest, bringing the intentions that are so important to God’s people — for the protection of marriage; to bind in love all spouses and families; to grant peace to those engulfed in war; to heal the sick and to heal those who have been abused; to reconcile all who are estranged and bring back those on the point of despair; to bless us with vocations; to grant us relief from our enemies, (to grant us) simplicity of life and deep love for souls,” Bishop Finn said.
With Benedictine Abbot Gregory Polan at his side, assisted by permanent deacons, and with scores of diocesan priests and priests from every religious order serving the diocese in attendance, Bishop Finn then blessed the oils.
The Oil of the Catechumens, used in Baptism as a sign of driving away evil.
The Oil of the Sick, used in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
The Oil of Chrism, first mixed with fragrant balsam, and used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders as a permanent mark and source of strength, and in the dedication of churches.
Formerly held on the mornings of Holy Thursday, the day commemorating the Last Supper when Christ instituted both the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood, the Chrism Mass is now celebrated in most U.S. dioceses in the evening on the preceding Thursday, for the full participation of as many priests as possible, and attendance of the faithful.
Throughout the day, the priests serving the Diocese of Kansas City gathered at the downtown Kansas City Catholic Center for a day of reflection, inspirational talks, prayer and dinner before the evening liturgy.
It is, because of their service to the people, one of the rare days in which priests can gather together in large numbers.
During the Chrism Mass, the priests also formally and publicly renew their commitment to priestly service, and the faithful also renewed their promises to pray for both the priests and the bishop.
“The Lord God has anointed us,” Bishop Finn said in his homily.
“Unworthy as we are, He has called us and made us priests for His God and Father,” he said. “He gives us a share in His eternal priesthood so that we can bring the Eucharist to His people, and so that we can know the joy of the Gospel and preach the saving Word of God.”
Anointing with oil is more than symbolic, Bishop Finn told the priests and the faithful who came by the hundreds.
“It is an act of grace and consolation from Him who loves us, an intimate gesture of comfort and healing for us. It is mercy,” Bishop Finn said.
“In Christ, we are not only marked out,” he said. “We are re-created, reconfigured in some way to more fully resemble Christ. Jesus presents us to the Father, who gives us a share in His fatherly love. And we come to be spiritual fathers.”
Bishop Finn explained the rich meaning of “father.”
“A father is a teacher, a guardian and protector, one who provides as best he can even when this means great cost to himself,” he said.
“The good father challenges but quickly comforts. He listens and observes so he can know how best to give in response to the legitimate needs of his children,” Bishop Finn said.
“He seeks to know intimately, never for the sake of taking advantage, but so he can understand how best to offer himself for the care of those who depend on him,” he said.
“This is the ‘Father’ that you and I are called to be,” Bishop Finn said.
At ordination, priests are configured to be “alter Christus,” other Christs, the bishop said.
“We are, in some way, ‘Ipse Christus,’ Christ himself,” he said.
“Jesus Christ is alive in us. Indeed, St. Paul proclaims, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,’” Bishop Finn said.
“If they are to know us and love us in the way God intends, people must see Jesus Christ in us,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean we must first be perfect before people can accept and love us as their priests. But we must allow Christ to take us over, more and more. ‘He must increase,’ John the Baptist says, ‘We must decrease.’”
Bishop Finn noted that the life of a priest isn’t always easy. But it is always with God.
“If we suffer through injustice or even because of our own failures or sins, and if we bear these trials with patient endurance, then even now we can be sure that we are being purified by the saving mercy of God, the only hope of sinners,” he said.
“God calls us to be priests. Let us not fail to be signs of God’s forgiveness and healing by frequently making ourselves available for Confession. Let us be fatherly in comforting the sick, and come quickly to their aid in the Sacrament of the Anointing. Let us cherish the privilege and responsibility of offering the Holy Sacrifice of Mass daily for the salvation of souls,” Bishop Finn said.
“God calls us to be priests,” he said. “Let us not be ashamed to proclaim the truth faithfully even when the world rejects us. Let us be joyful and daring, ready to do great things against all odds so that others will have to conclude that we draw our hope and strength from God.”