Today in Holy Week belongs to the priests in the diocese. At 1130am, we will gather at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle for the celebration of the Chrism Mass, so named because it is at this Mass that the oils of the sick and the catechumens are blessed and the Sacred Chrism is consecrated for use throughout the diocese this coming year. For centuries, this was done at Mass on Holy Thursday and twelve priests representing the clergy of a diocese joined with the bishop that day for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and the blessing of the oils. Then the twelve, like in the Gospels, would disperse throughout the diocese with the oils. In 1956 under Pope Pius XII, a new liturgy was developed for a special Mass at which the oils would be blessed. With the new liturgy came the recommendation that the Mass take place on Holy Thursday morning and that all priests attend if at all possible. Thus, at St. Peter’s on Thursday of this week, Pope Benedict will concelebrate this Mass with over a thousand of the priests who are living and/or working in Rome (it is the only time during the year when priests are allowed to concelebrate with the Holy Father). In the United States and many other places throughout the world, priests found it difficult to both attend the somewhat lengthy Chrism Mass and return in time to prepare for and celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday so the Liturgy was moved to earlier in Holy Week. In Florida, every diocese in the state except St. Augustine is having their Chrism Mass today and they will have theirs tomorrow night.
If all goes at it usually does, the Cathedral will be packed today. Parishes send delegations to the Mass with the Oils to be blessed and almost every ambulatory priest tries to attend. It is a wonderful moment for any bishop and I usually get somewhat emotional as I follow over two hundred priests into the Cathedral. For us it is not a “duty dance” but a moment to celebrate our common priesthood and of more recent vintage, a renewal of our priestly commitment has been included into the ceremony. My homily can be found on the diocesan website and can be accessed by clicking here. It is probably the single most challenging homily any bishop gives for two reasons: first, the three readings are always the same so one must constantly try and “put new life into old [scriptural] wineskins” and secondly, you are very aware that many of the priests during the homily are listening with a critical ear [bishops do the same thing when they are listening to other bishops].
It’s “FATHERS’ DAY” or “Affirmation Tuesday” so I invite you to pray in s special way for your priests today. More is constantly being asked of less and less of us but we rise to the occasion most of the time and there are no one else whom I would rather be with than the priests of St. Petersburg. It’s a great day for a bishop too!