Cardinal encourages fraternity, adoration, and hospitality at Chrism Mass

BOSTON -- Priests from across the archdiocese gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on March 30 to renew their priestly vows and witness the blessing of the sacred oils at the annual Chrism Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley.

Taking place each year on Tuesday of Holy Week, the Chrism Mass is seen as a celebration of fraternity among priests and unity in the Church. On this occasion, the sacred oils used in baptisms, confirmations, and the anointing of the sick are blessed and distributed.

Most years, the cathedral is packed with priests, deacons, seminarians, and religious. This year, the number of attendees was necessarily smaller, spread out across the pews in accordance with coronavirus protocols, which require social distancing and limit the total number of people that can be accommodated. The Mass was broadcast on CatholicTV so those who were not able to be present could participate remotely.

Because of the limited attendance, the distribution of the sacred oils was also modified. Rather than distributing a small package of oils to a representative of each parish or ministry, vicars forane picked up oils after the Mass to distribute to the priests in their vicariates.

As has been the custom in recent years, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Methodios was present, and Cardinal O'Malley invited him to speak before the Mass began.

"The Chrism Mass is truly one of the principal expressions of the fullness of your priesthood, Cardinal Seán, and signifies the closeness of the priesthood of your archdiocese," Metropolitan Methodios said.

In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley spoke at length about Blessed Charles de Foucauld, a French aristocrat and explorer who eventually gave up all his worldly possessions to become a hermit in the Holy Land. Pope Francis wrote about Blessed Charles in the closing of his encyclical "Fratelli tutti," expressing his hope that God would inspire people to embrace Blessed Charles' legacy.

"Pope Francis defines that treasure as Blessed Charles' desire to be a universal brother, identifying with the least of all so he could become the brother of all," Cardinal O'Malley said.

The cardinal described Blessed Charles' journey of faith, the spirituality he developed while living in Nazareth, and his desire to found a religious community.

He said that what people saw most in Blessed Charles was his friendliness, which "was learned by living close to Jesus of Nazareth." He also said that just as for Blessed Charles, "the themes of adoration and hospitality must be front and center in the lives of us priests."

Cardinal O'Malley recalled one time when, as a newly ordained priest, a family approached him about having their youngest child baptized. The child was already two or three years old, and the parents were nervous about asking for baptism because it had been put off for so long. But because the young priest welcomed them, they were emboldened to ask for baptism for their next eldest child, and then for three more who were even older.

The cardinal said he reflected afterward, "Thank God you didn't put up a fuss about the first child not being baptized for so long.Had I done that, there would have only been one baptism.My guardian angel must have had me on my best behavior."

Cardinal O'Malley acknowledged that priests often have to interact with people who are not living out their faith or have had bad prior experiences in the Church.

"It's important that we priests present ourselves to them as a friend," he said.

He pointed out that in the Gospels, "there are no categories of people that Jesus rejects. He reaches out to publicans and Pharisees, tax collectors and foreigners, rich and poor, Sadducees and Romans, Samaritans and prostitutes, young and old, healthy and sick."

Although Blessed Charles developed "stunning, beautiful rules of life," he did not attract a single follower during his lifetime. However, after he died, a group of diocesan priests and laypeople in France tried to live out his spirituality. One of them, Rene Bazin, wrote a biography about him, which in turn influenced many others -- including Cardinal O'Malley when he was a seminarian, and Rene Voillaume, founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus.

Today, there are 20 recognized groups within the Church inspired by Blessed Charles and his spirituality of Nazareth. For diocesan priests, this spirituality encourages adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; modeling their lives after Jesus and the gospels; simplicity of lifestyle; together reviewing their lives in light of the scriptures on a monthly basis; breaking down barriers that divide people; and spending time in solitude to be close to Jesus.

Cardinal O'Malley also spoke about fraternity, which he said is "a beautiful way of living celibacy."

"It would be tragic to conclude that the vocation to be celibate was a vocation to be solitary and withdrawn or intensely private or alone. We can wither if we do not have someone to confide in, no one to offer us unconditional support, no one who knows us as we really are and still accepts us. When I plead with my priests to have priestly support groups, I envision these elements of spirituality that are so life-giving to a priest," the cardinal said.

He said that when priests form deep friendships with each other, allowing them to talk about their relationship with Jesus, "our capacity to serve as shepherds of God's people is greatly enhanced."

Speaking to The Pilot after the Mass, Father Timothy Kearney, administrator of St. Patrick Parish in Watertown, observed how different the Chrism Mass was without the presence of different groups, such as schools and parishes.

On the other hand, he said, there was still "the sincerity of the people that were here."

"We still felt that sense of connection that you always feel at the Chrism Mass. So the most important aspects were still there, but also we're looking forward to the time when this place will be jam-packed again," Father Kearney said.