Cardinal emphasizes priests' spiritual fatherhood at Chrism Mass

BOSTON -- Hundreds of clergy, seminarians, religious, and laypeople were once again able to gather at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross for the Chrism Mass on April 12, celebrated by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley.

Taking place each year on the Tuesday of Holy Week, the Chrism Mass is the occasion at which the sacred oils are blessed by the archbishop and distributed to the archdiocese's parishes and religious communities. These oils will be used for baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, and the anointing of the sick over the next year.

It is also traditionally seen as a celebration of fraternity among priests and unity in the Church, and a time for priests to renew their ordination promises.

This event took place on a much smaller scale in 2020 and 2021 due to coronavirus restrictions on Mass attendance, but this year it looked much like it had in pre-COVID times, with a long procession of clergy filling many of the pews of the cathedral.

"It is a beautiful moment for us to gather, and a time also for us to be able to thank our priests, in the name of the Catholic community, for their ministry, their fidelity, their generous service, and their witness," Cardinal O'Malley said as the Mass began.

Special guests included Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Methodios, who has customarily attended the Chrism Mass each year, and Archbishop Lionginas Virbalas, S.J., vice-president of the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference, who was visiting the local Lithuanian community.

Following a longstanding tradition here in Boston, the celebration began with an exchange of ecumenical greetings between the cardinal and the metropolitan.

Before inviting the metropolitan to address the priests and the assembly, Cardinal O'Malley acknowledged the suffering of many Orthodox Christians and Greek Catholics in Ukraine and noted that the metropolitan's "presence betokens the friendship between our Churches and the longing for greater unity according to Christ's will."

"Metropolitan Methodios' witness and ministry are a blessing for the entire community. His service to the Gospel of Jesus Christ inspires hope in so many orthodox Christians and Catholics, as well. Please know how very welcome you are here, your eminence, in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross," he added.

In his remarks, Metropolitan Methodios praised the cardinal for his ministry and also added his prayers for peace.

"I join you today to pray with you for our brothers and sisters in the Ukraine that are the victims of a barbaric act of violence this past month, but also to pray for the barbaric acts of violence taking place in our own cities and towns throughout America," Metropolitan Methodios said.

In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley expounded on the fatherhood of God and the role of the priest as a spiritual father.

"We gather here at the Chrism Mass because we want to be fathers," he said.

He pointed to the life of St. Francis, who, he said, like many young men, had "a terrible relationship with his father, that often results in authority problems and other psychological traits that can surface later in life."

"The amazing thing about Francis is that his rocky relationship with his dad actually led him to discover his relationship with his heavenly Father. All of Francis' spirituality and themes of his life center on his discovery of the centrality of God's fatherhood," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He said the term "father," for priests, "should not just be a title, but a vocation to spiritual fatherhood that allows us to be, in a humble way, an icon of Jesus, who manifests the merciful love of the Father."

"Every time someone calls us 'Father' it's a reminder not of what we do but of who we are," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He spoke about moments of grace, when the priest experiences "a love that's greater than ourselves, a love that doesn't find its source in our heart." At such times, the priest becomes "an instrument, a conduit, of the Father's love."

"God allows us to feel his kindness and his mercy for his children. We experience in our priestly hearts the same sentiments at the very heart of Jesus. These are moments of great joy in the life of the priest," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He said that to be a spiritual father, "one must first be a son in our relationship with God."

He encouraged the priests to practice prayer, especially Eucharistic adoration, which can be "a means of growing in our capacity to be present to others."

"The closer we are to God, the closer we are to the people," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He said that praying for one's people "is a demanding duty, but it's also a consolation," since a priest may not be able to visit all his parishioners or get them to participate in the life of the Church, but he can pray for all of them.

Finally, Cardinal O'Malley urged the priests to never pass up the opportunity to give a blessing, which is a sign of God's fatherly love and kindness.

"Nowhere is the priestly, fatherly role externalized better than in the priestly blessing," the cardinal said.

After the homily, the priests renewed their vows, and the names of priests who had died over the past year were read aloud and prayers offered for them. Then, the cardinal blessed the oil of catechumens, which is used for confirmations and baptisms; the oil of the infirm, which is used for the anointing of the sick; and the sacred chrism, which is used for baptisms and priestly ordinations.

The Mass concluded with the hundreds of priests concelebrating the Eucharist with the cardinal.