Priests gather for annual Chrism Mass

Priests extend their hands, joining the cardinal in the consecration of the chrism oil. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy

SOUTH END -- As they gathered for an annual celebration of their priestly vocation and ministry, the priests of the Archdiocese of Boston heard words of encouragement from their archbishop.

On March 30, around 300 priests from the archdiocese gathered as they do each year during Holy Week for the Chrism Mass and luncheon following.

The Chrism Mass is held annually during Holy Week to bless the sacred oils that will be used throughout the year for anointing the sick, baptisms, confirmations and ordinations.

The day is also seen as an opportunity to celebrate priestly fraternity. During the Mass, priests renewed their priestly promises and afterwards gathered for a luncheon with Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley. This year’s luncheon was highlighted by a reflection by Father John Connelly, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Newton, titled “Christ: the Great High Priest.”

As he does most years, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Methodios of Boston attended the Mass in a sign of solidarity with the Catholic clergy.

In his homily, Cardinal O’Malley discussed the lessons of the recent sexual abuse crisis, highlighted how the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero is an example for today’s priests to follow, and offered encouragement and advice on how to be a holier priest.

“God is trying to get our attention,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “What is needed in our Church is holy priests, now more than ever.”

“The greatest crisis we have experienced in the history of the Church continues to weigh upon us all,” Cardinal O’Malley added. “It is a wake-up call, an urgent appeal to live a life of holiness.”

He said that Catholics simply want holy priests.

This year, the Church marked the 30th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Romero, who was killed on March 24, 1980 while celebrating Mass in San Salvador.

Cardinal O’Malley praised Archbishop Romero for his thoughtfulness, pointing out that he examined his conscience deeply. Cardinal O’Malley also lauded him for how he took spiritual direction and his “deep” faith and prayer life.

Cardinal O’Malley offered three ways that priests can be more holy. He said he will ask every priest of the archdiocese to make an annual retreat, join a priest support group, and develop a personal rule of life.

Cardinal O’Malley said that retreats offer time for silence, prayer, and spiritual direction, and cited priest support groups as ways for priests to regularly gather to support one another, pray, and provide one another with spiritual direction. A rule of life, according to him, allows for balance between work, friends, family, and prayer, and also allows priests to care for their health including proper diet, exercise, and sleep.

“A rule of life is a game plan for a balanced existence and to guarantee we have time and space for God in our lives,” Cardinal O’Malley said.

Father Steve Rock, pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Reading, reacted positively to Cardinal O’Malley’s three suggestions.

“It’s a winning combination,” Father Rock said. “The sad thing is there are a lot of guys who don’t do all these things because we get so wrapped up in our ministry.”

“If guys did all those things it would change their attitude,” he added. “It would make holy priests who are concerned about God’s work but not their own.”

Father Rock credited priest support groups for building priestly fraternity, speaking from his involvement with them in a previous assignment as an armed forces chaplain.

“Cardinal Seán gave us, as he said, a ‘wake-up call,’” said Father Paul Sullivan, parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Needham. “We’ve got to grow deeper in our priesthood, and deeper in our prayer life with Jesus himself, the great High Priest.”

Father George Evans, pastor of St. Julia Parish in Weston said he enjoyed the spiritual nature of the day.

“It’s great to get spiritual nourishment that gets us ready for the high point of the year -- a time for giving and receiving the grace of Christ,” said Father Evans. “Christ is the priest and we are participants in what is uniquely his.”

“It keeps us from being consumed by mere practicalities and worries,” he added. “It also reminds us we are a fraternity of priests. We serve separately and we’re spread over the Archdiocese of Boston, but we are one. This expresses the truth that we are a union.”

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