Fr. James Lobacz (left) and Dcn. Michael Malucha assist Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki (center) as he pours the oils during the Chrism Mass on Monday, Sept. 14, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. (Photo by David Bernacchi)
Not every Catholic in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee is present at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist for the annual Chrism Mass — especially not this year, when it was an invitation-only event postponed until Sept. 14 from its usual date during Holy Week.
But every Catholic will be touched by the Chrism Mass. If they themselves are not anointed with the Oil of the Sick, they will receive the Eucharist on an altar that was anointed with the Sacred Chrism, or receive absolution from a priest ordained with the Sacred Chrism.
The oils consecrated at this Mass flow through and sustain the sacramental fabric of this archdiocese like lifeblood.
“The Church has been given to us as a source of the life-giving grace of God. The oils that will be blessed and consecrated this night will flow to your parishes and anoint and consecrate our brothers and sisters and the various sacred objects that direct us in the worship of our God. All that is anointed will be set apart for the work of the Lord,” said Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki at the 2020 Chrism Mass.
The Chrism Mass is normally celebrated on Holy Thursday or an earlier day of Holy Week — in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, usually the Tuesday of Holy Week. This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments stated in a March 20 decree that the Chrism Mass would be able to be transferred to another date if the appropriate Episcopal Conferences so desired.
In his Sept. 14 homily, Archbishop Listecki called the Chrism Mass “always one of the most anticipated and joyful experiences of our local community.
“It’s a statement of our witness of our faith and the unity of the various ministries that compose the body of Christ. It is the blessing and consecration of the sacred oils that remind us of the sacramental grace of God’s activity among us through action of the church’s ministers.
“But this year,” he acknowledged, “is different. The challenge that the pandemic has placed before us seemingly separates us from one another. We have had to delay this Chrism Mass and even to limit the number of participants, which usually fills this entire Cathedral to capacity.”
“Unlike past years, the Cathedral was not standing room only; there was no ‘Renewal of Commitments,’ there was no archdiocesan choir, and even the number of priests and deacons was limited to deans, vicars general and the deacons of the Mass,” said Kim Mandelkow, director of the Archdiocese Office for Worship. “Even the readings for the Mass itself were from the celebration of the day’s feast — the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.”
And yet this day, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, “is truly an apt time” for this celebration, said the archbishop in his homily.
“Despite everything that we face (we have confidence) because of the cross of Jesus. It’s obvious to me that we often forget our ultimate destiny in this world,” Archbishop Listecki said. “We come to expect that this is all there is. But we radically change that view when we’re confronted that the end is coming. We have been made by God for him but we demand that God responds to our wants and needs, failing at times to understand that we must live for him, especially in the face of the crosses we bear.
“The cross, a symbol of defeat that Christ turned into a sign of victory, gives us confidence to face the trials of the present day.
“The cross is a sign that was rejected by the Jews and senseless to the Gentiles. However, for us, the cross is the way to the empty tomb and life eternal.”
Mandelkow echoed the archbishop’s sentiments, saying despite the differences of this year’s celebration, “The simplicity of the celebration allowed us to hear and contemplate the rich theology of the prayers and the beauty of being together as a Church here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“As the Archbishop poured the balsam essence into the oil, breathed into the vessels, and prayed the centuries-old prayer of Consecration of the Chrism, the sweet fragrance filled the air that could even be sensed through the face coverings worn by all in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus,” she said.
“These oils, distributed to our various communities, will affirm the trust that we have in the actions of God — his grace offered through his church,” said Archbishop Listecki. “We, the Church, are His mystical Body, the great Sacrament of the new law, offering his grace to the world.”
The uncertainty of the present moment is precisely when that grace is needed the most, the archbishop said.
“We can, at times, when faced by this, become immobilized. But the world needs the voice and clarity of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching,” he said. “And we, my brothers and sisters — we must be that voice.”