“What a wonderful night this is as the Church of East Tennessee gathers from all the different corners together with our priests and deacons and all of us who are family united in the power and glory of God through the gift of his son, Jesus,” said the bishop in his greeting.
Concelebrants included Cardinal Justin F. Rigali; the diocese’s four deans, Father Bob Hofstetter, Father Bill McKenzie, Father Chris Michelson, and Monsignor George Schmidt; vicar general Monsignor Xavier Mankel; and vicar general and cathedral rector Father David Boettner. Transitional Deacon Dustin Collins and diocesan chancellor Deacon Sean Smith assisted.
More than 50 other priests concelebrated, and another 30 deacons attended the Holy Week Mass along with women religious and East Tennessee Catholics from around the diocese.
The Chrism Mass included the priests’ annual renewal of commitment to priestly service. The bishop also blessed the sacred oils used in the Church throughout the year.
In his homily, the bishop said that Jesus “was able to recognize people by their face, by their person, and by their personality.”
“We, too, can recognize Jesus in the faces of the people that you’re with this evening and the people whom you’ll see on the highways, the streets, at work, and at school—people that you love and people that you just don’t understand.”
People looking for Jesus join the Church at the Easter vigil, the bishop said.
“In a few days, the Diocese of Knoxville, along with churches that are scattered throughout the world, will receive new people into our midst. People who wish to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, people who wish to share with us the faith and trust and the belief in Jesus Christ, whether they belong to another faith community or maybe if they’ve never known God. That’s what the joy of Holy Week reminds me of: people who wish to see Jesus.”
The Chrism Mass is an opportunity to celebrate the priesthood, Bishop Stika said.
“I have to tell all you folks who are sitting behind the priests that they represent to me the face of Jesus,” he said. “Some faces are younger and some are older. Some are bigger and some are smaller. Some smile more than others, but behind those smiles are people who have said yes to the Lord.”
The bishop asked the faithful to keep the Diocese of Knoxville’s first leader, Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell, in their prayers.
“A few days ago, Cardinal Rigali and I visited the founding bishop of this diocese to see how he was doing, and I ask all of you to pray for him—he has health problems.”
Bishop Stika noted the Year of Faith that begins in October.
“Following that, we begin the celebration of the anniversary of the Diocese of Knoxville—25 years of existence. We have much to celebrate. We have much to be filled with joy about,” including “the presence of religious, brothers in the priesthood,” and deacons, the bishop said.
The bishop said he was proud of the diocese’s seminarians—several of whom served at the altar during the Chrism Mass—“who have said yes to the Lord” in discerning a vocation. Five more seminarians next fall could join the diocese’s 17 men currently studying for the priesthood, the bishop said.
“In a few months, if Deacon Dustin Collins behaves himself and I’m in a good mood, he’ll be ordained a priest of Jesus Christ,” said Bishop Stika. “Following that we’ll have two more ordinations this year to the transitional diaconate. Again we’re very blessed.”
The bishop urged the faithful to be generous in the special Easter Sunday collection for seminarian education.
During his homily, the bishop also thanked “my brothers who are international priests, true missionaries in spirit from around the world, who have joined us in this presbyterate to teach the faith, to celebrate the sacraments, and to love God’s people.”
After the homily, the priests renewed their commitment to the priesthood, pledging before the bishop to “be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him, denying yourselves and confirming those promises about sacred duties toward Christ’s Church which, prompted by love of him, you willingly and joyfully pledged on the day of your priestly ordination. Priests also promised to “be stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist and other liturgical rites and to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching, following Christ the head and shepherd, not seeking any gain but moved only by zeal for souls.”
The assembly promised the bishop to “pray for your priests, that the Lord may pour out his gifts abundantly upon them and keep them faithful as ministers of Christ, the high priest, so that they may lead you to him, who is the source of salvation.” The faithful also promised to pray for the bishop, “that I may be faithful to the apostolic office entrusted to me in my lowliness and that in your midst I may be made day by day a living and more perfect image of Christ, the priest, the good shepherd, the teacher, and the servant of all.”
In the procession of the oils, Monsignor Philip Thoni, the senior active priest of the diocese, brought the balsam for the chrism forward. The oil of catechumens was presented by Matthew and Noah Durham of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville. Jay and Sue Smith of Holy Family in Seymour brought forward the oil of the sick. Father Doug Owens, the diocese’s most recently ordained priest, presented the oil for the chrism. Four of the Chancery’s newest employees, Lori Trikones, Angie Connors, Pam Dietz, and ETC editor Bill Brewer, brought forward the gifts.
Bishop Stika then blessed the oils of the sick and the catechumens. He mixed the balsam and oil for the chrism, and then breathed over the chrism, praying that the Holy Spirit be present in it.
“As we gather together to bless the oil of the sick, we pray for those of the diocese who are ill in mind, body, or spirit,” the bishop said. “As I bless the oil of catechumens, it’s a reminder to all of us that by virtue of God’s call and maybe our witness, people will be joining us in our faith.”
In his closing remarks, Bishop Stika thanked the assembly for its presence.
“I pray that you don’t waste this week because it’s a week given to us by Christ himself. I also pray for those people who are separated from the Church. Maybe by your invitation and by your witness, they may come back. Again, pray for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Especially we pray for the gift of peace in the world that so badly needs the peace of Christ.”