Chrism Mass, Easter Vigil highlight Holy Week services

Priests across diocese join as Bishop Stika consecrates sacred Chrism and faithful observe holiest time of year

TOGETHER IN PRAYER Bishop Richard F. Stika leads the diocesan Chrism Mass March 26 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Priests across the diocese joined Bishop Stika for the annual Mass, where they renewed their vows of service. Photo by Dan McWilliams

TOGETHER IN PRAYER Bishop Richard F. Stika leads the diocesan Chrism Mass March 26 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Priests across the diocese joined Bishop Stika for the annual Mass, where they renewed their vows of service. Photo by Dan McWilliams

Chrism Mass overflow crowd estimated at 850 watched diocesan priests renew their vows of service and witnessed Bishop Richard F. Stika bless the holy oils that are used in the Church throughout the year.

More than 60 priests from throughout the diocese joined the bishop for the annual Holy Week Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral on March 26.

As part of his opening remarks, the bishop welcomed home Cardinal Justin Rigali, who recently returned from the Vatican City, where he was one of the cardinal electors in the vote for a new pope.

“Your eminence, you did a good job,” Bishop Stika said.

The bishop opened his homily by congratulating military chaplain Father Patrick Brownell, who recently came back from a visit to the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

Bishop Stika said that “we celebrate two things in reality” at the Chrism Mass.

“We celebrate first of all people coming into our midst by the blessing of the oils, of the sick, and of the catechumens, and the consecrating of the holy Chrism,” he said. “It’s one way that we extend ourselves out from this night and touch the lives of so many different people in all of our parishes, the 47 plus the four missions.

“But also part of this night we celebrate the priesthood of Jesus Christ, as the priests renew their commitments to be priests, to be servants, to be leaders, to be men of prayer.”

The bishop asked why, during the recent papal conclave, the entire world focused on the Sistine Chapel chimney to see whether it would emit white or black smoke. The answer may have been in the Chrism Mass’s first reading, from Isaiah 61, he said.

“What is it about the Catholic Church that causes in our own diocese on Holy Saturday night, give or take we’ll welcome 315 new members into our church?” the bishop asked.

“Is it about the social aspect of the church? . . . Maybe, in some ways, to some degree, but it goes deeper. Maybe it’s the invitation to people to gather together to pray, all the devotional prayers, but it goes deeper. Is it about sacraments like marriage and holy orders and others? . . . But it goes deeper.

“I daresay it’s about what we celebrate this evening, as we celebrate the Eucharist. It’s the summit of who we are. For ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon us,’ as that first reading reminds us.”

As it approaches its silver anniversary, the small Diocese of Knoxville “has grown and increased in fervor and vigor,” Bishop Stika said.

“That’s why I said at the beginning of this Mass that from my perspective the church in East Tennessee is very healthy, for we see excitement, we see a desire to study Scripture, to form Knights of Columbus councils, to welcome people into our church through RCIA, and to share the faith with others,” he said “Maybe, just maybe that’s the reason why the entire world was watching that chimney to see what was coming out. They were interested about the Catholic Church. . . .

“If you inquire of those going through the RCIA, they’ll say there’s something that draws them to the church, and part of it is you. By your example of living Gospel values, for indeed the Spirit of the Lord is upon you. . . . as he invites you to build the kingdom of God in East Tennessee.”

Priests who visit the diocese “tell us that something exceptional is here in the Diocese of Knoxville: the priests like each other and enjoy each other,” Bishop Stika said. “And even though we come from different nations and different cultures . . . we work together and we work for the people of God.”

The bishop mentioned the diocese’s 19 seminarians, many of whom served during the Chrism Mass. Two of them, Deacon Christopher Manning and Deacon Arthur Torres Barona, assisted at Mass and will be ordained priests later this year. Four more seminarians will be ordained deacons this year, Bishop Stika said.

“So we’ll have four ordinations next year to the priesthood. Why is that? Because of you guys, you priests and deacons who I’m privileged to share ministry with in this diocese.”

Two women in the diocese joined religious communities in the last year, the bishop said. He also announced that four cloistered sisters will be moving into residence at the Christ Prince of Peace Retreat Center in Benton soon.

“Cloistered sisters are going to be praying for you every moment of every day,” Bishop Stika said. “The church is growing because the Spirit of God is upon us.”

The bishop thanked the priests, deacons, and women religious who attended the Chrism Mass for their service.

“To be the face and the voice and the hands of Jesus is our challenge,” he said. “To build his kingdom in many ways is a gift.”

Bishop Stika showed the assembly a papal blessing obtained by Cardinal Rigali from Pope Francis, likely the first blessing he had given as pope.

“Good ol’ little Knoxville, to get the very first papal blessing,” the bishop said. “And so in a very special way we’re connected to the universal Church, to now the successor of St. Peter.”

The bishop concluded his homily by saying, “if you ever feel tired, glum, sad, confused, or wonder what the Church is all about, think of that first reading: ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon us.’”