‘The Lord has anointed us,’ Bishop Stika declares as 1,000 gather for diocesan Holy Week service
By Dan McWilliams
The still-sparkling new Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus hosted its first Chrism Mass on March 27 as Bishop Richard F. Stika and more than 60 priests joined some 1,000 of the faithful for the annual Holy Week celebration.
The priests renewed their vows before the bishop and the people, and Bishop Stika blessed the holy oils that will be used in the Church throughout the year.
Principal concelebrants of the Chrism Mass were Cardinal Justin Rigali, cathedral rector and vicar general Father David Boettner, vicar general Father Doug Owens, episcopal vicar for priests Monsignor Patrick Garrity, and diocesan deans Father Charlie Burton, Father Michael Cummins, Father Brent Shelton, and Father Ron Franco, CSP.
Forty deacons along with men and women religious, Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus, the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre, and a diocesan choir and orchestra also took part in the Chrism Mass.
“Coming together on this historic day in the life of the Diocese of Knoxville, the Catholic Church in East Tennessee, we begin this Chrism Mass in our new cathedral in the presence of God,” the bishop said in his opening remarks. “In the name of the cardinal, I welcome you all, as we bless and consecrate the oils, as we celebrate the gift of the priesthood, as we celebrate the faith, and we do together what we cannot do by ourselves; in many parishes and areas of East Tennessee, we’re joined together as one through Jesus.”
In his homily, Bishop Stika recalled his days in St. Louis.
“The predecessor to Cardinal Rigali as archbishop was Archbishop John L. May, God be good to him. During the confirmation season, he would always have the same exact homily. And he would start out, ‘How many are here in the cathedral, the mother church, for the first time?’ Now one person could raise a hand, or the entire cathedral could raise their hand, and he always said, ‘Oh, I see, about half.’”
Then Bishop Stika asked the same question of his Sacred Heart audience.
“How many are here in the cathedral for the first time? I see, a lot. Welcome to your mother church.”
The bishop also posed another question.
“What brings all of us together? We come from all different segments of East Tennessee, big parishes and small parishes, long distances away. . . . If our answer as individuals is not love, then we’re confused. The love of God the Father to the Son . . . love brings us together, followers of Jesus.”
The evening’s first reading was from Isaiah 61.
“It’s a beautiful reading about the Spirit of God,” Bishop Stika said. “‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners.’
“If we look at that at face value or dig deep into that, isn’t that who we are as Christians, as followers of Jesus and the truth? God has commissioned all of us by virtue of our baptism, our reception of the Eucharist and confirmation, of the sacraments, to know that the Spirit of God is upon each and every one of us, because the Lord has anointed us, at our baptism and confirmation.”
The bishop added that “the Lord has anointed us, has commissioned us, has challenged us, to be His followers. And what do we do with that? To proclaim liberty, to heal, to release, to assist those, as the Beatitudes and all the works of mercy remind us to do, because we are anointed. And today is that perfect combination, that perfect connection, by virtue of what we call the Mass of the Chrism. Its primary focus is on the priesthood.
“It’s about the priesthood, for [the priests] can say authentically that the Spirit of the Lord is upon them, to heal and to proclaim and to release and to announce a favor of the Lord, in a particular way as ministers of the Gospel, as those who take the bread and take the cup and say the words, ‘This is my body. This is my blood, given for you.’ They have been commissioned. They have undergone that ontological change. They are different, they are set aside—not for better, not worse— but they are set aside.”
Bishop Stika, after foreshadowing the priests’ recommitment ceremony that followed the homily, said to his brother priests, “If you’re becoming self-centered or tired or confused, call upon the power of Jesus, the Jesus that called you to the priesthood, the Jesus that renews you in the priesthood, the Jesus who says to you, ‘My people need you to build the kingdom of God in your hearts and in your lives, the very essence of who you are.’”
Then the bishop addressed the deacons.
“And to you, my deacons, even though this is a different celebration, the same goes for you,” he said.
A baby then began crying, prompting the first of two ad-libs from the bishop.
“I know, it’s tough. Sometimes you just want to cry about it,” he said, joking that he paid the baby $5 to begin crying at that moment.
For “all of us who have received holy orders, it’s not a fun job sometimes, my sisters and brothers,” the bishop continued, “and sometimes you get a little down, a little tired, a little confused, a little worn down. That’s why we need love.
“Also part of this Mass of the Chrism is I ask you, O people of God, to pray for them, so that they might constantly be renewed in the Holy Spirit, by God who is love.”
The holy chrism is an “oil that is used in baptism, when the Spirit of the Lord comes upon us,” Bishop Stika said. “It’s used in healing, when a person is ill, preparing for surgery, maybe suffering from a chronic illness: depression, or whatever it might be.”
At that point in the homily, a cellphone started ringing.
“God calls us,” the bishop said. “I ain’t joking. Do you ever think that God does not call you? . . . And my brother priests, and my brothers and sisters, I ask you this, do you really believe that the Spirit of the Lord God is upon you? Has God anointed you at your baptism or confirmation? Do you really believe and are you committed to opening your heart so that you might bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners? Do you do that in your life?
“And for all of us, it’s a reminder that in order to teach Jesus, whom we profess, we have to know Him. So I pray that this diocese, as we now celebrate our 30th anniversary, as we begin this new journey with our mother church, that we might never be hesitant to bring glad tidings, to heal, to proclaim, to release. And in this 30th anniversary of our diocese, we announce a year of favor from the Lord.”
After the homily, the priests renewed their commitment to priestly service, pledging to “be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to Him” and to be “faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist.”
The bishop then asked the assembly to “pray for your priests, that the Lord may pour out his gifts abundantly on them” and to “pray for me, that I may be faithful to the apostolic office entrusted to me in my lowliness.”
The procession of oils followed, with the balsam for the chrism being presented by the senior active priest of the diocese, Monsignor Bob Hofstetter. The oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick, and the oil for the sacred chrism also were presented to the bishop, the latter by the diocese’s most recently ordained priest, Father Christopher Floersh.
The bishop blessed the oil of the sick and the oil of catechumens, then mixed the balsam and chrism and breathed over the chrism, praying that the Holy Spirit be present in the oil.
Two of the many in attendance at the Chrism Mass said the annual liturgy marked their first visit to Sacred Heart.
“Oh, my gosh. I’m in absolute heaven,” said Suzanne Saltzman of St. Mary Parish in Oak Ridge. “It is really beautiful. It’s joyful. Everybody spoke up very loudly for all of the responses. It was a heavenly experience. It reminds me of my cathedral back home in Louisiana. It’s just very ornate, very beautiful. St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Thibodaux, La. It was spectacular, and I told the bishop that in one word, all I could describe the Mass was [highpitched] “Aaaaaaaaaah,” she added with a laugh.
Henry Bentz of Clinton, a parishioner of St. Therese there, attended the Chrism Mass with wife Jackie and son Matthew, 6.
“It’s beautiful, the first time I ever went to [a Chrism Mass],” he said. “I came originally from New York, and I never got a chance to go because they usually had theirs Holy Thursday morning, and I was always working. I’m happy that they have it now on Tuesday night here.”
Mr. Bentz said he enjoyed hearing the bishop speak.
“Bishop Stika is hilarious. Loved his homily. He had a great homily. Just his ‘impromptuness,’ a new word I made up. When the baby was crying, it’s like, ‘I cry, too.’ And then, ‘God’s calling.’ Very funny, great homily.”
In his closing remarks at Mass, Bishop Stika said he was asked in an interview, “Who are the people of the Diocese of Knoxville?”
“We are now 72,000-plus strong,” he said. “Fifty-one parishes and institutions. From Mountain City to South Pittsburg, from Johnson City to Crossville, and all these places in between. We are the Church, men and women faithful to Jesus; consecrated men and women, faithful to Jesus; permanent deacons, faithful to Jesus; brother priests from religious communities or diocesan, we are committed to Jesus.
“During these next few days, we witness that Jesus is committed to us, by his death and resurrection. Did I leave the cardinal out? We’re committed to Jesus, too. ‘Absolutely,’ the cardinal says. So in the name of his eminence, I want to wish you all a holy and sacred next few days. For we witness the miracle that Jesus gives to us, the miracle of the gift of charity, the miracle of the Eucharist, the miracle of His death and His resurrection, the miracle of Jesus Himself, with glad tidings and great joy.”