Chrism Mass brings together East Tennessee faithful
By Dan McWilliams
The 2019 Chrism Mass, No. 11 for Bishop Richard F. Stika, was a celebration of priestly fidelity, of the blessing of the oils used throughout the Church year, and of new and ongoing vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
The Chrism Mass was the second to be hosted by the diocese’s new Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Principal concelebrants were Cardinal Justin Rigali, Father Tom Moser, Father Mark Scholz, and Father Pontian Kiyimba. Also concelebrating were Father David Boettner, the cathedral rector; the four diocesan deans, Father Michael Cummins, Father Charlie Burton, Father Ronald Franco, CSP, and Father Brent Shelton; and Monsignor Pat Garrity, vicar for priests.
In all, more than 70 priests and 30 deacons came together for the annual liturgy on Tuesday of Holy Week.
A diocesan choir and orchestra, a Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus honor guard, the presence of the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre, and a full cathedral of the faithful added to the Chrism Mass atmosphere.
“One of my favorite Masses as a priest and especially now in these years as a bishop is the Chrism Mass,” Bishop Stika said in his opening remarks. “Especially here in the Diocese of Knoxville, it’s always been something that’s been a true sense of celebration, [with people] coming from all corners of the diocese, and so that’s what we do today.
“We pray for each other. We pray for our priests and our deacons, and I guess tonight it would be appropriate to pray for the people in Paris, those who are mourning the destruction and hopefully the rebuilding of a cathedral dedicated to Our Lady. But tonight we gather together as the Church of the Diocese of Knoxville in East Tennessee, as we prepare also to journey into Holy Week, the gift of Jesus and His life.”
More than 225 people came into the Catholic Church in East Tennessee at this year’s Easter Vigil, and churches around the diocese were at capacity for the annual Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday services.
To begin his Chrism Mass homily, the bishop spoke of a “a debate among liturgists and theologians about the Chrism Mass.”
“Is the focus of the Chrism Mass on the oils that are to be blessed and consecrated, or on the priesthood, because in this Mass the priests renew their promises of service,” Bishop Stika asked. “Back and forth it’s been — everybody’s got an opinion. But I’ve got the answer: it’s about Church.
“Tonight we have Church represented. We have the deacons … We have the priests. … We have the religious, consecrated men and women, of a variety of different communities. … We have the Knights of Columbus
and the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre. … We are the Church. … Bishop, cardinal, deacon, priest, religious: men and women who testify by virtue of life experiences that God indeed, through Jesus and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has made a difference in our life. And the oils that we bless and the chrism that I’ll consecrate are a reminder to all of us that we are Church.”
Bishop Stika talked of the new Catholics who would be coming into the Church at this year’s Easter Vigil despite their coming into a Church that some would say is “corrupt and sinking.”
“It’s not about a bishop or a cardinal or a priest or a deacon or a religious or brothers and sisters that we sit next to. It’s about Jesus and His invitation to us to be missioned to teach the faith by word and example,” the bishop said.
The day after Easter would validate the new Catholics’ entrance into the Church, the bishop joked.
“Some of those people tonight might be with us in this community, who will be Catholic by Easter Sunday. And Easter Monday, they’ll be sent contribution envelopes in the mail, because then it is actually official. You think I’m kidding, huh?”
Joking aside, “God is with us,” Bishop Stika said. “And so to all of you as we come together as the Catholic Church of East Tennessee and all the little communities and the big cities, wherever it might be, as we come together this night, as we begin this moment of this week, let us pray for first of all each other, that we might be true and faithful witnesses of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us pray for those entering the Church but also let us pray for those who have gotten a little lazy about their relationship with the Lord. As I said, let us pray for the people of Paris.”
The bishop spoke of the priests’ renewing their vows, which took place after the homily.
“And so now in a few moments I’m going to ask my brother priests and the cardinal and myself—pray for us — to renew their promises, that they are reminded that they are the heralds of the Good News. They are the ministers of the sacraments. They’re not perfect. They’re not divine. They’re men who have answered the call of Jesus to come and to follow.”
Bishop Stika also talked of his blessing of the holy oils, including the oil of the sick.
“We all know people who are in need of God’s healing: mentally, physically, and spiritually. We pray for them,” he said.
The bishop said the assembly should be “grateful for” the oils, including the oil of the catechumens and the holy chrism.
“So let us continue to celebrate as the Catholic Church in East Tennessee,” he said. “Let us focus on Jesus and be inspired by the Holy Spirit to build His kingdom from Chattanooga to Johnson City, from Sneedville to Copperhill, and all other places in between. Let us celebrate as the people of God with a mission that has been given to us by Jesus to bring salvation and to bring love, to be truly the face and the hands and the voice of Jesus.”
Bishop Stika’s closing remarks offered him an opportunity to showcase vocations. He introduced Deacon Mark Schuster, who will be ordained a priest in June. Deacon Schuster proclaimed the Gospel at the Chrism Mass, and he received a round of applause after the bishop’s introduction.
Also receiving rounds of applause were Glenmary deacons Richard Toboso and Charles Aketch, whom Bishop Stika last month ordained to the priesthood. Deacon Toboso will be serving in the Diocese of Knoxville after his priestly ordination.
The bishop also introduced diocesan seminarians Zachary Griffith and Alexander Hernandez, whom he will ordain to the transitional diaconate in June. And finally, the bishop invited Erica Pereira to the gathering in front of the altar. Miss Pereira will enter the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., this August.
“Now why should I embarrass these people?” the bishop asked. “We need to continue to pray for vocations to the priesthood, to the diaconate, and to the consecrated life. We can never be lazy about that. There are lots of people out there that are just not receiving the encouragement to at least give it a chance, especially in this environment when our culture is so selfish instead of selfless. … Pray for vocations.”