Singing the goodness of the Lord

Archbishop Fabre celebrates Chrism Mass to begin Holy Week observances

By Dan McWilliams

Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre addressed most of his Chrism Mass homily to his brother priests of the Diocese of Knoxville as a sign of their unity as one presbyterate, “hoping and praying that all the grace and peace of this Mass, this celebration of priesthood, be yours in great abundance . . . even as we fervently pray for a new shepherd, a new bishop, for this wonderful diocese.”

The Chrism Mass took place on March 25, a Monday this year to allow Archbishop Fabre—apostolic administrator of the diocese—to celebrate the same liturgy with his Archdiocese of Louisville faithful the next night. The Mass before a filled Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus was one of many Holy Week events throughout the diocese from Palm Sunday on March 24 to Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday services March 30 and 31. The week included the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday and the Good Friday service, as well as Tenebrae services at several churches.

Nearly 400 people entered the Church in East Tennessee at Easter Vigil Masses around the diocese. That included 126 catechumens, who received the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and first Holy Communion at the vigil, and 262 candidates, already-baptized Christians who received the sacraments of confirmation and first Communion at the vigil.

“My dear friends in Christ, what an honor and a joy it is for me to join you for this Chrism Mass here in the Diocese of Knoxville as we enter fully into this Holy Week,” Archbishop Fabre said in his greeting. “As you know, this Mass is a sign of our union and unity as a diocese, as a presbyterate—a sign of our union and unity with the universal Church. And in this Chrism Mass, we bless the oils that will be used throughout the Diocese of Knoxville for the coming year. The Lord truly desires to encounter us in word and sacrament, so let us therefore go forth to meet Him.”

The archbishop also heard the priests’ renewal of their commitment to priestly service at the annual liturgy.

Archbishop Fabre was the principal celebrant of the Chrism Mass. Principal concelebrants were cathedral rector Father David Boettner; moderator of the curia Father Doug Owens, also pastor of All Saints Parish in Knoxville; Father Michael Cummins, pastor of St. Dominic in Kingsport; and Father Michael Nolan, pastor of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in Cleveland.

Assisting deacons were two diocesan seminarians: Deacon Michael Willey, who was deacon of the Word, and Deacon Bo Beaty, who was deacon of the altar. Both, along with Deacon Daniel Herman, will be ordained priests by Archbishop Fabre on June 8 at the cathedral. Deacon Hicks Armor and Deacon Walt Otey were masters of ceremonies.

An additional 65 priests from throughout the diocese concelebrated, and 39 deacons attended. More than 30 men and women religious were present, including the Benedictines of Divine Will and the Benedictine Daughters of Divine Will, two contemplative communities who relocated from Italy to Blount County. They were welcomed into the diocese canonically in December 2022. Pat Stapleton and Blanca Palacios proclaimed the readings at the Chrism Mass.

Also attending were the Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. They included Alan and Sally Sefton, who are Knight and Dame Commanders of the pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great.

The music ministry, led by cathedral director of music and liturgy Glenn Kahler, featured organist Dr. Byong Suk Moon and numerous cantors and instrumentalists.

Archbishop Fabre began his Chrism Mass homily by quoting from the responsorial psalm sung moments before.

“I am intrigued by the responsorial psalm antiphon that we just sang together: ‘forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord,’” he said. “On the surface, temptation might cause us to be apprehensive or even refuse to proclaim these words after the challenges that we have faced during past years.”

The archbishop cited the COVID-19 pandemic; ongoing wars in Ukraine, the Holy Land, Sudan, and “other places where there is no peace”; “growing international tensions between nations of the east and west”; “attacks against the dignity and sanctity of human life, such as abortion, racism, capital punishment, and homelessness”; natural disasters in Tennessee and around the nation and world; and “increasing inflation, staggering grocery prices, and other economic and financial concerns.”

“After all these difficulties,” he added, “after the pain, after the stress, after the struggle, after the social unrest, we might ask the question: how can we forever sing the goodness of the Lord?”

Archbishop Fabre provided an answer.

“Our answer to this question roots itself in our very presence here today as people of faith, as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “Assuredly, the Lord’s continued faithfulness to each of us despite trials urges us to sing the goodness of the Lord now, always, everywhere, and forever. Our very presence here indicates our recognition that the Lord is with us, and the Lord never leaves us to face any challenge alone.”

As people of faith in the local Church, “I am delighted that we gather on this Monday of Holy Week as the body of Christ, come together as the people of God, and celebrate this Chrism Mass,” the archbishop said. “However, there is an additional joy in my heart today as we also gather for this Chrism Mass as a presbyterate, as priests who serve the Diocese of Knoxville. As brother priests, we gather for this Mass that is so significant for our priesthood and us. Indeed, my dear brother priests, in our coming together, and even with all that you have faced as mentioned, I do hope that we can join with the psalmist and proclaim, ‘forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.’”

Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre consecrates the sacred chrism during the Chrism Mass on March 25 at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The archbishop breathes into the sacred chrism vessel to recall the spirit of God moving over the face of the waters at creation and Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the disciples, where He breathed on them. Assisting Archbishop Fabre are seminarians A.J. Houston, right, and Michael Willey. (Photo Dan McWilliams)

The Chrism Mass “is of particular importance as an outward expression of our union and unity with Jesus Christ, and of our union and unity as bishops, priests, deacons, religious, seminarians, and lay faithful as a local Church and a diocesan family,” Archbishop Fabre said.

“During this Mass, we again bless the three sacred oils used for sacramental anointing throughout our diocese for the coming year. We consecrate the sacred chrism, which takes its name from Jesus Christ, and is used at anointing in baptisms, confirmations, and ordinations of priests and bishops. We bless the oil of the sick, which at the end of earthly life strengthens one for the journey through death to life, or brings courage, hope, peace, and, according to God’s will, healing, to those who are ill in body or mind. Finally, we bless the oil of the catechumens, which gives strength to catechumens who are being born again in the sacraments of initiation. May all who are anointed with these oils know the nearness of Jesus Christ to them in the sacraments they are receiving, be reminded that they are an important part of our local Church family, and always be able and willing to ‘sing the goodness of the Lord.’”

The archbishop said that after his homily, the priests would renew the promises “they made on the day of their ordination. Tonight, my dear brother priests, we will together renew these promises that unite us to the Lord as His priests and unite us to one another as brother priests and bishop.

Archbishop Fabre then shifted the focus of his homily.

“Holy Thursday and the Chrism Mass are times particularly close to the heart of the priesthood, and therefore on this joyous occasion of gathering for the celebration of this Mass, and begging for the indulgence of others gathered, I would like to address my words now to you, my brother priests,” he said.

The archbishop quoted from the evening’s Gospel reading, Luke 4:16-21, in which Christ quoted from Isaiah 6, which was the first reading in the Chrism Mass.

“‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me,’” Archbishop Fabre said. “All of us here—bishop, priests, deacons, and laity—have been anointed by the Lord. At our baptism and confirmation, we were anointed with sacred chrism for the strength to live the Gospel message. The Lord anointed each of us, my brother priests, in an additional way. On the day of our ordination as priests, our hands were anointed, palms up, with sacred chrism to set us apart for a particular reason. On the day of our priestly ordination, God Himself sent us in the power of His Spirit, for a particular mission.

“In our first reading today, the prophet Isaiah’s words ring especially true to the nature of our priestly mission. Isaiah states that we were ‘… sent to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners. To comfort all who mourn, to give an oil of gladness in place of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit.’ Jesus tells us in our Gospel, quoting Isaiah, that He brings this prophecy to fulfillment. Jesus is the One who does this definitively, forever and always.”

The priests and he were “anointed in Jesus’ name. We are priests of Jesus Christ,” the archbishop said.

“There is great responsibility given to us in the anointing we have received. In our humble service of the Lord, the anointing we have received works a very real grace in the lives of those entrusted to our pastoral care. We see, through our priestly ministry, God healing the broken-hearted and bringing liberty to captives. We see, through our priestly ministry, comfort brought to those who are mourning. We see, through our priestly ministry, those with a listless spirit receiving the glorious mantle from God Himself. With particular regard for the difficulties mentioned at the beginning of this homily, we have all seen the ways that God has continued to work in the lives and the hearts of His people despite difficult circumstances, circumstances, dear brother priests, that you did and continue to respond to with great innovation, effort, pastoral care, and grace.”

Archbishop Fabre said that the priests “cannot ignore the reality of what this anointing also offers to each one of us as a priest—personally.”

“Our first reading from Isaiah goes on to state, ‘You yourselves shall be named priests of the Lord, ministers of our God. I will give them their recompense faithfully, a lasting covenant I will make with them,’” the archbishop quoted. He continued: “Before all else, the anointing that we have received configures us to Jesus Christ in a very particular, covenant relationship. This anointing unites us so closely to the person of Jesus that we act in the person of Jesus Christ in a very real way. In persona Christi—words that I am sure we have all heard before, but whose full weight and importance we will never deserve or be able to exhaust completely.

“My dear brother priests, I invite you to feel the weight of these words. In a powerful and real way, you represent Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has united Himself to you so closely that you act in His person, not just as an abstract theological concept that we learned about in seminary, but as a tangible, lived, experienced reality in your life. Your words are Jesus’ words. Your presence conveys Jesus’ presence. And, yes, while Jesus does do this so that you can bring His presence to those to whom you minister, Jesus also does it for you. He wants you to know just how deeply He desires this union with you. . . . Let us never forget the anointing that the Lord signed and sealed us with on the day of our ordination as a priest, and let us always strive to live as worthy recipients of such great love and grace given to us by Jesus Christ.”

Ordination does not “make us better or more important than any other follower of Jesus Christ,” the archbishop said. “Our ordination does not set us above those whom we serve, but it does set us apart in a special way for ministry, for the grace of priesthood received in a life of service to others.”

Archbishop Fabre said he is “drawn to the words of the Mass where a priest takes Jesus’ words as his own: ‘This is My body given for you. This is My blood poured out for you.’ As I so often say these words, I think of the people gathered in the congregation—Jesus gives His body and blood for them, and I, too, as a priest of Jesus Christ, through Him, with Him, and in Him, give my entire self in service to them and for their sake. My brother priests, as we pray these words later in this Mass, I invite you to hear Jesus saying them personally to you individually as well. Jesus gives His body for you, dear priests. Jesus pours out His blood for you, dear priests. In the areas of weakness, in the times of brokenness, Jesus nonetheless gives it all for you, my brother priests. Jesus chose you to be His priest. He chose you to act in His person, and He chose you to be intimately united to Him in the totality of your lives.

“Acting from a renewed experience of this identity as priests of Jesus Christ, we can truly witness the ways the Lord will bring glad tidings to His people, heal the broken-hearted, and set His people free. May this reality penetrate our priestly hearts more deeply as we join in this Chrism Mass, and understand anew why we can truly proclaim, ‘forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.’

The archbishop said to the priests that “it has truly been a real grace to come to know you, to serve you, to serve with you, and to work with you in the Lord’s vineyard here in the Diocese of Knoxville, and he thanked the priests “for accepting me as you have as one sent temporarily to serve here.”

Closing his homily by addressing all present, the archbishop said “as the anointed of God and rooting ourselves in the promises made to us in the death and resurrection of the Lord that this Holy Week celebrates, despite all challenging circumstances, may we all forever proclaim the goodness of the Lord! Amen.”

In the renewal of commitment to priestly service, Archbishop Fabre asked the priests “are you resolved to renew, in the presence of your bishop and God’s holy people, the promises you once made? Are you resolved 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? Are you resolved to be faithful 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 priests responded “I am” to each question.

The archbishop then addressed the assembly, asking them 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.” Archbishop Fabre asked those in the pews to “pray also for me, 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.”

After the balsam for the chrism and the oils were brought forward, Archbishop Fabre blessed the oil of the sick and the oil of the catechumens. He mixed the balsam and oil of the chrism, then breathed over the chrism, praying that the Holy Spirit be present, and he said the consecratory prayer over the chrism.

At the end of Mass, the archbishop said “It’s been a unique pleasure and a real honor to be here to celebrate this Chrism Mass with you. Thank you very much for your presence. I get to do it again tomorrow night in Louisville. Please know of the prayers of the wonderful people of Louisville for you. I ask your prayers for them. I pray that this Holy Week will be a time of grace and peace for you as we draw near to Jesus Christ and journey with Him again through His passion, death, and resurrection. Please know that, though I will not be here for the services of the Triduum—I will be in Louisville—you will certainly be remembered in my prayer before God. And if during these days you have an extra prayer, please pray that prayer for me. Thank you very much for your faith and for being here tonight.

Archbishop Fabre then asked the faithful to “join me in thanking our beloved priests for their priestly ministry.”

A 20-second ovation followed.

To begin the procession of the oils, senior priests Father Thomas O’Connell—who celebrated his 60th anniversary of priestly ordination in December—and Father Michael Woods brought forward the balsam for the chrism. The oil of the catechumens was presented by catechumens Ric Alvillar of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Alcoa and Alexander Wied of St. John Neumann Parish in Farragut. The oil of the sick was brought forward by Alan Sefton and Ann Simoneau, assisted by seminarian Daniel Cooper and James Meadows. The sacred chrism was presented by the diocese’s most recently ordained priests, Father Joseph Austin, Father Neil Blatchford, and Father Andrew Crabtree. The gifts were presented by Lizzie Morris and Beth Parsons.

Father Woods and Father O’Connell brought forward the balsam for the chrism for the second year in a row.

“It was just a tremendous honor. I’ll be ordained 58 years in June, and I rejoice—like the archbishop said in his homily tonight—I rejoice in the Lord always,” Father Woods said.

When Fathers Austin, Blatchford, and Crabtree brought forward the chrism, it was accepted at the altar steps by Deacons Beaty and Willey.

“Every year, the newly ordained priests take up the chrism,” Father Blatchford said. “It’s always a beautiful image because we hand it off to the transitional deacons who are to be ordained this coming year in a couple months. It’s a beautiful image of brotherhood, especially tonight for the Chrism Mass.”

The Chrism Mass this year was Father Blatchford’s first as a priest.

“I thought it was a wonderful thing, especially when we said the Eucharistic Prayer together and I could hear all my brothers’ voices, and that we’re united with Christ and how we follow the archbishop’s voice, who is our leader,” he said.

Mother Gabrielle Marie Breaux, mother superior and foundress of the Benedictine Daughters of Divine Will, said this year’s Chrism Mass was the community’s first in Knoxville after their move from Italy.

“It was beautiful. It was a beautiful Mass,” she said. “The music was gorgeous. The archbishop gave a beautiful homily. Everybody was just fantastic. The people are so friendly and lovely here.”

Some 12 sisters and five brothers from the two Benedictine communities, including postulants and aspirants, attended the Chrism Mass, Mother Gabrielle Marie said.

“We have about four aspirants, people who want to join,” she said. “We don’t have enough space. We’ve outgrown the little house we’re in right now, so we’re hoping to get a monastery soon. It’s a good problem,” she added with a laugh.

Cathedral parishioner Margaret Walsh was present for the Chrism Mass.

“I thought it was absolutely beautiful. It’s just a joy to go to these every year,” she said. “This is probably the second or third one I’ve been to.”

Mrs. Walsh’s family attended the Mass with her, including her husband, Barry; her daughters, Kate, Erin, and Reagan; her sons, Luke and Liam; her brothers-in-law, Mike and Patrick; and a daughter’s friend, Shane.

“Our family is going to the entire Holy Week [at the cathedral] because it’s just so beautiful,” she said.

A striking feature of the Chrism Mass is the concluding doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer, when all the concelebrants say, “Through Him, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.”

Normally, the faithful attending Sunday or weekday Masses hear perhaps only one to three priests say the concluding doxology. At this year’s Chrism Mass, nearly 70 priests made the cathedral echo with those words.

“The doxology is always a beautiful thing to sing together as priests,” Father Blatchford said. “It’s just that joy of priesthood that Christ gives each individual priest, but united in this one Mass in concelebration. It makes it just so pretty.”

Mrs. Walsh said the doxology impacted her because “it was all of them” saying it.

“It was amazing because you could just feel the presence and the energy. It was just incredible,” she said.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *