Chrism Mass brings moment of joy and unity

BRIDGEPORT—”How good it is to be here in person after such a long winter of isolation, challenge and fear!” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano to 200 priests, deacons and laity at the Chrism Mass this morning at St. Augustine Cathedral.

Although the statues were shrouded in purple for Holy Week and those in attendance were masked and socially distanced, there was a feeling of quiet joy as the faithful could once again gather in person to join the bishop for one of the most beautiful liturgies of the year.

The bishop seemed visibly moved to welcome the priests and laity back to the Cathedral after celebrating last year’s Chrism Mass in a nearly empty church during the pandemic lockdown.

Echoing the words of Peter at the moment of the Transfiguration, “It is good for us to meet you,” Bishop Caggiano said that being able to gather at the Chrism Mass was an “opportunity to make those words our own and a sign of hope and healing from the long winter of the pandemic.”

The procession into Mass began with a single bell tone that filled the Cathedral and signaled a moment of hopefulness captured by the bishop’s words.

The Chrism Mass is celebrated during Holy Week to bless the holy oils that are used in the sacraments throughout the year, and to strengthen the bond between the bishop and his priests.

During the Mass, the bishop led the Renewal of Priestly Promises with a series of questions. “Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus?” “Yes I am,” the priests answered in unison to begin the renewal.

In his homily, which by tradition is largely directed to the priests at the Chrism Mass, the bishop began by offering the men his “deepest personal gratitude for all of you who during a time of great trial have given of yourself sacrificially without regard for your own safety.”

“You have been witnesses to Christ, you have been faithful, but I must ask of you one more thing,” the bishop said to his priests, urging them to “make the choice” to renew the faith and strengthen their brotherhood in the post-pandemic world.

The bishop said as the pandemic begins to recede, many say that life may be forever changed and they speak of a “new moment—Heaven knows what that will look like.”

He said the new moment poses an opportunity as well as a challenge, and that “we have choices to make.”

“The new moment could be made either by us or to us…. We must seize the moment and allow the new normal to be made by us,” the bishop said as he urged priests to “recast the lives we live as brothers” by  creating a more welcoming, engaging and inclusive Church and bonding as priests “in the image of the Lord Jesus.”

He said it’s a choice that is not made once, but hundreds of times each day to “fashion a culture, an environment, a sacred place where we can support each other as brothers of one Savior.”

At a “generational moment” within the Church, he cautioned priests not to be tempted by distractions and differences over the liturgy or the belief that they have all the answers, but to see themselves as united in a Church of great diversity and charity.

“As we move out of a dark period of intense suffering and isolation, do not let this moment pass…. Let us resolve to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “With God’s grace, let us bring the Church together—all of us—to renewal and a Springtime of life it deserves,” he said.

“When we come to Calvary, what is left? What is left is seemingly a broken and bruised body which is the salvation of us all,” he said.

The bishop concluded his homily by saying, “This is not a good place to be—it is the best of all places to be. To Him be honor and glory now and forever and ever.”

During the service, the bishop blesses the Oil of the Catechumens, the Oil of the Infirm and the Holy Chrism (a mixture of olive oil and balsam used in ordinations and confirmation).

Photos by Amy Mortensen

The bishop said the Lord chose the “simple elements of earth,” including the oil from olives as the “blessed instruments of priestly ministry” that are a tangible sign of God’s mercy and hope in the world.

After Mass, the holy oils that were consecrated on the altar are distributed to priests who will use them in their parishes when blessing the sick and in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.

After the renewal of priestly vows, the bishop installed the new priest deans representing the territorial division of the diocese: Father Birendra Soreng, Mystical Rose Deanery for the towns of Stratford and Shelton; Msgr. Robert Weiss, Queen of Martyrs Deanery for the towns of Trumbull, Monroe and Newtown; Father Reggie Normal, Seat of Wisdom Deanery for Wilton, Redding, Georgetown, Weston and Ridgefield; Father Paul Murphy, Divine Grace Deanery for New Canaan, Darien and Norwalk and Father John Connaughton, Cause of our Joy Deanery for the City of Stamford.

Deacon Patrick Toole, episcopal vicar for administration, served as master of ceremonies for the Chrism Mass.