BRIDGEPORT—On a morning when hundreds of priest, deacons and religious and laity would normally gather for the blessing of oil and renewal of priestly vows, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano celebrated the Chrism Mass in the empty St. Augustine Cathedral as the Covid-19 crisis reaches its apex in Fairfield County.
“It is odd that I come to celebrate the Chrism Mass in an empty Church,” said the bishop of the unease and disconnect that many feel being unable to publicly gather for worship during Holy Week.
“You can say that our unity has been fractured, but the unity of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is more than physical proximity. The Holy Spirit draws us together in a way that transcends time and space. When we pray together, we are also here with all who came before us and no one and nothing could ever break that bond.’
More than 2,500 faithful watched the Mass, which was lived streamed on the diocesan website and Facebook page this morning at 10 am.
St. Augustine Cathedral pastor, Father Michael Novajosky and Father Alex Moronta, parochial vicar, assisted the bishop at the altar. No other priests were present.
St. Augustine choir master Dr. Sam Schmitt provided the solitary singing voice that filled the Cathedral with hymns, many of them in Latin, which has been sung at the liturgy for centuries.
In his homily the bishop noted that oil has been used throughout recorded history as source of energy, to heal wounds, and to anoint those who are chosen to serve God.
“We gather this Holy Thursday morning to do what the Church has done since its beginning—use oil as means for sanctification and blessing.”
The bishop moved from the main altar to bless the three oils used in sacraments throughout the year, “the oil of the sick for gravely ill and dying to receive the consolation of Christ in their hour of need; the oil of Catechumens that prepares our sisters and brothers awakened in faith to receive the fullness of God’s spirit; and those anointed in sacred chrism, who are not simply blessed but consecrated, so that the Holy Spirit can dwell within them and transform them.”
The bishop said that all believers who are consecrated in Baptism and Confirmation are drawn into the great unity of the Church, “made members of the Mystical Body of Christ and given the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” They must become bearers of “glad tidings” to those who are suffering and isolated.
During the Mass the bishop also directly addressed priests and led the Renewal of Priestly Promises with Father Novajosky and Father Moronta providing the responses.
“Today we also rejoice that in midst there are those men called to be consecrated in Chrism so that they might become priests of Jesus Christ,” he said he remembered the oil placed on his hands during the gift of his own ordination when he was consecrated as a priest.
“I ask your prayer of all my brother priests throughout the Church and the world. It is not easy to serve as priest of Jesus in any age, perhaps this more than others. In this most difficult time, I wish to thank my brother priests for their humble and generous service. You have offered your life so that other may have greater life.”
The bishop asked priests not to give into small divisions and the temptation to “see differences as more important than what unites us.”
He said that the isolation that many people feel during the Covid-19 crisis may be an opportunity to reflect on how often have we take the presence of others for granted and fail to be attentive to them.
“Our minds and hearts are somewhere else when they’re with us. When we can be back together in worship and in song, and around the tables of our homes, let us rejoice in the gift that we are to one another.”
He said the great challenge for all believers is to appreciate that when we are consecrated in Baptism and become members of the Body of Christ, “a unity is formed that cannot and should not every be broken.”
“As the sun sets this evening, we will be completing the observance of Lent and beginning the Triduum. We will walk with Jesus to the Upper Room… Let us walk with hope and purpose so that we may be bearers of good tidings and the promise of life in Jesus Christ.”
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), will be distributed to parishes at a later date.
At the end of the Chrism Mass, the Bishop invited all the faithful throughout the diocese to join him in the Triduum liturgies that will be live streamed on the diocesan website (www.bridgeportdiocese.com) beginning tonight with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7 pm.