MALDEN -- The pews of Immaculate Conception Church in Malden were filled. Partly with parishioners, partly with Archdiocese of Boston employees and deacons, but mostly they were filled with priests and seminarians. On March 27, priests from across the archdiocese gathered with Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley for the annual Chrism Mass to renew their priestly vows and replenish their stocks of holy oils for the year.
The Chrism Mass serves as a symbol of unity in dioceses throughout the world as during Holy Week each year, the local bishop blesses the sacred oils used to administer sacraments for the coming year.
Typically held in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the Mass was held in Immaculate Conception due to ongoing renovations in the cathedral.
During the Mass, also seen as an opportunity to celebrate priestly fraternity, the priests renewed their priestly vows and afterwards received the sacred oils -- the oil of catechumens, the oil of the infirm, and the sacred chrism -- for their parishes or ministries. As he has done in past years, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Methodios, was present for the Mass and offered words of greetings on behalf of his community.
"As we renew our priestly vows today," said Cardinal O'Malley in his homily, "let us be mindful of how these promises can deepen our friendship to Jesus. Our fidelity to prayer and our commitment to celibacy can draw us closer to Christ, the high priest and bridegroom."
Today, he said, more people like to "attack" the priest's vow of celibacy.
Celibacy is meant to "give ourselves to the hand of the Lord," said the cardinal. It is an act of loyalty and trust, and is "a sign of the presence of God in the world, a reminder that God must be loved above all else."
"The pastoral life of the Church has benefitted greatly through the generous availability of men and women who have embraced the vocation of celibacy," said Cardinal O'Malley, who described how, in particular, missionary work benefits from those who are celibate.
He spoke of the kiss that priests rest upon the altar at both the beginning and at the end of Mass. It is a liturgical custom that stems from the early stages of the Church, he explained, and today, the altar is seen as a symbol of Christ, "the rock, the cornerstone, with which the Church is built." Thus, he said, when the priest is kissing the altar, he is actually kissing Christ.
"The basis for our ministry of life has to be our friendship with Christ," the cardinal said. "Kissing the altar cannot be a formalistic or an empty gesture. It must be a token of our attachment to Jesus Christ, our loyalty to him, our friendship."
For, above all, he continued, "a priest is a friend of Christ. Our love for him is what draws up to our vocation and allows us to find meaning and purpose in our ministry."
"The priest is a man of the Gospel," he said. "Jesus' words and actions are what must hold a priest's heart, so that he can become an icon of the Good Shepherd."
"We must meditate on the Gospels frequently so that the words and the inflections of the voice of the Good Shepherd become our own.Our role as preacher and teacher is crucial," said Cardinal O'Malley to the clergy. "We must be constantly preparing for this responsibility by our life of prayer, study, and reflection."
The actions, words, and attitudes of a priest, everything he does, "should teach the Gospel," he continued.
"We are not priests for ourselves, but for our people," he said. "We must love them as the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his flock. It is only when our people know that we love them, that they will be willing to listen to us and accept our message."
In today's society, there is a deep rejection of pain and suffering, Cardinal O'Malley said. It is that rejection that helps fuel the opioid crisis. Yet, "Jesus didn't suffer and die so that we didn't have to."
"He suffered and died in order to endow our suffering with a redemptive value, something that they would never possess on their own. He suffered and died in order to invest our love in us. He did this so that our love, while not diminishing our suffering or sparing our pain, will transform pain into holy passion, suffering into sacrifice," continued the cardinal.
Death is the moment that usually, people associate with a loss of life. Yet, Jesus transformed it into a "gift, a prayer, a sacrifice," an occasion of "giving life," said Cardinal O'Malley.
Following the Mass, priests collected their oils before attending a luncheon with the cardinal in the church hall.
Father Carlos Suarez, assistant vocation director, spoke to The Pilot following the Mass. He reflected on the event, saying it is one of his favorite Masses of the year.
"It's one of the few times a significant number of us gather to renew our priestly promises, to share some time together, to pray together. It's important," he said.
"One of the things I really like is seeing the different generations gathered together," he continued. It's nice to see the old brothers, and 'wonderful' to see the younger priests and seminarians coming along."
The cardinal's homily was "spot on," said Father Suarez, and contained "helpful" messages leading into Holy Week.