BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Chrism Mass in the Diocese of Owensboro looked different this year.
Christopher Grief, diocesan seminarian currently interning at St. Stephen Cathedral, told The Western Kentucky Catholic that “amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, life as we know it has been altered.”
For starters, the celebration was held on June 16, 2020, about 10 weeks after Holy Week. Under normal circumstances, Holy Week is when Chrism Mass takes place.
Another difference was that Chrism Mass is traditionally an opportunity for the clergy, religious and laity from around western Kentucky to gather for the liturgy as one diocesan family. This year, the Mass was restricted to mostly priests, seminarians and representatives of religious entities within the diocese.
The large crowds at Chrism Mass have made it necessary for the liturgy to usually be held not at St. Stephen Cathedral – the mother church of the diocese – but at the nearby Owensboro Sportscenter. This year, with the limited number of participants, the Mass was celebrated at the cathedral.
Nonetheless, some aspects of Chrism Mass 2020 remained the same. The sacred oils (the Oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick and the Sacred Chrism) were blessed and distributed to the parishes for use throughout the year. The priests renewed their commitment to priestly service.
Grief, who served at the liturgy that day, told the WKC that as Bishop William F. Medley blessed the oils, “I couldn’t help but feel a sense of hope and poignancy.”
“As I looked out from the sanctuary to see only a smattering of people, I realized that those watching via livestream and those with us in spirit, are continually united in prayer and thanksgiving,” said Grief.
Sr. Alicia Coomes, OSU, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, attended as one of the religious representatives and was a lector for the first reading during Chrism Mass.
Sr. Coomes said that as she read, she felt blessed to look out and see the presbyterate, but also felt “a great loss at not seeing the faithful gathered.”
“Certainly without our priests we would not have Eucharist, but without the faithful the celebration is changed for sure,” she said.
Deacon Ken Bennett, who assisted at the Mass, agreed.
“It felt subdued without the regular liturgy, but for me, the absence of the laity was most striking,” said Deacon Bennett. “It was a reminder for me that we are one Church, one body, and when part of that body is missing, it is not the same.”
Deacon Bennett added that this unusual Chrism Mass demonstrated “the versatility of the Church and how we can adapt in a time of emergency to serve the faithful.”
In his homily, Bishop Medley said the diocese’s Chrism Mass has never been in June before, but that this was not unique to Owensboro. He said he had read that about half of the dioceses in the United States had delayed Chrism Mass this year until after Holy Week.
“You’ve heard me say before that the Chrism Mass is one of my favorite events of the year; a celebration of priesthood defined by the Church for many centuries,” said Bishop Medley. “A time of renewal and recommitment.”
Too important, said the bishop, “to just say, ‘Let’s skip it this year.’”
Speaking directly to his priests, the bishop said that the absence of Chrism Mass during Holy Week 2020 was likely not the most profound experience for them during these months.
“Virtually all of us gathered in empty churches to recall the Lord’s Supper,” said the bishop to the priests. “Minus the symbolic washing of feet, or the Eucharistic procession. Same for Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.”
This year, the priests observed these rituals in “an unthinkable manner – absent the faithful,” said the bishop.
The bishop said other losses have taken place in these past months as well. Families were unable to gather for Easter; the sick and elderly oftentimes suffered alone; the bereaved could not gather and mourn together. This included the loss of Fr. Joe Mills, who died on April 4, and whose funeral Mass was sadly restricted to a small crowd.
“A pandemic has changed our world,” said Bishop Medley, adding that the wounds of this pandemic will remain for a long time.
The bishop also spoke to the “reality of racism and violence directed toward people because of the color of their skin.”
Bishop Medley said these, too, are wounds, and not new wounds: “Old and ancient wounds begging to be bound up; wounds continuing to be afflicted even today.”
“If there is a blessing in our delayed renewal of priestly promises, maybe it is that we have a glimpse with new eyes at all those who need our priesthood; at all those who need the outreach of the Church; at all those who need the balm of the Church,” said the bishop.
Copyright © 2020 Diocese of Owensboro/The Western Kentucky Catholic