Cardinal Wilton Gregory celebrated a Chrism Mass March 29 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the founding of the priesthood, to lead priests in the renewal of their ordination promises and to bless sacramental oils that will be used in parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington. 

Jesus “is the promise that we are privileged to celebrate each and every day of our lives. Moreover, His faithfulness is the very source of the reason that the Church dares to call this entire week ‘holy’,” Cardinal Gregory told the priests. “Jesus is still busy accomplishing the mission that He accepted from His Father … He is able to accomplish those things in the very way that we make Him present in our ministry as priests and laity in His name.”

The Chrism Mass traditionally is celebrated during Holy Week. Last year, the celebration of the Mass was in September, a delay of nearly six months due to quarantine measures established by local governments to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

In attendance at this year’s Mass were Washington Auxiliary Bishops Mario Dorsonville and Roy E. Campbell Jr.; Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop emeritus of Washington; and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio to the United States. 

Also in attendance were more than 100 priests, a smaller number than usually attends the annual liturgy, but more than attended the last Chrism Mass when quarantine measures were more strict than they are now. The priests, following established safety protocols for local Catholic churches, wore face masks and maintained social distancing guidelines as they were spread out in pews throughout the cathedral.

“This is the largest gathering of our presbyterate in over a year, and your presence here is a source of joy to me,” Cardinal Gregory told his brother priests. “I thank you publicly ­– and with all of my heart – for all of your faithful, loving, creative service to our people during this past year. Just seeing you together in prayer gives my heart joy.”

Priests who serve in the Archdiocese of Washington participate in the annual Chrism Mass on March 29 at St. Matthew's Cathedral, where they renewed their priestly promises. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

During the Chrism Mass each year, priests of the Archdiocese of Washington renew their priestly promises. Originally, the Chrism Mass was offered on Holy Thursday, when the Church celebrates the fact that at the Last Supper, Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood. Because of pastoral reasons, the Mass may now be celebrated earlier during Holy Week.

“We are Jesus’s hands, His eyes, and His voice in the world. He lives and functions in and through us,” Cardinal Gregory told the priests. “When we visit and comfort the sick, it is Christ Himself who heals and forgives them. When we catechize and teach the young, it is Christ Himself who explains the mysteries of God’s Kingdom to them and invites them to enter God’s reign. When we bless and consecrate our brothers and sisters, it is Jesus who sanctifies them through our actions.”

During the Mass, Cardinal Gregory – calling priests his “beloved sons” – led them in the renewal of their priestly vows. He told them that as they once again promise “to be God’s men, Christ’s priests, and servant ministers of this local Church,” they should pray that God would “guide our hearts and minds so that we might be more dedicated in our service to those whom He has chosen to love and to serve in and through us.”

He also asked them to be resolved “to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to Him” and “to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist and the other liturgical rites.”

Cardinal Gregory celebrates the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington on March 29. The concelebrants included, at left, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the retired archbishop of Washington, and at right, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Prior to leading the priests in the renewal of their ordination vows, Cardinal Gregory told them that renewing their promises is “a reminder to ourselves and to the people that we are privileged to serve, that we wish to be faithful witnesses as Christ is Himself.

“We who are priests of the New Testament enjoy a special responsibility and a unique privilege in fulfilling Christ’s faithful witness in our sacramental ministry,” the cardinal said. “We have been chosen by the Church and commissioned by the Church to be ministers of Word and Sacrament.”

Cardinal Gregory gives his homily at the March 29 Chrism Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Addressing the laity at the Mass and viewing it on livestream as “my dearest sons and daughters,” Cardinal Gregory urged them to “pray for your priests, that the Lord may pour out His gifts abundantly upon them… so that they may lead you to Him, who is the source of salvation.”

He also asked the priests and laity to pray for him that “I may be faithful to the apostolic office entrusted to me … (and) I may be made day by day a living and more perfect image of Christ.”

“May the Lord lead all of us – shepherds and flock – to eternal life,” he prayed.

At the Mass, Cardinal Gregory blessed the oils that all parishes in the archdiocese will use to administer the sacraments for the upcoming year.  “These sacred oils are signs of His (God’s) power, expressions of His strength, and witnesses to His fidelity in this local Church,” he said.

The consecrated oils will be used for the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick, and will also be used during the sacrament of Holy Orders, when new priests are ordained.

“These oils that we will apply to the sick, to those who are preparing to join the Church, to those who are consecrated by the Church in Baptism and Confirmation and those designated for Sacramental Ministry are the signs that Jesus continues His prophetic service to the world,” Cardinal Gregory said. “It is a promise that He makes that He never forgets nor abandons.”

Cardinal Gregory blesses sacramental oils during the March 29 Chrism Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

At the end of the Mass, Cardinal Gregory wished the priests and “all the people you serve so faithfully a blessed Triduum and an Easter season filled with peace and good fortune.” He also asked the priests to pray that “next year the (pandemic) restrictions will be lifted” so that priests could participate in a more fraternal way in the annual liturgy.

The Chrism Mass was one of many Holy Week and Easter liturgies to be celebrated by the cardinal at the cathedral that are being livestreamed. The day before, he celebrated a March 28 Palm Sunday Mass at the cathedral.

Cardinal Gregory’s Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper will be livestreamed from the cathedral at 5:30 p.m. Thursday April 1.

A livestream of a reflection on the Lord’s Passion, “The Seven Last Words of Christ” will begin at noon at on Good Friday April 2 at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, followed by Cardinal Gregory’s livestreamed Liturgy of the Passion of the Lord at 1 p.m.

On Holy Saturday April 3, Cardinal Gregory will celebrate a livestreamed Easter Vigil at St. Matthew’s Cathedral at 8 p.m.

Then on Easter Sunday April 4, the cardinal will celebrate a livestreamed Mass at the cathedral at 9 a.m. Later on Easter Sunday, Cardinal Gregory will celebrate a noon Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception that will be televised on the Eternal Word Television Network and livestreamed on the basilica’s YouTube channel that can be linked through the National Shrine’s website at www.nationalshrine.org