After having been curious for so many years about how it is to experience a Chrism Mass, I finally got a chance to attend one.
From all that I heard about it, I expected that it would be an awesome experience: the spine-tingling sight of a multitude of priests simultaneously consecrating the bread and wine, the blessing of the oils to be used for the sacraments, the renewal of priestly vows. I imagined I would be in ecstasy witnessing these rituals rich in history and symbolism.
I knew the church would be full so I went there early in hopes of getting a good seat. It turned out I did not arrive early enough. There was already a crowd spilling out into the grounds of the church, and the Monobloc chairs the parish put out were not enough. Grudgingly, I found a place for myself on the steps leading to the church, out in the heat during this hottest time of year in tropical Philippines. “Outside the Church, there is no air condition,” I quipped to myself as I saw those lucky enough to be seated inside.
But from where I was, I could hear the choir singing and it was beautiful. The entrance hymn was longer than usual. I imagined a long entrance procession with all the priests in the diocese. When the door to the church opened slightly, I smelled a whiff of the incense.
I could also hear the liturgy, and it was beautiful too. The first reading was the passage from Isaiah which begins with “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me.” The responsorial psalm was Psalm 88, which speaks of God finding David and anointing him with oil. The second reading was the passage from the book of Revelation which says that Christ “loves us and has washed away our sins with blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father…” The Gospel was the passage from Luke about Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth reading aloud the passage from Isaiah.
I heard the homily of the bishop, where he spoke about fidelity to the priestly vocation. I also heard the renewal of commitment to priestly service, the special preface for the Chrism Mass, and the Roman Canon.
As I listened to the liturgy, I thought of all the priests in the world. I thought of all the priests who have accompanied me in my spiritual life: the priest who baptized me, the bishop who confirmed me, all the priests who gave me communion, all the priests who have absolved me in confession, my past spiritual directors and my present one, the priests who have preached the retreats and recollections I have attended, the priests who led the pilgrimages I have joined…I thought of our parish priest; priests in far-flung provinces and mission territories; priests who serve as chaplains in schools, universities, hospitals, orphanages, and other institutions. I thought of all the saintly priests. I thought of priests who are being persecuted for their faith and their vocation.
I also thought of all the weak priests. I remembered the priests depicted in Grahame Greene’s The Power and the Glory, Shusaku Endo’s Silence, and in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo and realized that there are real life counterparts to these priests who would have to render an account to God for themselves and for the souls they were entrusted with.
I also realized that I could offer up all the inconveniences I was experiencing there and then for all the priests all over the world.
The church grounds became festive after the Mass, as the priests exited the church and crowds greeted them with flowers, streamers, tarps, party poppers, specially composed cheers, drums, whistles, party horns, and vuvuzelas. Some groups gathered in the restaurants close to the church to treat their parish priests for breakfast.
Seeing the outpouring of love and support for the priests moved me. At the same time, I also felt bad thinking that some priests have no one to support them.
Some criticize the special treatment given to priests, especially in Philippine society. I acknowledge that it can indeed lead to temptations and abuses. I acknowledge, too, that priests are not impeccable. But considering how much we owe these priests and the weight of the burden entrusted to them, I think we laypeople should ask ourselves if we are helping them enough.
We should ask ourselves if we can perhaps share more of our resources to help our priests in their mission. More importantly, we must offer sacrifices and pray for priests more. We should pray for holy priests that they may remain holy. We should pray for weak priests that they may be strengthened in their weaknesses.
Finally we should thank God for giving us the priesthood, and thank our priests for being shepherds who give their lives for their flocks.
To all priests who may be reading this, I know being a priest is not easy, and I know that I, for one, can do more to support you in your vocations. But I want you to know that I appreciate what you do for souls. Let me tell you this Holy Thursday, from the bottom of my heart: thank you for your perseverance in the priesthood!