Priests, deacons, religious and laity from across the Phoenix Diocese packed Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral April 2 for the annual Chrism Mass.

The tradition of a bishop gathering with the priests of his diocese to bless the oils used in the Church’s sacramental celebrations goes back centuries.

Maria Magdalena Tumbaga-Rojo, choir master at Holy Family Parish, said she was happy to see Fr. Martin Munoz at the chrism Mass. When Tumbaga-Rojo’s brother — himself a priest — died in 1976, she and her parents promised they would support seminarians. Fr. Munoz was the seminarian Tumbaga-Rojo chose to adopt.

“He’s like a nephew to me,” she said. “I’m so proud to see him up there celebrating.”

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix concelebrated the chrism Mass along with 144 priests who filled the first several pews of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral. Dozens of religious sisters and brothers in their distinctive, flowing habits prayed in the pews directly behind them. More than 70 deacons and their wives also sat near the front of the cathedral.

Bishop Olmsted urged his brother priests to focus on two priorities Pope Benedict has said will help bring about the New Evangelization: confession and prayer. The bishop quoted Pope Benedict from March 9 address in which he spoke about the close connection between confession and holiness. The New Evangelization, he said, begins in the confessional.

“The sacrament of penance is a recognition of our need for the love and forgiveness of Jesus,” Bishop Olmsted said. “Where else is despair so soundly defeated as in a sincere confession of our sins?” The bishop quoted St. Augustine, who described confession as the place where “where mercy meets misery.”

Bishop Olmsted encouraged his brother priests to “make the Eucharistic sacrifice the center of every day and a to give a generous portion” of their time in the confessional each week.

The priests then stood and renewed their promises. Bishop Olmsted asked the congregation to pray for their priests, asking that God help them to be “faithful ministers of Christ the High Priest.”

Since the early Church, bishops have blessed oil prior to the Triduum so a fresh chrism could be used to baptize catechumens at the Easter Vigil. The tradition grew to include all oils used in Church ministry.

Bishop Olmsted blessed the oil of the sick, used in anointing those who are seriously ill. He also blessed the oil of the catechumens that is used to anoint those preparing for baptism.

After Communion, Bishop Olmsted consecrated the chrism by pouring balsam, an aromatic resin, into olive oil and then breathing over it, offering a prayer of consecration.  “Make this chrism a sign of life and salvation for those who are to be born again in the waters of baptism,” he prayed.

Ginny Finan, of St. Joan of Arc Parish, said it was the first time she had ever attended the Chrism Mass.

“It’s so rich in tradition. The gathering of all the priests together really gives you a lot of inspiration and today is the kind of day that really makes you proud that you’re Catholic,” Finan said. “I thought it was wonderful.”

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted prays over the oils to be used during sacramental celebrations in the Phoenix Diocese during the April 2 Chrism Mass.  (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN)

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