The long line of men dressed in creamy white enter the room two by two, singing. Some are very young and look slightly nervous or perhaps awestruck. Others look at ease but fan themselves against the heat of the robes. A few wave at familiar faces in the crowd. There are elderly ones, using canes. One has a scooter. The last one comes into the room with a shepherd's crook before him, smiling a smile that lets everyone who meets him know they are loved. They are here, in one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States, in a city named for a saint, during the holiest week of the year, because in a very real way...it's Father's Day.
Since the fourth century (most likely before that, but the first documented evidence comes from the fourth century), the Church has had a liturgy to bless the holy oils used by the Church throughout the year and to gather the priesthood in remembrance of its institution by Jesus at the Last Supper. It's called the Chrism Mass. In some dioceses (I had to look up the plural), it is held on Holy Thursday. Here in San Antonio, we have it on Tuesday night. That makes today Father's Day.
I've never been to the Chrism Mass, something always seems to get in the way. It's pretty high on my Catholic bucket list, I must admit. But tonight through the magic of technology and some last minute phone calls to Catholic Television, I streamed it live. It was full of meaning in a timeless way that only the fullness of truth can convey, and reminded me more of the Easter Vigil than anything else. Unless my ears deceived me, I think I actually heard the Gloria being sung for the first time since the last Sunday in February.
The Chrism Mass embraces the eternal nature of Mother Church unabashedly, and looks to the future with blessed assurance, all at the same time. Incense rises throughout the Mass. (I, for one, think there is no such thing as too much incense.) Archbishop Gustavo's words, reminding us that as we are baptized we enter into the priesthood in our own way, were humbling. His challenge to us -- that our response to God should be, "YES" because we cannot live but for Him -- was stirring. And that wasn't even the best part.
They brought out three enormous wooden vats of oil: the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of Catechumens, and the Oil of Anointing. The Archbishop blessed each one in turn. But with the Oil of Anointing, he stirred the vat carefully with a big.... stirrer, then leaned over and blew across the the surface of the oil. Like the ruah, the spirit of God, the mighty wind -- he breathed life and blessing into the Oil. (I am a big fan of the mighty wind, so this was just wonderful.) This is the oil which will be used at every confirmation and every ordination in the Archdiocese over the next year. Each parish will receive their own cruets of the oils for their use in anointing of the sick (the Oil of the Sick) and at baptism (the Oil of Catechumens).
But before that, the entire body of the priests in our Archdiocese stood en masse, and renewed their Commitment to Priestly Service. As I watched them, I saw the very definition of death to self in those long rows of white robes. These men have given their selves to love and care for groups of strangers. They nurture and cajole and sometimes scold these groups into one big family with Christ as the center. They commit themselves to supporting us and our families by sacrificing a family of their own. They respond to our crises, share in our joys, and officiate at our sacraments. They are inspiration, spiritual directors, mentors, friends, and perhaps most importantly, confessors. They bless us in persona Christi, and with their own unique gifts.
It is from Christ that the Chrism Mass takes its name. It is from Christ that our priests, our fathers, take their vocation. As I looked on the faces of priests whom I know and love -- Fr. Martin Leopold, Fr. Jonathan Felux, Fr. Miguel Moreno -- and others whom I don't know, I thought about the ones who have gone before us in an even longer line of white robes to the Chrism Mass. Msgr. Walsh was there once, but also St. John Paul II, and St. Ambrose, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Francis de Sales. And our seminaries are filling up with young men called to take the same vows which so many renewed tonight. Thank God for each of them.
Archbishop Gustavo asked the faithful who were there to pray for our priests. I will. An Our Father for our fathers -- those who are with us, those who are in discernment, and those who've gone before us. The Lord bless them and keep them; the Lord make His face to shine upon them, and be gracious to them; the Lord lift up His countenance upon them, and give them peace. Happy Father's Day to each of you, with much gratitude.