Priests, parish leaders and a few representatives from each parish community across the Diocese of Saginaw joined Bishop Robert Gruss on Tuesday, Sept. 15 at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Saginaw for the annual Chrism Mass.
The Mass, which takes place each year during Holy Week, was postponed this year due to COVID-19.
The holy oils used for the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick were blessed by Bishop Gruss and distributed to representatives from each of the parish communities.
“These holy oils are a living sign of Christ’s saving power and healing presence in His Church,” Bishop Gruss explained in his homily.
In his homily, Bishop Gruss addressed both the parish representatives and the priests gathered.
“We are all in this together in the work of evangelization,” he said.
His homily also spoke to the priests of the diocese, who gathered to concelebrate the Mass and renew their priestly vows.
“Our lives lived at the cross is what leads to our holiness. Our life of holiness is not only surrendered at the cross, but like Jesus, the fruit of our lives and ministry is culminated there as well. The life of priestly ministry entails loving from the cross in one unfolding act of self-oblation coming through a personal and deep intimacy with him.”
The Mass looked a bit different this year in following the Liturgical Guidelines and Protocols for Resumption of Public Masses.
Oils were distributed in sealed jars following Mass rather than in each parish's individual vessels. One or two representatives from each parish will bring the blessed oils to the church's ambry.
Full Video of Mass
Bishop Gruss’ Chrism Mass homily
Good morning everyone. How good it is for us to be here! I welcome all of you, both here present as well as those who have joined us via livestream. It has been a long time coming, hasn’t it? Obviously with COVID-19 and all the restrictions connected to it, many celebrations have been impacted, including this one, which was to occur back in April. But here we are, happily celebrating my first Chrism Mass in the Diocese of Saginaw! What a true blessing to be gathered here.
This time together is important because it manifests very clearly the Body of Christ gathered together in communion with your bishop and your priests. So, I want to acknowledge the many gifts which you share to ensure vitality and vibrancy in the parishes to which you belong. Thank you for your generosity and service to the Church.
We have just heard in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah and then repeated in a similar way in the Gospel these words: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners, and to announce a year of favor from the Lord…” [Is. 61:1-3a, 6a, 8b-9]
Yes, the Spirit of the Lord is upon all of us – given to each of us in Baptism, strengthened again in Confirmation, and renewed each time we gather to receive the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. Like Jesus, because each of us has been anointed, we have been sent into the world “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” [Luke 4:18-19] each in our own particular way, according to our own personal vocation and state in the Body of Christ – so that this scripture passage will continue to be fulfilled through our life of discipleship. We are all in this together in the work of evangelization.
Central to this Chrism Mass is the blessing of the holy oils. These holy oils are a living sign of Christ’s saving power and healing presence in His Church. They serve as an expression of the Church’s unity and point to Christ, the “shepherd and guardian” of our souls, as St. Peter calls him (1 Pet. 2:25). And they express three essential dimensions of the Christian life.
Through them, Christ continues to be at work in his Church— beginning with the catechumenate and baptism, whereby the Oil of the Catechumen prepares a person for Baptism and strengthens them to accept the great challenges of discipleship; the Oil of the Infirmed, whereby Jesus sets us free from the chains of our infirmity and brings healing to our body, mind and soul, and delivers us from every affliction; and the Sacred Chrism, which is filled “with the power of the Holy Spirit through Christ,” for it is from him that it takes its name. It is through the Sacred Chrism where people encounter Christ in Baptism and Confirmation and are given the Holy Spirit. It is through this Sacred Chrism where these priests gathered today encountered Christ in the anointing of their hands as a priest and where I encountered Him as oil was poured over my head at my ordination as a bishop.
Through the use of these oils in the sacraments, Jesus Himself is at work offering sacramental grace to each individual, transforming them for a greater capacity for holiness and faithful discipleship. So today, we are reminded once again of the gifts Christ gives us in these holy oils, knowing that through them, we experience the profound love of our Redeemer.
Also, an important aspect to this sacred liturgy is the gathering of the presbyterate of our diocese, your priests, your pastors. Though all of us gathered here share in the Lord’s mission through our common baptism, through his ordination, the ordained priest shares in it in a special and particular way. I want to take a few moments to share a few words with them this morning.
My brothers: what a joy to be with you for my first Chrism Mass as your bishop. For me, the Chrism Mass is always a wonderful opportunity for us to gather to reflect upon our own ordination. The gift of my own ordination, both as a priest and as a bishop, never ceases to amaze me. It never ceases to lead me to deep gratitude for such a tremendous gift, a gift to be received anew each and every day. And at the same time, it also humbles me. How profound is God’s love!
These three actions of the Risen Christ, who continues his work on earth through us – to teach, to govern and to sanctify – are central to our priestly ministry and most importantly, they emanate from the Cross of Jesus Christ. Your vocation and my vocation — in fact, every priestly vocation — flows from the cross of Jesus and leads back to his cross. The whole life of Jesus was oriented to the cross. The ultimate fruit of his life was culminated there. His cross is a pure gift to us.
If we serve in persona Christi, [in the person of Christ], this means that we are not just mere ambassadors of the Gospel or mere deliverers of a message, but we are ministers in Jesus Christ from his cross.
The people of God look to us as an alter Christus, and they have a right to, because this is who we are, our true identity. We have been ordained as such and have an obligation to live in such a way.
Because of this, our lives must be lived from His cross. In whatever way the Lord has asked us to share in it and bear it with him, we must look at the people entrusted to us with the same gaze of love as Jesus. Yes, that can be very hard at times, but because our people are in Christ’s embrace, they must always be in our embrace.
In my chapel, I have a bronze statue that I received for my ordination as a bishop which depicts a bishop holding onto the cross of the Crucified Christ. It is a powerful image of where I am called to live my life as a bishop. Our lives lived at the cross is what leads to our holiness. Our life of holiness is not only surrendered at the cross, but like Jesus, the fruit of our lives and ministry is culminated there as well. The life of priestly ministry entails loving from the cross in one unfolding act of self-oblation coming through a personal and deep intimacy with him.
In reality, you and I – we – only know a glimmer of the Lord’s love for us. But He deeply desires to be the focus of our life and ministry – because “it was not you who chose me, but I who chose you, to go and bear fruit that will last – because without me you can do nothing.”
Our daily Holy Hour and the celebration of the Eucharist must be the most important elements of our day. I am certain that if my daily focus is not there, I will suffer, my ministry will suffer, and the people I am called to serve will suffer because I cannot offer to anyone what I myself have not received from Christ. Remember, Jesus says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”
This is precisely why the Eucharist will always stand at the center of our ministry and at the center of the life of the Church. It is also why our own personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is such an important part of the ministry of a priest. This is where we bring, not just our own burdens, (God knows that there are many in the life of a priest), but we bring the burdens of the people we serve as well. Just as Christ brought the burdens of humanity to the cross, so we too from the cross bring the burdens of those entrusted to our care.
We cannot lead others to holiness if each of us is not seeking after the Lord ourselves. Our holiness derives, not from what we do, but from that daily, intimate encounter with Jesus at the cross both in our Holy Hour and at the altar of the cross in the Eucharist.
Brothers, your parishioners deserve your holiness. I believe that they can overlook our faults and failings if they know that we are praying and seeking after the Lord, because our seeking after Jesus will translate into holiness, and a goodness, and a true servant mentality. It is my hope that your people are praying for your holiness.
And this is why our ministry can never be reduced to mere administrative duties, as many as there are, or as “something we do” like any other job. Being configured to Christ demands a lifestyle that manifests a “being with him” at the cross, that place where true life, true love and true victory prevails. [John Paul II, Pastores Gregis, n.11]
Now more than ever, the situations of our times are very challenging. You know this. Throughout the history of the Church, priests have always had a major Gospel challenge for the society of his time. Today is no different.
But if we pray and minister from the cross of Jesus, then this “just one more thing to do” notion will be transformed into “what a wonderful opportunity to love and care for another soul with whom to share the Lord’s love and mercy” mindset. This is the attitude that emanates from praying and ministering from the cross of Jesus Christ because this was always what was in Christ’s heart.
The secret of true generosity is found in our love for God, lived without limits as a constant response to the love manifested by Christ Crucified. Our patron, St. John Vianney, always claimed that “the priesthood is the love for the heart of Jesus.”
Because of Christ, he sought to fully conform himself to the radical demands that Jesus proposed to his disciples whom he sent out on mission: prayer, poverty, humility, self-renunciation and voluntary penance. It is precisely what Pope Francis has been preaching by his own example. And, like Christ himself, John Vianney felt a love for his sheep that led him to extreme pastoral dedication and self-sacrifice. He cried out, “Oh my God, grant me the conversion of my parish: I will accept whatever suffering you wish for the rest of my life!” It was his love for souls.
We priests must be men who have fallen in love with God and men who love those whom God loves. We must be men who seek to sacrifice ourselves with and through Jesus for the evangelization of the World. “There is no greater love!”
We must be able to see that in our own struggles, God is teaching us to love, that he is drawing out of our depths the resources he himself has given us, so that we will love him and his people from there. When we surrender to the God who loves us so much, we become more fully ourselves. And along the way, our lives manifest God’s love to others, and countless souls are brought to Christ.
Perhaps as we renew our priestly promises today, we might pray through his intercession for that dynamism of our pastoral zeal, in the heart of Jesus and in his love for us and the people we serve. If we do not draw from the same wellspring, our ministry risks bearing little fruit! Sometimes it may seem like people don't respond, but in the eyes of Jesus, for us, it is not about the fruit, but our fidelity to him. That wellspring is and will always be the cross of Jesus Christ. Let us never be afraid to live there.
Be assured of my ongoing prayers for you and the people you serve. It is joy and a privilege to serve with each of you. You have my respect and admiration for what you do in your ministry all across the diocese.
Also, many thanks to all who minister in the Church all across the diocese; thank you for your sacrifices and your ministry. Be assured of my prayers and my love for each of you as well.
May Our Lady of the Assumption, Mary, the Mother of priests, lead us to the glory of the Cross and help us all to find strength, hope and courage in her Son. God bless you!