It was a full congregation and a full sanctuary for the Chrism Mass at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, an encouraging experience at a time when the media would have us believe religious observance is for the minority.
Archbishop Tartaglia was joined by Archbishop Emeritus Conti and priests and deacons from across the diocese to celebrate this Mass which he described in his welcome as a Mass for everyone. The music of the Mass was provided by the Archdiocesan choir, the St. Mungo Singers, with organist Jacqueline Barrett and Dr. Noel Donnelly on harp.
The liturgy of the Chrism Mass is rich and complex, including as it does, the Blessing of the Oils which will be used in the administering of sacraments over the coming year, and the Renewal of Commitment to Priestly Service by the priests of the Diocese.
Archbishop Tartaglia’s sermon linked together the two actions. He pointed out that in the oils that were to be blessed at the Mass, the church is made present, particularly through the oil of chrism which is used in so many sacraments and is so symbolic of how the Church is constituted sacramentally.
Turning to the Renewal of Commitment, and speaking to the priests present, he thanked the them for attending in such numbers. He reflected that, at the Chrism Mass, their thoughts may go back to their ordination day. He had recently come across the memorial card from his own ordination some 42 years ago which had contained a verse from the High Priestly prayer of Jesus as set out in John’s Gospel: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world”.
Jesus is the truth, he went on, and he consecrates priests to enable them to offer service to their people. He highlighted two aspects of the questions which would be asked of them at the Renewal of Commitment: their interior bond with Christ, and their acceptance of the ongoing transcendence of themselves – their lives are not purely their own.
Christ should be a living influence in their lives, audible as well as visible. Priests are asked to configure themselves to the Good Shepherd in what are more and more challenging circumstances, at a time when people in society are looking for a religion of convenience, without the cross and the judgement of God.
The challenge for the priest is that he always belongs to God and to his people. It is fitting that the Renewal of Commitment concludes with the invitation to the people of God to pray for and support their priests and their Bishop.
The Chrism Mass is of its nature lengthy. The music of this liturgy therefore must fulfil one of its primary functions, to enable the congregation to fully participate throughout. It can also assist through providing colour, focus and changes of texture.
Before the liturgy began, there were hymns and motets reflecting the season (Unless the Seed Lies Buried; O Sacred Head; Lord, I Trust Thee; There is One Lord). The psalm (Ps.88), gospel verse and Mass parts were sung. At the blessing of the oils, Noel Donnelly’s Veni, Veni enabled the congregation to take part in the invocation of the Holy Spirit. At communion, two contemporary hymns (I am the Vine; Seed,Scattered and Sown) gave us fresh words for prayer, and the Mass ended with a hymn which has become a favourite for ordinations and jubilees because of the aptness of its text (Lord, You have come to the Seashore).