One of the impacts of COVID-19 has been that plans for family celebrations have been curtailed and altered. Noteworthy occasions like weddings, birthdays and graduations have been celebrated differently than what had been planned or from what we were able to do in the past.
How we planned to celebrate our diocesan bicentennial year has changed, too. We have had to postpone some things, rework others and adapt to the protocols that are in place.
As a result, the Chrism Mass, which had been scheduled for the Monday of Holy Week, will be celebrated in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on Friday evening, July 10. I will bless the oil of the sick and oil of the catechumens and consecrate the holy chrism. The priests of our diocese will renew the promises they made at the time of their ordination.
The next day, we will celebrate the ordination of two priests, which had been scheduled for June 6, one transitional deacon, originally scheduled for May 23, and the day on which our diocese was established in 1820.
While the Chrism Mass, ordinations and our diocese’s 200th anniversary might appear to be an unusual combination of celebrations, all of them focus attention on the Church, as the Body of Christ, the source of teaching, sacraments and salvation.
Although, because of the pandemic, the physical numbers in attendance may be limited, these celebrations help us focus on the call Christ gives us to be in communion with God and with one another.
From that communion comes spiritual fruitfulness for everyone — those who are embraced by the Church and enter her by faith and baptism, as well as those who encounter the Church from the outside. The whole world benefits and is blessed by the presence and work of the Church.
That these two Masses are being celebrated in our cathedral is significant because the cathedral of every diocese is its mother church. It is more than an expression of architectural beauty; it is a symbol that represents the whole Church built of living spiritual stones.
It represents the unity of the Church manifested in prayer, teaching and charity. It represents the bishop and his responsibility to be a source and sign of unity for the local Church. The cathedral stands as a statement of our faith, the place from which the bishop teaches, sanctifies and calls to communion the faithful from throughout the diocese.
There was a time, very early in the Church’s history, when the church from which the bishop celebrated the Eucharist was the only church in a city or region. The bishop would preside at the celebration of Mass surrounded by the elders, the presbyterate or clergy of the local church.
After the Mass, the priests and deacons would take the Eucharist to the faithful in the outlying communities. That was and is a powerful reminder of the unity Christ intends for the Church, that one bread nourishes one body — the Body of Christ.
1 Peter 2:4 reminds us that we are “living stones” built into a spiritual house. Just as stone, brick, mortar, steel, glass, marble and wood are used to build our cathedrals, we, the living stones who comprise the Body of Christ, are the Church for our faith community.
It is as living stones that we will gather on July 10 and 11 to celebrate our faith. The blessed oils and consecrated chrism from Friday’s Mass are the outward signs of the graces, gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit that we receive in the sacraments. The promises our priests renew fortify their bond of communion with Christ, the head and servant, as well as with me and my successors. These promises signify and express their commitment to serving God’s people anywhere in our diocese.
When we celebrate the priesthood ordination of Anthony Ferguson for our diocese and Julio Reyes for the Diocese of Zacatecoluca, El Salvador, as well as Tom Lawrence to the diaconate for our diocese, we are witnessing the answer to their vocational call — a call recognized, supported and nurtured by the Church, by all of us, the living stones.
How fitting that we can celebrate all of this as part of our bicentennial and on the anniversary date of our diocese’s founding. During these past 200 years, the living stones — clergy, religious and laity — in fulfilling the promises of our baptism and in answering our vocational call, have cooperated with God’s grace to build our diocese.
This is visible in the buildings of our parishes, schools, hospitals, campus ministry centers and elderly care facilities, but what gives life to those structures is the faith of generation after generation of Catholics who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, heard and lived the Gospel in their daily lives. And that is what continues to give them life!
While we have had to adapt in order to celebrate the Chrism Mass and ordinations, we have not lost the focus of the importance of these celebrations, particularly in the context of our diocese’s bicentennial. At both Masses, we again realize that we have been built into — and continue to be built into — “a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5).
That spiritual house is the Church in the Diocese of Richmond; that holy priesthood is both a common priesthood we all receive in baptism and a ministerial priesthood that some receive in a particular service of oversight for the Church.
In this priesthood we live our lives; and that spiritual sacrifice has been the grace by which the Body of Christ has been built up here in the Commonwealth of Virginia for the last 200 years.
Editor’s note: Due to social distancing, attendance at the Chrism Mass and the ordination Mass is by invitation only. The ordination Mass will be livestreamed at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, July 11, on the diocesan website, www.richmonddiocese.org.