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The annual archdiocesan chrism Mass celebrated during Holy Week on April 11 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis was much like the same liturgy in years past.
Oils used in sacraments were blessed and received by representatives of parishes and religious communities across central and southern Indiana. And priests serving in the archdiocese renewed the promises they made at their ordination. (See related photo gallery)
But there was something missing, something significant.
The cathedra, the seat in the sanctuary reserved for the archbishop and a symbol of his teaching authority, was empty.
It has remained that way since Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, previously archbishop of Indianapolis, was installed on Jan. 6 as the archbishop of Newark, N.J.
Bishop William L. Higi, the retired bishop of Lafayette, Ind., was the principal celebrant of this year’s chrism Mass.
“I suppose it’s obvious that I’m not your new archbishop,” the 83-year-old bishop jokingly said at the start of the Mass. “I think I’m as curious as all of you must be about who that will be.”
Msgr. William F. Stumpf, who was elected archdiocesan administrator on Jan. 9 by the priests who serve on the archdiocesan college of consultors, was the homilist at the chrism Mass. He noted that Cardinal Tobin’s absence and the lack of an archbishop to succeed him were a “void” that was “a bit painful.”
“And yet I know that God is with us,” Msgr. Stumpf said. “I have felt that time and time again as we join together to continue the work in the Church in southern and central Indiana.
“For me, the generosity, support and care in our midst have been a striking manifestation of God’s love and presence. Yes, I have experienced firsthand that we are not alone.”
Benedictine Sister Antoinette Purcell, a member of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, has experienced such periods of transition several times since she began ministry in the archdiocese in 1964.
She was at the chrism Mass to receive the blessed oils for the St. Paul Hermitage, the retirement home in Beech Grove operated by her monastic community.
“We miss the fact that there is no shepherd,” said Sister Antoinette. “The sheep have to kind of bind together and do what we can in the midst of that.”
But the chrism Mass for her is still a powerful part of her experience of Holy Week in which she prays with Catholics from across central and southern Indiana.
“When I go back home, it’s like I’m still part of all of this,” Sister Antoinette said. “It’s not just my little monastery where I worship.”
Pam Doyle, pastoral associate of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, knows that connection firsthand. She received blessed oils for her faith community that would be used when two people would be received into the full communion of the Church during its celebration of the Easter Vigil four days later.
“It makes that connection complete. It’s something done here at the cathedral and then goes to the parish,” she said. “It just completes a circle. We’re all united in this in a universal sense.”
The universal reach of the Church also touches people who are sick and close to death. Deacon Jeffrey Powell presented the oil of the infirm during the chrism Mass that was blessed by Bishop Higi.
It will be used throughout the coming year whenever anyone in the archdiocese receives the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.
“It’s an awesome feeling to be a part of that, for sure,” Deacon Powell said. “I pray for those people all the time. To think that that oil, throughout the whole year, will have that healing effect and sacramental grace is pretty much indescribable.”
In addition to the oil of the infirm, the oil of catechumens and sacred chrism oil were also blessed during the liturgy. The oil of the catechumens is used during the sacrament of baptism. Sacred chrism oil is used in baptism, confirmation, the ordination of priests and bishops and the consecration of church buildings and altars.
The chrism Mass also featured the renewal of ordination promises by some 100 priests serving in the archdiocese.
Ordained last June, this was the first time he renewed his ordination promises at a chrism Mass.
But it wasn’t the first time that he has recommitted himself to priestly life and ministry.
“Every morning, I try to do a renewal, give thanks for my vocation and make a promise to do the best that I can to serve the people of God as a good priest,” Father Tucci said. “But it’s very special doing it with all of my brother priests here in a formal way. It’s all the same priesthood.”
Father William Ernst, ordained in 1964 some 23 years before Father Tucci was born, said jokingly that he has renewed his ordination promises at a chrism Mass “a couple of other times.”
“The older I’ve gotten, the more I appreciate it,” Father Ernst said. “I appreciate the priesthood and being together with my brother priests.”
Msgr. Stumpf said in his homily that all that takes place at the chrism Mass and the people witnessing and participating in it share a powerful message.
“All of us gathered here are [Christ’s] anointed disciples,” he said, “the laity, the bishop, the priests, the order of deacons, the consecrated religious, the parish life coordinators, the seminarians and the candidates for the permanent diaconate.
“Yes, each of us is an anointed disciple because we are part of the priestly people of God.” †