No priests: no Eucharist.
No Eucharist: no communion.
No communion: no Church.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight asserted that reality at his first Mass of the Holy Chrism as bishop of the Jefferson City diocese.
“The Catholic faith is all about communion,” he said. “The life and mission of the Church is centered on the Eucharist, the Holy Communion that feeds and nourishes our life of faith.
“Without it, really, there is no Church — there is no ‘us,’” he said.
This “us” finds eloquent expression each year at the Chrism Mass, an affirmation of the bonds among bishops, priests, deacons, the faithful, the sacraments and all who receive them.
“Today we celebrate in a special way the one Priesthood of Jesus Christ, Who was anointed with the Spirit to repair our broken relationship with God and to heal our fractured humanity,” said Bishop McKnight.
Hundreds of laypeople joined him, Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos, Bishop Joseph N. Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago, and the priests of the diocese, at the Mass celebrated on March 22 in the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
The bishops and priests renewed the promises of priestly fidelity they made at their ordination.
Deacons of the diocese, students of Sacred Heart High School in Sedalia, and several adults presented the oils that will be used in sacramental anointings throughout the Jefferson City diocese this year.
With his brother priests gathered in the cathedral sanctuary, Bishop McKnight blessed the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of the Catechumens and consecrated the Oil of Sacred Chrism.
“By the shedding of His Blood,” Bishop McKnight noted in his homily, “our Lord and Savior won for us our release from the captivity of sin and death, giving us the oil of gladness — His own Holy Spirit — such that we have become a kingdom of priests for God the Father.”
Through sacramental anointing that comes from Christ and points back to Him, Catholics are conformed to His image and receive and abundance of spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit.
“To do what Jesus has done”
From the bishop’s chair, symbol of his office as teacher, Bishop McKnight spoke of unity with Christ and with one another in His eternal Priesthood and the Eucharist.
“We Catholics belong to a ‘worldwide web’ of relationships, founded by Jesus Christ and vivified by His Holy Spirit,” he said.
“Being members of the Church, we are in communion with God,” he noted. “But being Catholic also means being in communion with others.”
Bishop McKnight spoke of how each of the three oils corresponds with one aspect of Christ’s threefold ministry: the Oil of Catechumens pointing to Jesus’ role as Prophet; the Oil of the Sick harkening to Him as Priest; and the Oil of Sacred Chrism, revealing Him as King.
“It is our Catholic mission to do what Jesus has done and continues to do: to heal the wounds of sin, death and division,” the bishop stated.
Being totally reliant on Christ, the true High Priest, and His Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Church needs priests in order to carry-out its mission here.
“We priests shoulder together the special mission we have received from Jesus Christ to preserve the apostolic communion of His flock,” the bishop reminded his fellow priests. “The Diocese of Jefferson City is dependent upon you, upon us, to get our priestly ministry right. So much is at stake.”
He implored the priests to encourage each other and continue making personal sacrifices “so that the care of souls can be carried-out according to the model of the Good Shepherd.”
“Friendship or fraternity among priests is necessary for us to enjoy a healthy, unified and resilient presybterate, which allows for a flourishing, united and resilient diocesan Church,” the bishop noted.
“Healing and greater communion”
The priests had spent the day together at their annual Priests Day of Recollection, led by Bishop Perry.
He is the Chicago archdiocese’s postulator for the cause of determining whether Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton should be declared a saint.
Fr. Tolton was born into slavery in northeastern Missouri in 1854. He escaped a handful of inspired people in the Church, he endured through overwhelming prejudice in order to become the first black priest of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.
Bishop Perry talked about ways Fr. Tolton’s life and example apply to priests today.
He specifically called for priests to preach homilies that challenge Catholics to live up to the truth of the Gospel, combatting evil in their everyday lives and in greater society.
He prayed that the celebrations of Holy Week and the Easter Triduum throughout the diocese “may foster healing in our parishes and communities, and bring about a greater communion in our Church.”
“What a great life and mission we have as priests; and what a blessing and privilege we all enjoy in the life of grace received in baptism to share in the life and mission of the Church!” he said.
“Let us give thanks to the Lord!”