The Chrism Mass in the age of coronavirus

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

The Chrism Mass often is the largest annual gathering of clergy and faithful in the diocese, but this year no more than 10 clergy will participate in person at the April 6 Mass because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anne Marie Amacher
Bishop Thomas Zinkula pours balsam into the oil of sacred chrism during the Chrism Mass March 19, 2018, at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.

“The Chrism Mass has always been a highlight for me,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula said. “It will be strange to celebrate it with only a few people in attendance.”

This is the Mass where the bishop consecrates the Sacred Chrism and blesses the oil of the sick and oil of the catechumens for use in the local church’s sacraments during the following year. This is the Mass where the diocese’s priests pledge their recommitment to ministry as priests. Efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus require great sacrifice, on the part of clergy as well as laity this year.

Six priests, each representing a deanery (region) of the Diocese of Davenport, will represent their brother priests during this year’s Chrism Mass. The six priests, along with the vicar general, will concelebrate the Chrism Mass with Bishop Zinkula as presider. A deacon also will serve during the Mass to be celebrated in the second-floor library of diocesan headquarters. The location is also part of an effort to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

This grouping follows diocesan, state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructions, which now limit gatherings to 10 people. The restriction is expected to last for the next couple of weeks.

“When the holy oils are taken home and received in the diocesan parishes, it is a sign of each parish’s unity with the bishop and the diocesan church. Whenever the holy oils are used, the ministry of the bishop who consecrated them is symbolically present,” Bishop Zinkula said.

“Maybe this year the Chrism Mass takes on a particular poignancy,” said Deacon Frank Agnoli, the diocese’s director of liturgy. “Even though we can’t be together physically, we’re still connected.” No one knows when people can congregate safely again, which will affect celebration of the Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday evening through Easter Sunday evening), the “feast of feasts,” Deacon Agnoli said.

“With regard to the Triduum, again, it will be weird to celebrate these high holy days in a rather quiet, subdued manner this year,” Bishop Zinkula said. “It is important to remember that Christ is present not only in the Eucharist (sacrament), word and minister. He also is present in the gathered assembly.”

“Yes, this year the assembly will be quite small, but as Jesus said, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst.’ The rest of the faithful, the Body of Christ, will be present spiritually and mystically in and through the Communion of Saints.”

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