Detroit’s clergy gather for blessing of oil and chrism, reaffirming their priestly mission on Holy Thursday

DETROIT — Before blessing the sacred oils and chrism, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron told his brother priests — and the faithful in attendance — the significance of oil as a substance, and how it relates to each priest’s duty to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. 

Relating the oil and chrism that were contained in giant basins to be blessed by Archbishop Vigneron following his homily, the archbishop related a story about two classmates from his days at Immaculate Conception School in his hometown, Anchorville.

“I don’t know if it was Sally or Carol who always brought in popcorn (to school), but I was a little envious about it,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “But I remember the bag in which the popcorn came, it always had oil spots on it. The oil from the popcorn seeped into the very fabric of the bag.”

The seeping nature of oil, how it absorbs into clothing, skin and even souls, was what Archbishop Vigneron wanted the faithful to consider at the annual Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, where priests from every parish in the archdiocese gathered to receive oil and chrism to be used to this Easter’s confirmations, the ordination of priests before the Pentecost vigil and the blessing of the sick throughout the year.

“What struck me about the popcorn bag was the very dynamic of the Lord’s choice of oil to anoint, to be a rite by which His graces are communicated,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Because oil has this particular capacity to penetrate the bodies, the things when it comes into contact. The word 'soak' comes to my mind, but that doesn’t get to the point. Water soaks, but oil is infused to the very fabric of what it touches.”

Detroit Auxiliary Bishops Gerard Battersby, Robert Fisher and Donald Hanchon listen to Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s homily during the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

As the oil is infused into the confirmandi, the newly ordained priest or the faithful receiving the sacrament of anointing of the sick, they are being sacramentally infused with a mission from the Holy Spirit, Archbishop Vigneron said; forever absorbed into God’s plan for mankind.

“The oil used in every consecration, there is a liturgical way of speaking about it, there is almost a real presence of the Holy Spirit — notice I said 'almost,' don’t report me — but almost as substantially real as the Holy Eucharist itself,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “In the prayer I will say to consecrate the oil, 'Therefore, we beseech you, Lord, be pleased to sanctify with your blessing this oil in its richness. And to pour into it the strength of the Holy Spirit with the powerful working of your Christ,' (God sanctifies) an oil, a chrism, into which the very strength of the Holy Spirit is infused in response to our prayer for the work of Jesus Christ."

Archbishop Vigneron recounted how in biblical history, Aaron and his sons, the prophets and kings of Israel, were anointed to accomplish a mission from God. In the 21st century in southeast Michigan, God once again sends people on a mission, consecrated by the sacred oils, infused with a great task at hand.

“Here in the Archdiocese of Detroit, this truth has existed in the light of the Church for centuries, and reaches out into our synod’s movement, ‘Unleash the Gospel,’” Archbishop Vigneron said. 

The sacrament of confirmation, and the anointing with the sacred chrism, infuse those being anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit for the sake of the mission to evangelize, Archbishop Vigneron said.\

Deacons carry baskets full of chrism down the halls of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The chrism and oils used in sacramental anointing were blessed by Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron during the annual Holy Thursday Chrism Mass.

“This is the foundation of what we are trying to do,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “The real effect of confirmation, the seal of the Holy Spirit, is the sign that God has indicated this is truly for us, that this is not my idea, or some committee’s inspiration, but it is by the very plan of God that there can be no bystanders in the Church.”

“It is our task to make disciples of all nations, and once you're confirmed, this is your task,” the archbishop continued. “Full initiation into the Church, as we speak about during confirmation, means full participation in being a band of joyful missionary disciples.”

Archbishop Vigneron thanked all the catechists who have prepared the elect to receive the sacraments of initiation during the Easter vigil, as well as the deacons and religious who assist pastors with their ministry.

Archbishop Vigneron warmly acknowledged and thanked his predecessor, Cardinal Adam J. Maida, for his presence at the Chrism Mass and conveyed the gratitude and prayers of the entire archdiocese for the cardinal’s health and for his years of service to the Church.

The archbishop then directly addressed the priests in the archdiocese as they prepare to commemorate Holy Thursday, when Jesus Christ established the priesthood at the Last Supper.

Archbishop Vigneron asked his brother priests to reflection upon their own ordination and the rite of chrismation. 

“As we presented our hands to the bishop (during the ordination rite), they were anointed with the sacred chrism, this missionary anointing. What does that mean?” Archbishop Vigneron asked. 

“Hands are tools. They are the part of ourselves made for doing,” the archbishop continued. “Every talent we have, every ability God has given us of heart and mind is consecrated to this work of spreading the Gospel. Being a pastor means to lead the holy, royal people of God, fulfilling this consecration, this mission to bring all people to the family of the Church.”

A priest raises his hand in benediction during the Communion Rite at this year’s Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Deacons, too, the archbishop said, share in this holy mission by their anointing, as do bishops, who are anointed to lead the people of God to the kingdom of heaven. 

Archbishop Vigneron closed his message to the archdiocese’s clergy with an acknowledgement of the struggles facing the Church, and the priesthood, in an era when time feels short and the challenge seems overwhelming.

But while the challenges are real, the archbishop said, so is the grace God gives through the sacraments to anyone who asks for it.

“Have no anxiety about the future, about what it means to move forward with purpose to the synod’s summons to ‘unleash the Gospel,’” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Because we have the Holy Eucharist, we have a firm, unwavering pledge that we will win.” 

“Christ is risen. We cannot fail if we are in communion with the risen Jesus,” he continued. “... We don’t have to win the affection of Jesus. Every time we come to the Eucharist, it is his disposition for him to love you, to sustain you, and to give you what you need. In that consolation of the most Holy Eucharist, now and in the years ahead, we will give God glory.”

Watch the Chrism Mass

This year's Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament was livestreamed on Facebook. To see more photos or to watch a replay of the Mass, visit the Archdiocese of Detroit's Facebook page.