Priests renew commitment to service in annual Chrism Mass

Aerial view of full pews at St. Columba Cathedral

In the spirit of restoration and renewal for both the shepherds and the flock, Bishop David J. Bonnar of the Diocese of Youngstown celebrated the annual Chrism Mass for the near-capacity crowd that gathered Tuesday, April 4, in St. Columba Cathedral.

At the Mass, nearly 100 priests and deacons renewed their commitment to service. The bishop also blessed the oils used in the parishes to anoint the sick and catechumens also consecrated the sacred chrism, which is oil mixed with perfume, used in the celebrations of baptisms, confirmations, and ordinations.

Bishop Bonnar encouraged the faithful in attendance to pray for their priests “that the Lord may pour out His gifts abundantly upon them, and keep them faithful as ministers of Christ, the High Priest; so that they may lead you to Him, who is the source of salvation.” In addition, the bishop asked for prayers for himself “that I may be faithful to the apostolic office entrusted to me.”

Bishop Bonnar also asked, “May the Lord keep us all in His charity and lead all of us, shepherds and flock, to eternal life.”

Beginning his homily, the bishop recalled his tenure at the beautiful St. Bernard Church in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where there was much physical decay.  “It wasn’t just the stone that was falling; water was infiltrating the church. Almost the entire time of my pastorate, there was scaffolding either inside or outside of the church,” he recalled.

But his favorite images of the church remain those featuring the scaffolding. Bishop Bonnar explained, “You see, that image became, for me, a metaphor of what our task is every day as parish priests—namely, to restore and renew the Church, most especially, the ‘living stones’ of the people of God.”

He explained that the work of restoration and renewal inevitably involves change, which is difficult. As an “authentic agent of restoration and renewal,’ he said, “I had to practice what I preach … ensuring that I was praying, availing myself of regular spiritual direction and confession, doing an annual retreat, taking a day off and a regular vacation, reading, exercising and spending quality time with family, friends and brother priests.”

Bishop Bonnar greets his brother priests outside St. Columba Cathedral before the Chrism Mass.
Bishop Bonnar greets his brother priests outside St. Columba Cathedral before the Chrism Mass.

He warned, “If we do not take time to consistently restore and renew ourselves, we face the risk of burnout and open the door to many dangers which can weaken and threaten our priesthood.”

At the Mass in the mother church of the six-county diocese, Bishop Bonnar stated, “No matter how many years we have been ordained, or how many assignments we have had or currently have, this day is filled with the possibility of so much newness. Through the power of our presence and the words that we will utter, we can return to our respective assignments and communities with a renewed fragrance of holiness.”

He implored the priests to take care.

“Brothers,” he said, “this commitment to take care of oneself is more urgent today than ever before, as so many of our priests are stretched to the limit, serving multiple ministries, traveling great distances at times. Gentlemen, as your spiritual father, I worry about each and every one of you. Please take care of yourself and know that this local Church is ready to help in any way.”

Bishop Bonnar stated, “Remember the old saying, ‘We cannot give what we don’t have.’ It is incumbent upon all of us that we work hard every day to be men of prayer who seek to grow every day in friendship with God, each other, the people of God and ourselves. 

Recently, he said, the importance of friendship has loomed large in his thoughts and prayers.

Bishop Bonnar stands with his hands over several vessels of oil, blessing them.
Bishop Bonnar blesses the oils and sacred chrism.

“As we live out our priesthood, there are many titles applied throughout our tradition to describe who we are and what we do as priests. Some of these titles are teacher, leader, sanctifier, bridge builder, father, steward and shepherd, just to name a few. There is yet another title that I wish to reflect on with you today that surfaced in my prayer over the last few weeks. It is a title that is in many ways the object of our restoration and renewal, and it is at the heart of our priesthood. The title I am referring to is ‘friend.’”

However, he said, “true and lasting friendship demands work.”

He pointed to three sections of the Old Testament pertaining to friendship. Job 42:10 reads, “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.”  Thus, Bishop Bonnar said, “When we intentionally pray for our friends, blessings ensue.”  

The Book of Proverbs 18:24 states, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Likewise, Bishop Bonnar said that Proverbs 17:17 states, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”

Finally, the bishop pointed to the Book of Sirach, 6:14-15, “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a shelter. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth.”

In the New Testament, Bishop Bonnar singled out John 15:14-15, when Jesus says to his disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

The bishop stated, “One of the chief characteristics of friendship is sharing. Jesus is our friend who shares his life and ministry with us. How humbling it is for us, through the grace of our ordination, to be consecrated to act in his person. And what a special gift it is to have that friendship extend itself to one another as we collectively share in the life and ministry of Jesus.’”

He went on to say, “It is even more humbling considering that we are all beset by weakness. Gentlemen, today we come to this holy place to restore and renew this special friendship that we share with Jesus of whom we pray at every Mass, ‘By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.’”

A large group of priests stands to the left of the altar during the Chrism Mass.
Nearly 100 priests and deacons from all six counties of the diocese were in attendance.

“At the core of this friendship is prayer,” he said. “In his own Chrism Mass homily in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that ‘to be a friend of Jesus, to be a priest, means being a man of prayer.’ Today we renew our promise to be men of prayer who are in communion with Christ and configured to Christ.”

The bishop elaborated, saying, “Today, as priests dedicated to prayer, we will renew our priestly promises. In this sacred moment, let us renew our gaze on Jesus and our surrender to his will, and in this manner, recommit ourselves to seeing as Jesus sees. Because we share in this friendship together as members of this presbyterate, we renew our collective gaze at Jesus together resolving to find him and behold him in one another and to see together the way Jesus calls us to walk together as priests in this local Church. And in the spirit of true friendship and fraternity, we seek to bring out the best in each other.”

Toward the homily’s conclusion, he said, “As priests, we pledge once again today to make our ministry not about ourselves, our agenda and needs, but about serving the people of God of whom we have much to learn from. These ‘living stones’ often bring out the best in us when we allow it to happen.”

In a separate note, Bishop Bonnar thanked “the faithful of our diocese for your presence here today in the Cathedral and on the live stream.” He added, “I appreciate all that you do for our priests.”

He also ended by thanking the priests.  “I wish to conclude my reflection today by expressing on behalf of the faithful and in my own name our sincere and heartfelt gratitude to you for your priesthood and all that you do for the good of this local Church of Youngstown. As your bishop of over two years, I have come to know and love you. I am humbled by your love for the Church.”

He stated, “While these are tough times, I believe that this presbyterate is tougher and is already demonstrating the resolve and resilience to meet the challenges of our time and place. While we are being stretched, there lies the promise of great and abundant fruitfulness. As you renew your priestly promises, please, I humbly ask, that you pray for me to be a holy bishop, loving father, wise leader and humble servant.”

Lay people from various parishes present the oil and chrism for blessing.
Lay people from various parishes around the diocese presented the oil and sacred chrism.

He also said, “And together, I ask you to join me in echoing the prayer of our friend Jesus, ‘That all may be one.’”

Deacon Thomas Mierzwa of Christ the Servant Parish, Canton, said in an interview, “It is an honor to be here. It is an uplifting Mass,” he said. “I look forward to coming every year.”

Likewise, Father Brian Smith, director of Hispanic ministry for the diocese, said he was both “challenged and encouraged by the bishop’s words.” He added that “It’s great to be with all my brother priests.”

“That everyone is here together is incredible,” said Craig Ziobert, a seminarian hailing from Our Lady of Mount Carmel and server for the mass. It was a great honor, he said, “being at the altar with my brother seminarians. What a wonderful way to enrich our Holy Week.”

Angela Mackey, a mathematics teacher at Saints Philip and James School, Canal Fulton, transported all six members of her eighth-grade homeroom to the event. She commented in an interview that “so many people don’t have the opportunity to come” for such a “special experience.” One of the students, Zachery Walsh, 14, of Canal Fulton, said he had never been to Youngstown before and had asked at the beginning of the school year if they would be attending the Chrism Mass.

Choir and instrumentalists perform at the Chrism Mass
Choristers and instrumentalists from St. Columba Cathedral and throughout the diocese lead music at the Chrism Mass, under the direction of Ralph Holtzhauser.

Felicia Mooney, St. William Church, Campion, and Regina Roach, Saints Philip and James, Canal Fulton, presented the oil of the sick; Melinda Morris, Basilica of St. John the Baptist, Canton, and William Chmelik, St. Patrick, Hubbard, presented the oil of the catechumens; and Rev. Mr. John Rovnak, St. Michael, Canfield, and David Masters, St. Jude, Columbiana, presented the sacred chrism.

Deacons of the Mass were the Rev. Mr. Bob England, St. Vincent Seminary, Latrobe, Pa., and Deacon Mark Fuller, St. Michael the Archangel, Canton. Masters of ceremony were the Very Rev. Michael D. Balash, Rev. Chad Johnson and the Very Rev. Martin Celuch, J.C.L.

Ralph Holtzhauser is director of music, Christine Langer was cantor and Rachel Feit played the horn; Adam Warnke, trumpet; and Bob Barnett, timpani.

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Karen S. Kastner

Karen S. Kastner

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