July 3, 2020

‘We find strength in Christ’: Catholics from across archdiocese gather for chrism Mass delayed by pandemic

Dabrice Bartet, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, carries an urn containing chrism oil during the June 29 celebration of the annual archdiocesan chrism Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Dabrice Bartet, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, carries an urn containing chrism oil during the June 29 celebration of the annual archdiocesan chrism Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

The coronavirus pandemic forced the suspension of the public celebration of the Mass and other sacraments in Indiana for 10 weeks this spring.

But the importance of the Church’s sacramental ministry—and its witness to Gospel values in a broken world marked by injustice—remained unchanged.

The steadfastness of the Church’s ministry in the face of a worldwide pandemic was displayed on June 29 in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in the celebration of the archdiocese’s annual chrism Mass, the liturgy in which priests renew their ordination promises and oils are blessed that are used in several sacraments and in the dedication of churches and altars.

In his homily during the Mass, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson said the liturgy was “a celebration of divine grace continuing to remain at work in our midst.”

Originally scheduled for April 7, the Tuesday of Holy Week, it was postponed because of the pandemic.

Measures were taken during the June 29 liturgy to protect against the spread of the virus. Facemasks were common in the congregation limited to priests and parish life coordinators serving in central and southern Indiana and representatives of deacons, seminarians, religious and lay Catholics of the archdiocese.

During the pandemic, Archbishop Thompson celebrated many liturgies in an empty cathedral for videos that were available for viewing online. At the start of the chrism Mass, he showed his happiness in seeing so many worshipers before him.

“Even in your masks, you look wonderful,” he said with a smile.

In his homily, Archbishop Thompson praised the many Catholics across the archdiocese who, during the shutdown, were “present on the front lines through health care, nursing facilities, social outreach and sacramental ministries.”

Father Eric Augenstein, pastor of Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Parish in Indianapolis, was one of a select group of priests in the archdiocese designated during the height of the pandemic to minister sacramentally to those in danger of death, including those who had tested positive for the coronavirus.

During the chrism Mass, he thought of the dying residents of a Greenwood nursing home hit especially hard by the virus for whom he celebrated the sacrament of the anointing of the sick while wearing personal protective equipment.

“When any of us are ordained, we don’t know where our ministry is going to take us,” Father Augenstein said after the chrism Mass. “We have ideas. We’re going to anoint people, celebrate the Mass, baptize people. But the direction of the world leads in ever-new ways.

“So, today, in renewing the promises and in blessing oils called to mind for me those times when I used oils in ways that I never would have imagined I would have, in the time of a pandemic when the Church and the world was shut down.”

The continuation of the Church’s ministry and his participation in it was a sign of hope for Father Augenstein.

“It reminded me how the Church, by God’s design and providence, is built for every age and circumstance, even the ones that we don’t anticipate,” he said. “When the time came for a worldwide pandemic that shut many things down, the Church had within herself the structure, prayers and rituals to be able to address that.”

While Archbishop Thompson praised the ministry of priests like Father Augenstein and the creative efforts made by parish leaders across the archdiocese to remain connected to their parishioners during the shutdown, especially through the use of social media, he said the chrism Mass “reminds us that the world has one Savior and none of us may claim to be him.”

“Whether clergy, religious or laity, we are merely instruments through which the Lord touches the lives of those to whom we minister and serve,” Archbishop Thompson said. “We must never forget that any effectiveness we may realize is in the holy name of Jesus Christ rather than our own.”

Franciscan Sister Shirley Gerth, present at the chrism Mass, has touched the lives of many members of the Batesville Deanery faith communities she leads as parish life coordinator: St. John the Baptist Parish in Osgood and St. Maurice Parish in Napoleon.

“It was wonderful to gather together as the Church,” she said of the chrism Mass. “There was some emptiness, though, because other people weren’t able to come. But it was good to pray for them and still feel united with them.”

Dabrice Bartet, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, took part in the chrism Mass by bringing forward the chrism oil to be blessed.

She had in mind during the liturgy the Catholics across central and southern Indiana who died during the shutdown and their friends and loved ones who couldn’t mourn for them in a funeral Mass or at their burial.

“This is a gathering where we can pray for them and for the future,” Bartet said. “We hope that it will strengthen us so we don’t give up. Faith comes with a cross. We just need to pray.”

Bartet was born in Togo in West Africa. There were priests at the chrism Mass who came to the archdiocese from Africa, Latin America, India and elsewhere.

In remarks during the Mass, Archbishop Thompson said such racial and ethnic diversity demonstrated “the richness of our Church.”

He also reflected in his homily on the recent protests and unrest in Indianapolis and other cities across the country related to racial injustice.

“There is no room for racism among those who profess to be part of one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, especially as we proclaim the unity of our Catholic faith that marks this great solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul,” Archbishop Thompson said. “The various races, languages, ethnicities and cultures that are woven into the fabric of our communion of faith enrich rather than hinder our unity as people of God.”

He reminded his listeners of the efforts the Church has made and continues to make to promote racial justice.

“Our Catholic health care, our Catholic schools, our Catholic Charities—so many different ways that we strive to make that systematic change, to bring people out of cycles of poverty, cycles of oppression, cycles of ignorance, cycles of injustice, of abuse and addiction, to lift people up,” Archbishop Thompson said. “It is something that we must never give up or lose sight of.”

It is the unity of the Church, he said, that gives strength to its ministry in worship and in promoting justice.

“Together, in Jesus Christ, we form one body, one presbyterate, one people, one family of God,” Archbishop Thompson said. “Made possible by his passion, death and resurrection, we are anointed in unity with Jesus Christ as priests, prophets and kings.

“In contrast to the contagion of sin and disease, may we spread the contagion of faith, hope and charity.”

Bartet appreciated the archbishop’s message, seeing a connection between the Church gathering for worship, especially at the chrism Mass, and its promotion of justice in society.

“We really need to look inside ourselves and see where we are falling short, where we aren’t following the teachings of the Church and how we can change,” she said. “Everything is connected. We find strength in Christ.” †

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