PROVIDENCE — Following a year like no other in recent history, the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic was still hanging in the air like the incense smoke used to bless the sacramental oils at this year’s Chrism Mass.
In his homily, in which he noted that the point of preaching is that clergy should always strive to bring the Word of God to confront the realities and the circumstances of the present day, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin somberly confronted the stark reality of the mounting toll the pandemic continues to take.
“In our time, without a doubt, the reality we face is crystal clear — the awful coronavirus pandemic and all the consequent suffering and sorrow that has followed. The plague has affected everyone in multiple ways, and the Church has certainly not been immune from these challenges, this suffering, this sorrow,” Bishop Tobin said.
“So tonight it is fitting to remember in prayer as we gather together all those who have suffered from the plague during the past year — those who have died, those who have been ill, those who have suffered terrible isolation and loneliness, those who have lost family members and friends, those who have lost livelihoods and homes.”
About 100 priests and 20 deacons, along with many members of religious communities were among those who gathered at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul Monday night to celebrate the Chrism Mass.
The Mass, offered on the day following Palm Sunday each year, is the celebration at which the precious sacramental oils used throughout the diocese each year — the Oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick and the Sacred Chrism used for Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Priesthood — are blessed. It is also an occasion for priests to celebrate unity with their bishop as they renew their priestly promises.
“Dear Fathers, you have been creative, courageous and faithful in serving your people. You have inspired me and many others. I am very proud of you and grateful for all you have done,” Bishop Tobin said, thanking all the members of the diocesan church, including parish priests, health care chaplains, and those in special ministries, for the “beautiful and really marvelous way” that they have responded during these trying times.
Calling to mind the three tenets of his episcopal motto, Bishop Tobin encouraged his priests to do all that they can to reach out to their parishioners and welcome them back as they rebuild their congregations.
“The spirit that God has given us is no cowardly spirit, but rather one that makes us strong, loving and wise. So may it be,” he said.
“Clearly, our people are looking to us for leadership in these times. And it is leadership to which we have been called. We should proclaim the Gospel boldly, celebrate the sacraments devoutly, pray with our people fervently, and serve the poor generously.”
The bishop also expressed his appreciation to the faithful for their understanding, patience and cooperation over the past year and how the challenges we continue to face also provide a reason for a new appreciation for the blessing of the holy oils, which he described as “vehicles of grace and consolation for God’s people.”
He spoke of how central the liturgical and devotional life of the Church is for Catholics.
“It’s in our blood; it’s in our DNA. That’s why it has been extraordinarily difficult, painful even, for us and our people to be shut down, locked in and distanced from one another; to be deprived of our social gatherings, our sacramentals and sacraments — from Sunday Mass, First Holy Communions and Confirmations, funerals and weddings — at least in the way to which we were accustomed,” Bishop Tobin said.
“Perhaps we had taken all of these things for granted. But not now, and never again.”