Bishop James P. Powers celebrates the Diocese of Superior’s Chrism Mass beneath the prominent mosaic of Christ holding the Book of Gospels in his left hand and blessing with his right. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

“Everything that we do as we gather today, we do to celebrate who we are as that one Body of Christ; to celebrate who we are as members of the Diocese of Superior,” Bishop James P. Powers summarized in his homily for the March 20 Chrism Mass.

With approximately 600 in attendance, the occasion’s solemnity was heightened by the presence of the Diocesan Chorale and the Knights of Columbus Honor Guard in full regalia. Dressed in native attire, students from St. Francis Solanus School in Reserve performed a prelude.

Rhythmic drum beats and an a cappella chant preceded the chorale’s processional hymn. Deacons moved up the aisle followed by active and retired priests of the diocese, all under the images of six angels above the Cathedral’s interior arches pointing to the mosaic of Christ Pantocrator.

Incense was used in abundance throughout the Mass, its sensual fragrance and smoke adding to the ceremonial atmosphere. Transitional Deacon Richard Rhinehart proclaimed the Gospel. Then Bishop Powers raised the Book of Gospels and with it made the sign of the cross over those assembled.

The bishop started his homily welcoming all present – “as a total Church of Northwestern Wisconsin” – naming each representative group: the elect and candidates coming into the Church at Easter, the lay faithful and school children, the music and other Mass ministers, the seminarians and two deacons, Knights of Columbus, the religious sisters, permanent deacons and his brother priests.

He continued, “we gather to celebrate the high point of our diocesan liturgical year;” noting the gathering is more significant than Christmas or Easter given the broad spectrum of members of the Diocese of Superior. This included an individual from each of the 103 diocesan parishes who attended to receive the holy oils to be used for the sacraments throughout the year in their home parishes.

Saying the two main purposes of the liturgy were the blessing of oils and the priests’ renewal of promises, the bishop commented on the readings which spoke of anointing with the Spirit of the Lord.

“When we hear those readings proclaimed, too often we think they’re meant only about Jesus, or perhaps for those who are ordained.

“Those words are for each and every one of us as well. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, the Lord has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim. Those words spoken today are for each and every one of us – according to our state in life, young and old.”

Bishop Powers highlighted the sacramental significance of each of the oils, made from readily available olive oil. He reflected on the shared paradox with the bread and wine that are changed into Christ’s Body and Blood for our nourishment – the simple and ordinary means God uses to reach into daily life with His life-giving grace.

He spoke at length about the oil of the sick, the one most commonly used. The bishop said it is taken by priests “often at all times of the day or night; taken to where people suffer in body, mind and spirit; taken where it will be used as that spiritual ointment by which the Holy Spirit heals and comforts those who are suffering.”

Turning to the priests, all seated on the altar behind him, he emphasized, “I pray there is not a one of us who has not witnessed the grace received by someone who was dying as that Holy Spirit calmed their fears and strengthened them for that journey into eternal life.”

The oil of catechumens was explained as giving the baptized the strength of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives, in the battle with Satan and when facing temptations and sin.

Bishop Powers said the sacred chrism is used in the sacraments that “truly change who we are.” He directed himself to Deacon Rhinehart, illustrating how the sacred chrism would be used to trace a cross on the palms of his hands during ordination, and said, “As you, and those who have been ordained before you, you will be forever changed.”

Then again referring to the anointing spoken of in the Scripture, the bishop turned again to the priests and declared that their anointing was “not for some personal or special favor or privilege, but that we might take the gift that we have received from God and in turn, selflessly share it with others.”

He continued, “With all my heart, I say thank you. Thank you for that generous response to God’s call. Thank you for the renewal of that response in your daily life and in your daily ministry to the people of God you serve so faithfully.”

The bishop acknowledged living out the vocational call is not always easy. He recognized the challenge of meeting people’s needs, especially as the only priest in a cluster of parishes, which is the case across most of the diocese. He asserted the resulting importance of daily prayer, saying, “Brothers, you know that without that prayer life that allows God to lead you, to nurture and nourish you, it isn’t long before that spiritual tank of yours will be too low for you to truly minister to those you serve.”

He invited them to be close to the Blessed Mother, to “let her who bore the Son of God into this world, help you to bring Christ to the people.” And he shared his prayer that each “may be filled with that same energy, enthusiasm, passion and zeal and spirit that was ours when we first heard God call us to be his priests.”
Addressing the faithful of the diocese, Bishop Powers said, “I beg you – love your priests. Pray for your priests.” He also asked, “love and pray for me, as I do for you.”

At the conclusion of the homily – just before the renewal of priestly promises – a woman in the audience spontaneously started to applaud. Others joined her, which transitioned to a standing ovation.
Bishop Powers moved through the rite of blessing and consecration accompanied in song by the diocesan chorale.

Before the final blessing, Cathedral Rector Fr. Andy Ricci welcomed all present to the day’s “family reunion.” He gave indications for the meal that would be served following the mass and announced the completion of the initial fundraising for the Cathedral’s pipe organ, which would be in use for the next year’s Chrism Mass.

Applause erupted as he thanked all who had contributed, including various Councils of Catholic Women and Knights of Columbus across the diocese. Fr. Ricci humorously added information about where to send checks, to which Bishop Powers interjected, “cash works, too.”

When the rector asked for an acknowledgment of Bishop Powers by the assembly, another standing ovation was given with clapping and energetic whistles from the crowd.