I begin this homily with a renewed call for prayer, respect for and dialogue with fellow citizens of our community as well as those responsible for ensuring security for us. In this regard I acknowledge the conscientious efforts of our Diocesan Racial Harmony Commission. At the Last Supper, Jesus said: “This is my commandment: Love one another, as I love you.”(Jn 15:12).

For this annual Chrism Mass we joyously assemble, representing the church in and of Baton Rouge in microcosm, through the unity and diversity of our six deaneries, spanning 5,500 square miles, as priests, deacons, deacon candidates and wives, consecrated religious, seminarians and vocational prospects, lay faithful from our 65 church parishes, diocesan and church parish employees, masters of ceremonies, readers, servers, musicians, television technicians, administrators, teachers and students from Franciscan Missionaries of our Lady University, Catholic secondary and elementary schools, the elect and candidates for Full Communion, delegates from other various church entities and ministries, as well as prayer partners through television. Since 2003, we also include representatives who will, at the end of the ceremony, officially receive the blessed oils and transport them to their individual places of honored enshrinement and sacramental distribution. We participants in this liturgy can be considered to be symbolically present for every use of these oils.

Oil is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament in relation to the anointing of priests, prophets and kings. The oil for the Sacrament of the Sick mirrors Jesus’ instruction for his apostles to anoint the infirm, as also commended by Apostle James advising the sick to summon presbyters of the church for this purpose. The Oil of Catechumens is administered at baptism, symbolizing the priestly and royal power of Christ in which the baptized participate (1 Pt 2:9). Chrism, a mixture of olive oil and fragrant balsam, is administered at Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination of Priests and Bishops, and Consecration of Churches and Altars.

The Blessings of the Oils has been documented back to the early 200s at an Easter Vigil ceremony where the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Exorcism (Catechumens) were blessed and the Oil of Chrism consecrated. In the 400s this liturgy was moved to Holy Thursday in a separate, but connected, Mass with that of the Lord’s Supper. This Chrism Mass and its texts accentuate the priesthood and express the desired communion, solidarity and collegiality of bishop and priests. It also highlights the spiritual solemnity, beauty and emotion of the occasion.

The church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, blessed with inspired word, sacred tradition, magisterial authority, dynamic faith, rich history and impressive ritual. This ceremony is being celebrated in each of the approximately 200 Catholic dioceses in our country and some other 2,600 dioceses throughout the world. By the 1967 decree of Pope Paul VI, pastoral reasons allow it to be scheduled in anticipation of Holy Thursday, the anniversary of Jesus’ institution of the priesthood. For us priests, through being ordered to Jesus himself, we assume the person and role of Jesus to proclaim and preach the Word, confect the Eucharist, absolve sinners, anoint the sick, baptize, lead prayer, bless, witness marriage promises, bury the dead and comfort the beleaguered. Today again as I affirm all other members of the church, on this feast day for priests I particularly praise, commend and thank our priests for their devotion and loyalty to Christ, the church, one another and the flock. We are rightfully proud of our priests. We know we have one of the highest quality groups of priests anywhere. They are dedicated, faithful, talented, motivated, hard-working, courageous, valiant and eminently pastoral. The afore-mentioned 1967 papal decree also provided for the assembled priests to renew their ordination Commitment to Priestly Service and the congregants to pray for them. This ceremony enables us to express our support, affection and gratitude for our priests. Following the priests’ pledge, in the apostolic office entrusted to me I request prayers to be a more perfect image of Christ the priest, good shepherd, teacher and servant. Again I attest to the personal honor of being a member of this presbyterate and particular diocesan church.

Since last year’s Chrism Mass, while we rejoice that none of our priests have died, we do acknowledge the passing of two of our devoted deacons, Albert Ellis and Eugene Brady. May they rest in peace.

This year marks the anniversaries of a number of beloved priests: 60 years, Father Hank Vavasseur; 55 years, John Carville and Jerry Young; 50 years, Joe Doyle SSJ, Joe Rodney SSJ, and me; 45 years: Gerry Martin and Bob Stine; 40 years: Dave Allen, Tom Duhe and Tom Ranzino; 35 years: Richard Andrus SVD, Vincent Dufresne, Charlie Landry and Cleo Milano; 30 years: Trey Nelson; 25 years, Greg Daigle. Not counting a year apiece for initial diaconal service, these 17 priests represent over 700 combined years of ordained service. Would they please stand? Thank you.

In closing let us: “Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:38) and for renewed prayer and attention to promote racial harmony and peace. In heart and mind, spirit and voice let us praise and thank the God of all creation — Father, Son and Spirit — for bringing us here at this precious time, in this sacred place, for this hallowed purpose. With Peter before Jesus on the mountaintop, we say: “Master, it is good that we are here” (Lk 9:33). Amen.