Marriage Encounter boosted Chrism Mass: VG.
By Anthony Barich
he rise in popularity of the Chrism Mass from the late 1970s can be traced back to the Marriage Encounter movement, Perth Vicar General Monsignor Brian O’Loughlin says.
The Chrism Mass, held on April 8 this year during Holy Week, is one of the Archdiocese’s most significant events, where the Archbishop gathers his priests from all his country and city parishes for the consecration of the Holy Oils used for baptism, confirmation, Holy Orders and anointing of the sick. The Second Vatican Council decreed that they also renew their vow of celibacy and pastoral ministry at this Mass.
While St Mary’s Cathedral has been undergoing conservation and restoration, it has been held in the bigger parish churches around the Archdiocese – St Thomas More Bateman in 2007, Mary MacKillop Ballajura last year and Sacred Heart Thornlie this year.
At each occasion it was a packed house, with hundreds of laypeople from around the Archdiocese attending, celebrating the profound liturgical and pastoral link of the bishop through his priests with all the laypeople. But it was not always that way.
Mgr O’Loughlin said that the year he was ordained in 1974, the Chrism Mass “just seemed to be for a scattered number of people,” which seemed like a small number “in the vastness of St Mary’s Cathedral”.
“You had this high point of the Church’s liturgical year on a parallel with Easter, yet it didn’t resonate with the people,” he said.
Since the late 1970s and 80s, there has been a marked change, which he said in many ways can be attributed to the Marriage Encounter movement, which took on the responsibility of ensuring that married couples attended the Chrism Mass.
In more recent times, when most parishes advertise their Holy Week ceremonies in their bulletin, they also include the Chrism Mass, which traditionally is celebrated in the cathedral.
“Couples of marriage encounter were deepening their appreciation of the sacrament of marriage and realised that this very much depended on their shared celebration of the Eucharist,” he said. “They realised, then, that the Eucharist comes about through the ministry of the priest. So they saw this as an important way of supporting priests in their ministry, but it also flowed from the fact that many priests joined the Marriage Encounter weekends with the couples, so there was an opportunity for deeper sharing on that level as well as the couples appreciating their sacrament of marriage.”
Priests did not concelebrate Mass prior to the Second Vatican Council, which introduced to the Latin Rite the concelebration of the Eucharist that had always been part of the Eastern rites. “The priests felt much more a part of the celebration as intimate participants,” not spectators, he said.
Priests travelling from all over the Archdiocese was a sign of unity, and the Monsignor remembers that “it was always interesting to see how relaxed Archbishop Launcelot Goody was”.
“He was normally somewhat imperious, but with his priests after the Chrism Mass there was the opportunity for conviviality and he was always very relaxed,” he said.
“Then there was the experience of the prayerfulness and the uplifting music and solidarity.”
Pope John Paul II personalised the Chrism Mass even more by writing a letter personally to the priests, which was “a most reflective and uplifting moment, as you realised that you shared the same priesthood of Christ that is shared by the Pope, by one’s own bishop, and shared in solidarity with the other priests of the presbyterate,” Mgr O’Loughlin said.
Pope Benedict has not continued this tradition, but “that’s not to say that he does not keep his priests in mind and share with them, it’s just one of those aspects of John Paul II’s papacy that was unique”, Mgr O’Loughlin added. “I can still remember the first of those letters, he actually paraphrased St Augustine, who, reflecting on his priesthood to the people of Hippo in North Africa, ‘with you I am a Christian, for you I am a bishop’. He paraphrasd it to ‘with you I am a priest and for you I am a Pope. It was very reaffirming,” Mgr O’Loughlin said, adding that the temporary closure of the cathedral to complete its construction has proved a blessing.
“It’s been one of the happy sides of the closing of the cathedral, as we’ve had this opportunity for the ‘Chrism caravan’ where the Archbishop and his priests have gone on a journey to the larger suburban parish churches, and I’m sure it’s brought a richness to each of those parish churches as they welcome the Archbishop and priests of the diocese.”