The feeling of a unified community is what flooded the Catholic Pastoral Center on Tuesday, April 4, as more than 3,100, including priests, deacons, religious and laity, gathered for the annual Chrism Mass in Sagrado Corazón Church.
The gathering, the largest ever for the Chrism Mass in the Diocese of Nashville, included members of several ethnic communities as well, including the Vietnamese community, the Nigerian community, the Hispanic community, the Filipino community, the Korean community, the Coptic community, the Syro-Malabar community, the Brazilian community, and the Haitian community.
“It’s good that each and every one of us are here,” said Bishop J. Mark Spalding during his homily. “Our Church preaches and teaches how important that is, that we come together in Christ Jesus.
“Pray for your priests, pray for us all, pray for your bishop, that we continue to remind ourselves of who and what we are together, placed side by side, and you look wonderful,” he said. “Truly, it is beautiful to see each and every one of you.”
In telling a story about how two ladies of his former parish where he was pastor, Immaculate Conception Church in Lagrange, Kentucky, created a mosaic of the Morning Star with individual pieces of glass that were perfectly shaped and formed to make a beautiful image, so too does God shape and form every person in the Church, he said.
“Look at how many are here this night. Like a mosaic, each piece had to be in its proper place to make it look as wonderful as it did and that is true for each and every person that’s here this night. The Church is made beautiful by your presence here,” Bishop Spalding said. “It could not shine as it should in the world without each and every one of you, and you each have your particular characteristics and life and struggles, but God’s presence in your life, his mercy, and his wonderful grace has polished you and made you into the person you are right now.
“It is good that we are here and each of us, blessed as we are, created in the likeness and image of God, is so important for the mosaic God is making,” he said. “And all of our various gifts and abilities, our ways of working together as Church make God’s kingdom come true on this earth. Each and every one of you are making that mosaic God has planned for the world.”
The Chrism Mass is celebrated during Holy Week just as the Church is about to enter the Triduum, culminating with the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter.
Prior to the Chrism Mass, the Catholic Pastoral Center was open to the Catholics of Middle Tennessee to gather in community to enjoy food and learn more about some of the diocesan ministries that are there to serve them before coming together in Christ for the Mass.
For many families who attended, it’s a tradition.
“We come each year,” said Chris Hammel, a parishioner of Cathedral of the Incarnation. “It’s just nice to see it.”
“It’s a tradition,” added 18-year-old Ernesto Hernandez, a parishioner of Sagrado Corazón Church, who has been attending the Chrism Mass with his mom, Mely, for his whole life. “You just feel closer to God during this Mass.”
“The bishop giving it” is why Mely Hernandez said she loves coming.
For others, it was their first time attending the Mass, such as Elliot and Bayleigh Panicco of Mother Teresa Church in Nolensville, who attended with their 8-week-old daughter, Isla.
“Mother Teresa was advertising it as a diocesan-wide event, and we’ve been looking to increase our Catholic community and find good people and come to fun events where we can meet like-minded individuals and come to Mass as well,” said Elliot Panicco.
Upon finding out all of the special parts of the Mass, including the renewal of promises by all the priests of the diocese and the blessing of the oils, the young couple said they were even more excited.
“I’m excited for all of that, especially seeing all the priests in the diocese renew their promises. I think that is really beautiful,” said Bayleigh Panicco. “It’s like you’re seeing the source of where it comes from and having everyone here gathered and participating in the Mass, that’s really beautiful.”
“Seeing the blessing of the Chrism and the oils, that’ll be beautiful to see,” Elliot Panicco added. “We’re going to get (Isla) baptized later this month, so that will be special to see that happening since those oils will be used for her baptism.”
The consecration of the sacred Chrism is what Kayla Hammel, a fourth grade teacher at Christ the King School, said is her favorite part of the Mass.
“It puts the spirit of God in the oils so they become healing,” Hammel said. “Plus, it’s a really special thing to experience the priests renewing their promises in front of the community. It’s really important when these men have explored their vocation and answered God’s call.”
As the people left after Mass ended, many proclaimed how wonderful an experience it was to be a part of it.
“It was wonderful! To share this with such a large community of fellow Catholics was a powerful spiritual experience,” said Deacon Shawn Phillips, who participated for the first time in the Mass as a deacon having been ordained to the diaconate along with 12 other men on Saturday, April 1. He has been assigned to St. Patrick Church in South Nashville.
“Being part of this mass, with the bishop, with the priests and others who were instrumental in my formation, and with my fellow deacon brothers, well that really made the entire experience very meaningful to me,” said Deacon Shawn Phillips who brought forth the oil of the sick to be blessed during the Mass.
“What impressed me this evening is the ritual of the whole thing,” added Sharon Craighead, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Madison. “In the readings, it is so much tied to the Old Testament and Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, so it was just a wonderful time to know the gift we have of the Church. The tradition is so rich and deep, and the music was just very holy. It was a very holy time.”
Jackson Schoos, director of music for the Cathedral of the Incarnation, led the choir of about 40 singers, representing six churches, including St. Ann Church, the Cathedral and St. Henry Church in Nashville, Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville, St. Ignatius of Antioch Church in Antioch, and Holy Family Church in Brentwood.
“They did superbly,” Schoos said after the Mass. “Considering how quickly we put it together with them, I don’t know how we could’ve ever expected them to do any better than they did. It was great.”
Choir member Kevin Raymond, who also served as cantor of the responsorial psalm, said it was an honor to be part of it.
“We had one night to put all this music together,” he said, noting that they had only been able to rehearse on Monday, April 3. “We had one rehearsal for two hours and got to do some really beautiful things during this liturgy.
“Some of the church fathers say that when you sing, you pray twice. I love that because it’s true, but especially for this particular liturgy because of the sacred oils and the music that we present for that and as well as the priests renewing their vows,” Raymond continued. “There is so much in this liturgy that is so rich and so traditional that all of that music does nothing but enhance those points of the liturgy.”
As Bishop Spalding ended his homily, he noted another piece of music, which comes at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, and the image of Christ in the morning star during the Exultet.
“O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human. Therefore, oh Lord, we pray that this candle, hallowed to the honor of your name, may persevere undimmed to overcome the darkness of this night,” he quoted. “Receive it as a pleasing fragrance and let it mingle with the likes of heaven. May this flame be found still burning by the morning star; the one morning star who never sets, Christ, your son. Who coming back from death’s domain shed his peaceful light on humanity and lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.”
“Truly, we’re just a piece of the morning star and the morning star is Jesus himself,” he concluded. “Let your very self shine to the world and let people see Christ always in each of us.”