By attending the Chrism Mass on Tuesday, April 4, the people of Middle Tennessee will be able to be a witness to the renewal of promises by Bishop J. Mark Spalding and all the priests of the Diocese of Nashville.
“Each year, during Holy Week, priests of the diocese publicly renew their commitment to priestly service. Priests are brought together and concelebrate this Mass as witnesses and cooperators with their bishop in the consecration of the chrism because they share in the sacred office of the bishop in building up and sanctifying the people of God,” according to NashvilleChrism.org. “The blessing of the oil of the sick, the blessing of the oil of catechumens, and the consecration of the chrism are an essential part of this Mass. This Mass is, therefore, a clear expression of the unity of the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ, which continues to be present in the Church.”
During the renewal, the bishop asks each of the priests three questions as they renew their priestly promise with the words, “I am.”
“Beloved sons, on the anniversary of that day when Christ our Lord conferred his priesthood on his Apostles and on us, are you resolved to renew, in the presence of your Bishop and God’s holy people, the promises you once made?
“Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him, denying yourselves and confirming those promises about sacred duties towards Christ’s Church which, prompted by love of Him, you willingly and joyfully pledged on the day of your priestly ordination?
“Are you resolved to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist and the other liturgical rites and to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching, following Christ the head and shepherd, not seeking any gain, but moved only by zeal for souls?”
Then, making the final connection from bishop to priests to the people, the bishop turns to the congregation with two requests to which they respond, “Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.”
“As for you, dearest sons and daughters, pray for your priests, that the Lord may pour out his gifts abundantly upon them, and keep them faithful as ministers of Christ, the High Priest, so that they may lead you to him, who is the source of salvation,” the bishop recites. “And pray also for me, that I may be faithful to the apostolic office entrusted to me in my lowliness and that in your midst I may be made day by day a living and more perfect image of Christ, the priest, the good shepherd, the teacher, and the servant of all.”
Father Pat Kibby, senior priest at St. Henry Church, who will renew his promises for the 37th time this year, said the priestly promises made during ordination and the renewal made at Chrism Mass are different.
“At those ordinations we promise celibacy and make the promise of respect and obedience to the bishop. At each of those ordinations we are also questioned about our resolve, our intention,” Father Kibby explained. “Are we resolved to exercise the office worthily and wisely; to celebrate faithfully and reverently; to implore God’s mercy for his people; and to unite ourselves to Christ?”
“The Chrism Mass takes us back to those resolutions, to the foundation of the promises. We renew ourselves to our relationship with Jesus and to serve his Church prompted by our love for Him,” he continued. “The renewal at the Chrism Mass highlights the focus of priesthood and has us look at the main question of what is it that guides our lives.”
Father Kibby said he experiences the renewal differently every year.
“Sometimes it comes with a gulp. Service to anything beyond yourself is not always easy, and often I fall short,” Father Kibby said. “And sometimes it comes with the warmth of gratitude for having been called to this life.
“Always, it comes with the challenge to walk with Christ at all times and in all places that his presence may be seen and felt through what I say and do,” he added. “I can think of no greater challenge to take on. And it’s not the challenge for priests alone. It’s the challenge for all of us who seek to live with God.”
By bringing together all the priests of the diocese each year to renew their priestly promises, Father Ed Steiner, pastor of St. Philip the Apostle Church in Franklin, said it brings a sense of support.
“It gives you support that the other guys are with you, and the promises don’t seem as much of a burden when you have all of these other men around you that are doing the same thing. So, I find great comfort when we renew them,” Father Steiner said.
“To renew your promises, they help you refocus on, ‘Who I am and what I’m about. What are the priorities of priesthood?’,” Father Steiner said. “There’s nothing in those promises that says ‘I’ll be a good financial officer. I’ll be a good CEO.’ None of that’s there. It’s that ‘I will be a priest, and I’ll be a good priest to my people.’”
Even though this will be his 41st time renewing his promises at the Chrism Mass, Father Steiner said, the renewal of promises “always takes me back to when I made my promises the very first time” in May 1982. “It’s a powerful memory.”
For two priests of the Diocese of Nashville, it will be their first time to participate in this special part of the Chrism Mass.
Father Brent Thayer, chaplain of Father Ryan High School, and Father Nonso Ohanaka, chaplain of Pope John Paul II Preparatory School in Hendersonville, have enjoyed 10 months of priesthood thus far, having been ordained by Bishop Spalding in May 2022.
“Has it been 10 months already? I lost count. It feels like last week that I was ordained,” Father Thayer said. “I feel gratitude to God for using me as His instrument for the Church these past 10 months.
“For me, it’s exciting and humbling knowing that I will be renewing my priestly promises with my brother priests in the presence of the faithful of the diocese,” he said.
Father Ohanaka has been watching this special moment since 2013 and is excited to finally be part of it.
“The opportunity to finally be on the other side of it, to be with my brother priests, and to be one with them in that sense, there is a certain excitement and joy and a reminder that I am part of something greater than myself,” he said. “It’s a reminder to me of the Church’s ministry in the world and God’s work in the world.”
Father Ohanaka said the sense of joy also comes from a childhood dream come true.
“I’ve wanted to be a priest since I was a little kid, so it’s a joy that I’ve accomplished this dream,” he said. “There is a peace that comes with that, and there is a hope for the future.”
As the priests reflected on what the renewal of their promises means to them, they agreed that it’s made even more special by the presence of the people of the diocese.
“Being present at the Chrism Mass is a great way to witness the unity of the local church,” Father Thayer said. “That’s something we really need to see in light of today’s culture that is so divided. It strengthens and renews our faith.”
“It would make no sense to do this with just priests present because we don’t live this life for ourselves. We don’t have a relationship with Christ to keep to ourselves,” Father Kibby added. “The Chrism Mass is about who we are as Church, the Body of Christ, and we priests are just one part of that Body.
“We priests are not the only ones seeking to live for God,” he concluded. “Having the whole Church present at this Mass brings the reality of ‘who we are’ and ‘why we do what we do’ as Church into clear focus as we enter into our Triduum celebration of the gift of Easter and renew ourselves to live with and for God.”
The Chrism Mass begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, at Sagrado Corazón Church at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville. Prior to the Mass, there will be an open house beginning at 4:30 p.m., and will include food and opportunities to learn more about the ministries of the diocese.
For more information or to RSVP, visit NashvilleChrism.org.