Celebrating an April 15 Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl reminded the priests and other religious in attendance that “the fidelity, the dedication and the self-giving that has been and still is the hallmark the priesthood,” can help heal the wounds of a Church that has been rocked by the abuse scandal in the past year.

“The very dismay (on the part of the faithful) at any episcopal or priestly failure is in contrast to the goodness, the service, the dedication and the commitment that is what we all rightly associate with our priests and bishops,” said Cardinal Wuerl, the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Washington until the May 21 installation of his successor, Archbishop-designate Wilton Gregory. Cardinal Wuerl served as the archbishop of Washington from 2006-2018.

The cardinal noted that, “This Chrism Mass is as much a time to recognize the fidelity of our priests and bishops as it is to lament exceptions to that commitment.”

Joining Cardinal Wuerl at the Mass were Washington Auxiliary Bishops Mario Dorsonville, Roy E. Campbell Jr. and Michael Fisher, and about 180 priests. Also in attendance were hundreds of deacons, men and women religious, and seminarians of the archdiocese.

The annual Mass, traditionally celebrated during Holy Week, commemorates the founding of the priesthood by Christ. It is during this Mass each year that priests renew their priestly promises. Also during Mass, the special oils that all parishes in the archdiocese will use to administer the sacraments during the upcoming year were consecrated.

The Chrism Mass “is an occasion not just to bless sacred oils, distribute them for use in the parishes, and invite all of us priests to renew our priestly dedication,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “It is time to reflect as the Church asks us on her priesthood and its significance.”

Recalling that a parishioner recently remarked to him, “it’s a rough time today to be a priest,” Cardinal Wuerl said he agreed with the man, but added, “it is also true that there has never been a time when being a priest was particularly easy.”

“There have always been challenges to living out to the full the ministry each day, to teach, to guide, to sanctify,” he said. What makes our uneasiness so acute today is the unfair implication that the Church, herself, her priests, and her bishops, are somehow tainted. This simply is not true.”  

Noting the Church is suffering “a woundedness… that goes to the very core of our self-esteem and therefore questions our capacity to be effective ministers of Word and Sacrament,” he reminded priests that there is “the need for loving healing.”

“Where do we turn to find the means by which trust, credibility, confidence are renewed?Where do we look for the reassurance and joy that has always been a part of our live and priestly service?” Cardinal Wuerl asked. “I think the answer to those questions – to the question of restoring confidence, ours and our peoples – lies precisely in the fidelity, the dedication and the self-giving that has been and still is the hallmark the priesthood – the vast majority of our brother priests.”

Cardinal Wuerl said “one reason for shock among the faithful whenever priestly or episcopal ministry has failed is because this is not their experience of their clergy.”

“Is it not true that one reason for the dismay when we encounter any failure is because it is not and has never been the hallmark of the Church’s priestly ministry,” he said. “Priesthood that is and has been beautifully lived in our Church, in this archdiocese, is what has been recognized by the faithful who have been so consistently well served.”

“The very dismay at any episcopal or priestly failure is in contrast to the goodness, the service, the dedication and the commitment that is what we all rightly associate with our priests and bishops,” he added. “Their (the faithful’s) experience of good and faithful priests is therefore the reason for our confidence in the healing power of that same ministry.”

Archdiocese of Washington photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann

Cardinal Wuerl also praised his brother priests “for moments that the Catholic faithful have come to experience as the loving presence of Christ touching them personally and directly in you and through you.  

“Every time you hear a Confession, offer spiritual guidance, raise your hand in absolution, every time you anoint the sick and dying, and bring words of peace and comfort, every time you preside at a funeral, bury the dead and console and comfort the bereaved, each time you baptize a new member of the Body of Christ, offer words of counsel and draw from your many pastoral experiences or simply listen to the outpouring of pain and the personal difficulty of parishioners all the time you share the joys of being with families as a member celebrates a First Communion, a Confirmation, you bring them Christ,” Cardinal Wuerl reminded the priests.

Speaking to the many seminarians in attendance at the Mass, Cardinal Wuerl told them “you represent the future of service to our Church.”

Prior to leading the priests – whom he called “brothers” – in the renewal of their priestly promises, he asked them to recall “in a unique and special way with Christ, that we are called – just as was Christ – to offer our lives, our ministry, our talents, our efforts, precisely as a ransom for others.”  

He told them that “given the circumstances that have unfolded around us, it is all the more not just opportune but actually important that we renew in our hearts the significance and challenges of priesthood and priestly ministry.”   

Addressing the laity at the Mass as “my dear brothers and sisters,” Cardinal Wuerl asked, “can you join me in affirming confidence in and love for all of the ordained in this Church?Do we not confirm them as they do their best to be for you what Christ asks them to be?”

The oils blessed and consecrated at the Mass will be used for the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick in the upcoming year in parishes throughout the archdiocese. The oils will also be used during the sacrament of Holy Orders, when new priests are ordained.

“The Church uses visible realities, oil, bread, wine, water, fire, incense, all to speak to us of something much more powerful and significant, even if unseen,” Cardinal Wuerl said.

At the beginning of the Mass, Cardinal Wuerl mentioned the devastating fire that was at the time raging at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Offering ”a special word of solidarity with our brothers and sisters in France,” he called the iconic cathedral “a symbol of faith, of peace and of God’s presence among us.”

Cardinal Wuerl said he sent a telegram to Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit promising that “here in the Church of Washington, we are united in prayerful solidarity” with the people of Paris.