The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, celebrates the Chrism Mass on April 12, 2022, at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton. For the first time since 2019, all priests, deacons, and laity were invited to participate in the Mass in person. (Photo/Mike Melisky)

SCRANTON — Great rejoicing marked the Solemn Pontifical Chrism Mass on Tuesday of Holy Week on April 12 in the Cathedral of Saint Peter as the celebration returned to its rightful grandeur for the first time in three years due to the global pandemic.

Sincere joy resonated in the voice of Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, who served as principal celebrant and homilist, as he welcomed those in attendance to the “glorious Mass of the Chrism,” in which he joined his brother priests in renewing their sacred vows of ordination in ministry to the people of the Diocese of Scranton.

The annual gathering of the priests of the Diocese — customarily the largest of its kind each year — celebrates their brotherhood and shared divine vocation, usually before a full Cathedral congregation.

Not since 2019 had Saint Peter’s witnessed the normalcy of the ancient traditional rite, which was adapted greatly due to COVID-19, including last year’s Chrism Mass when the diocesan priests were the only ones in attendance and compelled to practice social distancing.

This year, the throng of vested concelebrants, composed of nearly all the ordained priests ministering in the Diocese, occupied the front pews of the venerable Cathedral with a large congregation of lay faithful seated behind, nearing filling most pews of the Mother Church of Scranton.

Holding to age-old tradition, the Holy Oils used during the conferral of sacraments throughout the Church year were blessed. They include the Sacred Chrism, the Oil of the Sick, and the Oil of Catechumens, which are used in the celebration of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, the Anointing of the Sick, and the Rites of the Catechumenate. During the Mass, priests and deacons, along with lay representatives from Diocesan parishes acknowledged the Bishop’s role as the unifying symbol for Church governance and pastoral guidance.

“It has been a long time since we’ve had the opportunity to gather for this Chrism Mass as we do today, with all of us — priests, deacons, those in consecrated life and lay faithful — offering a powerful witness to our world of the abiding presence of God that alone is capable of overcoming the darkness of suffering and death with the life and hope of Christ,” Bishop Bambera began his homily. “Like so many, we have endured more than we could have ever imagined and are here today solely by the grace of God.”

Referring to the Gospel from Saint Luke which was proclaimed at the Mass, in which the prophet Isaiah defines the character of Jesus’ ministry, Bishop Bambera recounted how Jesus announces good news to those who are poor, blind, in captivity and oppressed.

“The very prophetic vision of hope that he proclaims for all who are burdened and oppressed becomes a reality precisely because of his own experience of suffering and pain in his times,” he said. “My friends, and especially my brother priests, I implore you: do not let the darkness of these challenging days prevail! Our hope and peace is found in the very midst of the lives that we lead and the compassion and mercy that we extend to our suffering brothers and sisters and that they, in turn, impart to us.”

The Bishop continued by asking the priests to consider the hope that they bring to the lives they are blessed to encounter each day.

“In addition to sharing the sacramental life of our Church so generously, your presence in and among the lives of our people is far more deeply appreciated than you might ever believe or imagine,” Bishop Bambera stated, noting he is always impressed and buoyed by comments made to him by faithful throughout the diocese on his many travels regarding their parish priests.

Comments, Bishop Bambera related, that speak so much about parishioners’ admiration, love and even concern for their local shepherds.

“My brother priests, thank you for your ministry. Thank you for your service and for the witness of your faith,” the Bishop offered. “For all of the hope that you have given, the love that you have shared and the faith in Christ that you have imparted, even while struggling to carry your own crosses, your lives and your ministry are by far the most eloquent homily that can be shared this day.”

Prior to the Mass, Monsignor Michael Delaney, pastor of Our Lady of the Snows Parish in Clarks Summit, aptly summed up the overall enthusiasm shared by his fellow priests upon the opportunity to once again come together as a fraternity for the auspicious occasion.

“It is so wonderful to gather around the table of the Lord and then be able to gather for a dinner together in brotherhood and celebrate our call as priests in ministering to God’s people,” Monsignor Delaney expressed.

Commenting on the joyful reunion of his priest brethren after such a notable absence, Monsignor Joseph Quinn, pastor of the South Scranton parishes of Saint John Neumann and Saint Paul of the Cross, remarked, “It has been the longest retreat I’ve ever been on. Hopefully, it has created us all for the better.”