Bishop Richard F. Stika and Cardinal Justin Rigali led Holy Week observances in the Diocese of Knoxville, highlighted by the Chrism Mass April 15 and Easter Mass celebrations at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus April 19-20.
Bishop Stika was joined by Cardinal Justin Rigali and more than 50 priests of the diocese along with more than 25 deacons at the annual Chrism Mass. The priests, as they do at every Chrism Mass, renewed their vows of service before the bishop. Bishop Stika and Cardinal Rigali also led the Easter Vigil Mass at the cathedral April 19.
Bishop Stika also blessed the oils that are used in every parish throughout the Church year.
Several seminarians assisted, including Deacon Tony Budnick, who was deacon of the Word, and Deacon Julian Cardona, who was deacon of the Eucharist. Among the priests attending was Father Jerry Daniels of the Diocese of Jackson, Miss., who is the new chaplain for the Handmaids of the Precious Blood contemplative order in Benton, an order “who is praying for us as we pray this day,” the bishop said.
A diocesan choir of singers from parishes across East Tennessee, many of whom sang for the Eucharistic Congress, was supported by Robert McCarter on organ, Slade Trammell on piano, and musicians from the Knoxville Symphony and provided inspirational prelude music and supported the singing of the assembly during the liturgy.
Bishop Stika said that his “favorite thing to do as a bishop” was to ordain a priest and his next favorite was to serve as co-consecrator for a bishop. Deacons Budnick and Cardona will be among the priest class of 2014 for the diocese.
“I am so thankful in just a few weeks, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, I’ll be able to confer ordination on four men for service in this church in the Diocese of Knoxville, and next year, God willing, four more,” the bishop said.
Addressing much of his homily to the priests in the pews, Bishop Stika said that “we gather together in the name of something very special.”
“We celebrate that special bond that exists between a man who has felt called by the Lord to be of service to all of you and all those that you represent to be a minister of these sacraments of the altar,” he said.
The bishop said a “special bond” kept priests together through the abuse crisis of a few years ago.
“You know what that special bond is that exists between priests all over the world? It’s Jesus,” he said. “It’s that same Jesus who called each and every one of us to the priesthood. Whatever our age might be, wherever we might be from, if it’s diocesan, if it’s religious, it’s that Jesus who has had an intimate conversation with you in your heart and in your soul, in your very essence of who you are, and that’s what we celebrate this evening: the fact that Christ has called you to be another Christ—to act in the person of Jesus.”
The same Jesus “brings us together” when priests doubt whether they are making a difference in their life, Bishop Stika said.
“It’s Jesus who invites us to a greater relationship with all the people who are represented today,” he said. “For it is Jesus that we celebrate in the priesthood—the priesthood of Jesus Christ. And if we’re not excited about that, if we’re not in love with that fact, if we’re not in love with that Jesus who calls forth from us goodness and allows us to carry his cross but also as a reminder to us that he helps carry our burden as well – if we forget that, we’re forgetting the very essence of who we are as people: people of God and priests of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Stika said that by consecrating the oil of chrism, the oil of the catechumens, and the oil of the sick, “in one way or another, as the bishop of this diocese, I participate in those sacraments by the essence that I consecrate or bless.
The diocese’s 47 churches and four missions observed Holy Thursday and Good Friday services. Hispanic Catholic communities in Knoxville, Pigeon Forge, Morristown, and Cleveland marked Good Friday with Living Stations of the Cross, which are dramatic outdoor re-enactments of Christ’s crucifixion. Acting out the Stations of the Cross is a long-time tradition in Latin American countries with strong Catholic communities. With the growing Hispanic population in East Tennessee, the tradition carries on, enriching the observance of Good Friday, one of the holiest of days in Christianity.
Priests and parishioners in the diocese now turn their attention to the remaining days of the Easter season leading to Ascension Thursday on May 29 and Pentecost Sunday on June 15.