At St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception March 29, Archbishop Alexander Sample pours balsam into oil to prepare the sacred chrism to be used during sacraments in the coming year across western Oregon. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
At St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception March 29, Archbishop Alexander Sample pours balsam into oil to prepare the sacred chrism to be used during sacraments in the coming year across western Oregon. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
It was an unusual sight. About 100 priests sat in the pews of Portland’s St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception March 29 — vested, distanced and masked, but clearly together.

The annual Chrism Mass usually draws many lay faithful, but because of pandemic space limitations, clergy filled the entire cathedral. The men chatted happily before and after Mass and collected vials of holy oils they will use through the year, largely for baptisms and anointing the sick — the two ends of life priests see frequently.

During the liturgy, they prayed deeply and received thanks from their leader for serving during a challenging time.

“Brothers, I know this has been a very hard year,” Archbishop Alexander Sample said during his homily. “I know the stress and anxiety, the worry, the doubt. I want you to know from the depths of my heart, how profoundly proud I am of you all and how grateful I am for your leadership, your loving pastoral care for your people and your staffs. It’s amazing.”

The archbishop said he had tears in his eyes when he saw the priests together again after a year of online meetings.

“We held together during the last year,” the archbishop said, explaining that amid the trials, he and many priests felt a spiritual richness.

“I feel something new,” the archbishop said.

The annual Chrism Mass, which happens on or close to Holy Thursday, is a time when priests renew their vows and take a fresh look at their vocations. The archbishop urged the men to set aside discouragements, cynicism, doubts, anger and disappointments and instead embrace the joy of priesthood.

Citing the documents of the Second Vatican Council, he asked the priests: “Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him? This must be the goal of our priestly life always.”