“The priesthood is not a job,” Archbishop José Gomez said, looking towards the south end of the sanctuary of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, where more than 400 priests were sitting.“Ours is a deep, sacred identity with Jesus Christ,” the archbishop remarked during the April 2 homily at one of the most meaningful annual ceremonies for priests, the Chrism Mass, in which they have the opportunity to renew their promises made at their ordination.

Many in the standing room-only assembly had waited for more than two hours to witness the 20-minute procession of priests through the center aisle of the Cathedral, including golden jubilarians of 2012, among them Archbishop Emeritus Cardinal Roger Mahony. 

They were also there to celebrate the blessing of the holy oils, which are later distributed at each parish in the archdiocese to use for baptisms, confirmations, anointing the sick and ordination of priests. Traditionally, the ceremony is celebrated in the U.S. on Monday of Holy Week.

Also present were 125 deacons, most of them with their wives, and seminarians from St. John’s Seminary.

“These holy oils are a sign of our anointing with his Spirit in baptism,” Archbishop Gomez told the assembly. “We are reminded that his resurrection makes it possible for us to be Christians; to be anointed ones, which is what the name Christian means.

“Each of us shares in Jesus Christ’s own anointing,” he continued, citing the first reading from Isaiah (“The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me”). “This anointing makes us a kingdom of priests,” he added, citing the second reading in Revelation.

“We are priestly people, participating in the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said in Spanish. 

He commended the deacons for their vocation of service and reminded the assembly of the importance of promoting vocations, particularly in view of the 25 priests (17 diocesan and eight from religious communities), who died in the last year.

“It is difficult,” he said, referring to the most recent deaths of Fathers Cesar Fernandez, 48, and Alexander Lewis, 54, “because it’s like losing a child and we need more priests.” He offered the Eucharist for all the deceased priests and urged the assembly to pray for increased vocations.

“We should make a resolution to have at least 25 priests ordained each year,” he suggested.

Calling it a “challenging mission,” the archbishop told the priests that without them it would be harder for many people to find God. He reminded them that they are invested with God’s mercy to show others that they have a “Father whose forgiveness knows no limits.

“Always remember who you are and what God has called you to do,” he said. “I know it’s not easy. An archbishop, you remember, is still a priest, a priest forever, just like you. So I know the daily pressures you feel, your anxiety for your churches and for your people.”

He told the clergy to be mindful of temptations that could distract “us from our union with Jesus Christ,” and to be prayerful at all times, deepening their relationship with Jesus and establishing a real fraternity with fellow priests.

“Unity is not certain or a matter of fact,” he remarked. “We should never take it for granted. Christian fraternity means friendship in Jesus Christ. And friendship takes an act of the will. Friendship takes dedication, time and hard work.” He cited Jesuit Father Walter Ciszek, who spent 20 years in Soviet prison camps and said he could survive thanks to prayer and his friendship with other priests.

Seminarian Alexander Muddu welcomed the archbishop’s remarks.

“I think it’s important what he said about the priesthood being of Christ, and how we need to hold onto one another,” said Muddu, from the Diocese of Kampala, Uganda, currently doing his internship at Transfiguration Church.

“It’s a great privilege to be here,” said Jorge Gallo, who attended with his wife Lourdes to pick up the oils for their parish, St. Malachy in South Los Angeles. They said they were awestruck by the solemnity of the Mass that they were attending for the first time.

The Mass ended with a prayer by all the assembly for priestly vocations.

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