The wait is over – Catholics return in big numbers to Sydney Easter masses

    If Church authorities were unsure how many Catholics would return to Easter services following the relaxing of Covid restrictions after more than a year of the pandemic, they were pleasantly surprised at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney ...

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    Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP pours oil into a container during the Chrism Mass. Photos: Giovanni Portelli

    St Mary’s Cathedral saw large numbers of Catholics flocking back to Easter services after more than a year of lockdowns and radical restrictions of church congregations by governments and health authorities across the nation due to the Covid pandemic.

    If Archdiocesan authorities had wondered whether Catholics would return to masses in large numbers they didn’t t have long to wait, beginning with the Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday morning.

    In St Mary’s Cathedral, 665 people attended the Mass of the Lord’s Supper that evening.

    The camera catches Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP in a reflective moment shortly before the Chrism Mass commences at St Mary’s Cathedral on Holy Thursday. The service was something of a return to normal for both the Archbishop and Sydney Catholics after a year or more of Covid lockdowns and harsh – but not necessarily consistent – restrictions imposed on churches by governments and health authorities.

    Hundreds fill St Mary’s Cathedral

    That number increased to 860 at the traditional Stations of the Cross commemorating Christ’s sufferings on Good Friday morning.

    Later that afternoon, 1550 participated in the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, with 1200 seated in the nave of the cathedral and 350 watching the ceremony on television screens from the crypt or outside.

    Just 12 months ago, cathedrals and churches across the nation and around the world stood empty and closed as the pandemic took its toll, leading to the first Easter – in Australia’s case – not celebrated in the usual way since the time of the Spanish Flu shortly after the First World War.

    Priests cut a ghostly swathe as they file into St Mary’s Cathedral for the Chrism Mass.

    Some kind of return to normal

    At the Chrism Mass, where the three oils used in priestly ministry throughout the next 12 months are consecrated, Archishop Anthony Fisher OP welcomed the numerous body of priests who turned out for the event.

    He told those attending he was delighted to be able to celebrate the Mass in a relatively normal way – but he also sounded a note of caution.

    “With such a number of you here today, my heart is full with gratitude that we have come through so much so well,” he said.

    “But the situation in Queensland, in Rome and in so many other places underlines just how fortunate we have been, how careful we must continue to be, and the need to hold up to God in prayer our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

    Clergy swell the congregation inside St Mary’s Cathedral for the Chrism Mass. The annual Mass, unique in the Church’s year, is regarded as a special moment of unity between bishop, clergy and the baptised.

    A mass for priests

    The Chrism Mass is a significant preliminary to the events of Holy Week. Priests traditionally renew the priestly promises they made at their ordination in a Mass regarded as a special sign of unity of the clergy and baptised with the bishop of a diocese.

    The consecrated oils are the oils of Chrism, Catechumens and the Sick.

    The Oil of Chrism is administered in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders, and also used for the consecration of altars and the dedication of churches.

    The Oil of Catechumens is administered in the sacrament of Baptism, while the Oil of the Sick is administered in the rite of the Anointing of the Sick for those who are seriously ill or in danger of dying.

    A seminarian carries oil to the altar. It will be blessed and used in the administration of the sacraments in parishes and ministries throughout Sydney for the rest of the Church’s year.

    The smells of death – and new life

    In his homily, Archbishop Fisher noted that the Chrism Mass is one characterised by the aromas of the oils which are to be consecrated.

    However on Good Friday there “will be an even more confronting pong of human bodies, torture and death: blood, sweat and tears, leather, wood and iron, vinegar and hyssop, dank tomb and funerary spices.”

    But this was not the end, he said. “Easter begins with the smells of disappointed apostles huddled in a locked room, of confused holy women with their unused spices, of sweaty Peter and John running to an empty tomb. But there are also the perfumes of a garden where the Magdalene mistakes the Risen Lord for gardener, and of bread when excited disciples recognise Him at the first Eucharists. People speak of the odour of sanctity associated with the remains of saints: how much more beautiful must the source of that perfume have been, our Risen Lord?

    “If the scents of tonight tell of service and anxiety, and those of tomorrow of violence and grief, Sunday’s will be the perfumes of triumph and hope,” he said.

    “But it all begins this very morning, as we smell the beginnings of the sacraments that will mediate those moods and mysteries to us and the beginnings of the priesthood that will be agents of those graces.

    “Thanks be to God for the gift of the sacraments! Thanks be to God for the priests of Sydney who dispense them!”

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