Last night I was in beautiful, downtown Metuchen, New Jersey, for my diocese's Chrism Mass.
The priests have a dinner first, which gives us a chance for "the family" to get together. Like any family gathering, there were lots of laughs, a little needling, and that feeling that "we should do this more often" (though in reality we know it won't happen). We even "met" the new member of the family - the man to be ordained a priest for our diocese next May, as the Bishop "called him to Orders" (formally announced his intention to ordain him to the Priesthood).
During the Chrism Mass, the Priests recommit themselves to the promises they made on their ordination days, whether it was recently (like my diocese's Fr. Bede Kim, who was ordained last year) or decades ago (like Msgr. John Torney of my diocese, ordained in 1939).
A while back on this blog, I reflected on my ninth anniversary of ordination. As I approach my tenth year (certainly acknowledging there are plenty of guys who have been ordained longer than I) I was surprised how that moment of Mass hit me last night. Being there in the cathedral in which I was ordained, standing about 10 yards from where I stood on that day, I couldn't help but go back to that day in 1998. I looked at the face of the man who'll be ordained a Priest in a few months; he had a smile on his face throughout Mass and even his voice in proclaiming the Gospel (he was Deacon of the Word last night) had joy and happiness in it. I saw the seminarians of our diocese. For the first time in a while, we actually have more seminarians than jobs for servers at Mass, so the extras sat together on the side of the sanctuary. I used to be one of them, full of zeal and energy, simply enjoying being there at the Chrism Mass. I'd bet none of them moaned about going.
It's a wise thing the Church does, having Priests come together once a year to remember their ordination. It's wise because every Priest is human, and every human being has memories that get triggered by senses. So, bring us back to the place, and we'll remember the joy, hope, and zeal we had on the day we said "yes" to God. Yes, my diocese has lost a bit of that opportunity by making the Chrism Mass as much about the lay people accepting the Holy Oils and promising to bring them back to the parishes on Holy Thursday (I think having the bishop question the parish representatives on their willingness to do that, in the same context as he questions us on our fidelity to our vocation, either exalts the task of bringing bottles home, or waters down the promises we made on ordination day). But, in spite of that, the moment was still there. I know because I experienced it. I also believe that that only way my brethren could not have experienced it was by deliberately choosing not to take in the memories that were being released by our brains into our consciousness.
We kid around with each other about the renewal of the commitment, questioning whether, if we said "no", we would stop being a priest? Afterwards, with the commitment remade like an auto registration, we're all good for another year. Bring on Holy Thursday!