Yesterday I attended the Chrism Mass for the first time. Last year would have been my first as a priest, but I had to skip it to go to a wake. It was really impressive to see so many priests, and to join with them in renewing our resolve to serve.
After vesting in what I suppose is the ballroom of the New York Palace Hotel (which is right behind the Cathedral on Madison Ave.), the procession is formed going West on 51st St. Taking a left onto 5th Ave. we entered the Cathedral through the huge center doors that are usually closed. This was the most intense moment for me. To have the noise and chaos of the secular city fade behind you and the Lord's sanctuary open up before you with its fragrant clouds of incense and beautifully ordered singing; this must be a faint taste of what it is to leave this particular pilgrimage behind and enter into the Eternity of Heaven.
This is, of course, one of the main functions of religious ritual on the natural level, to throw us out of ourselves and into a wider horizon, 'something bigger than ourselves.' And why not be free from the tyranny of ourselves and our own thoughts and be cast into the ultimate horizon, the final Source and Ground, the Alpha and the Omega that we call God?
That's why so many of our rituals and liturgies do not succeed as well as they could. How often the subject of our hymns and songs is "we" and "us!" How many of us, in so many subtle ways, preach ourselves rather than Christ crucified!