Throughout the universal Catholic Church, starting last week and continuing this week, the yearly liturgy known as the Chrism Mass has been taking place. In some dioceses, the Chrism Mass is always on the Monday of Holy Week.
During the Chrism Mass, two very important things occur, first is the particular purpose of the Mass, which is the blessing and distribution of the Sacramental Oils, which I discuss more about below.
Second, is the Renewal of Commitment to Priestly Service. Each bishop asks his priests through a variety of statements for their renewal and commitment to the Church. After each statement is read, the priests in unison, but speaking as individuals respond with, “I am.” The bishop then asks for the assembly to stand, and together with one voice, the permanent deacons, the consecrated religious and the lay faithful pray for their priests and bishops.
Year after year, parishioners and visitors see the sacramental oils in the church and asks why do we have three glass jars of oil. The three oils in the ambry (where they are kept) are known as the Oil of Catechumens (“Oleum Sanctorum“), Oil of the Sick (“Oleum Infirmorum“), and The Sacred Chrism (“Sacrum Chrisma“). At the Chrism Mass, the bishop, the ordinary of the particular church (diocese), blesses the oils, which will be used in the sacramental celebrations throughout the year in the churches.
Why the oil?
According to the Early Church Fathers, one image of God the Father was the olive tree. The fruits that bud from that tree are seen as the image of God the Son. The image of God the Holy Spirit is the oil that flows out in every direction as the purest extract of both the tree and the fruit. When the Church uses the blessed oil in its sacramental celebrations, it represents the outward sign of the power of salvation, which is promised in the Paraclete—the Holy Spirit. The people of God are, therefore, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
During the Chrism Mass, right after the Memorial Acclamation, there is the Blessing of the Oil of the Sick. This oil is used for those individuals that are seriously ill. The oil here acts as a spiritual ointment by which the Holy Spirit heals the body and the soul. This oil is also used for those who are dying. In union with the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, the soul is given the firm and final fortification it needs as it enters eternity.
Once the Prayer after Communion is prayed, we then have the Blessing of the Oil of Catechumens and Consecration of The Sacred Chrism. Those preparing for Baptism receive the Oil of Catechumens. Just like the ancient athletes who once fought in the arena covered their bodies in oil as to make their enemies unable to grab hold and hurl them to the ground, so too are the catechumens anointed with this oil to remind them that the Christian life is full of struggle, most especially a struggle and battle with Satan and sin. The oil gives them strength to continue in their daily battles, which mirrors the Old Testament warriors who would rub oil upon their shields as a symbol of God’s strength protecting them.
The Holy Chrism is used in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. Through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, the oil in Baptism symbolizes for individuals the rebirth through water and a share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal missions of Jesus Christ. In the Sacrament of Confirmation, the oil reaffirms and strengthens the baptized individual to continue as a witness of Christ to the world. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, through the words of the Bishop, the Holy Spirit anoints the hands of the priest, who will consecrate and distribute the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.
If you have never been to a Chrism Mass, I would highly recommend it. The Catholic Church has some amazing liturgies, most importantly is the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, however, the Chrism Mass is something that all Catholics should see at least once in their spiritual life.
If you have been to a Chrism Mass before, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box.
Special thanks to the Diocese of Phoenix for use of this content.