Last night, along with other staff members and parishioners from Saint Mary Magdalene Catholic Church, I traveled across the city of Phoenix to the Cathedral of Saints Simon and Jude for the annual Chrism Mass celebrated by the Bishop of Phoenix, Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted. Although I have been to other Chrism Masses in other dioceses, this was the first one I have ever attended in my home diocese. To say it was sacred and beautiful would be the understatement of the year. It was as if heaven and earth united in the Cathedral through the solemn liturgy and sacred music.
Besides the primary purpose of the Chrism Mass, which is the blessing and distribution of the Sacramental Oils, which I will discuss shortly, there is also another purpose of the Chrism Mass – the Renewal of Commitment to Priestly Service. The Bishop asks the priests a set of statements renewing their commitment to the Church. After each statement read by the Bishop, 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 faithful pray for their priests and their Bishop. The prayerful nature of the renewal is quite moving and something every Catholic should experience at least once.
When working at a Catholic parish, a year doesn’t go by when someone sees the sacramental oils in the church and asks why do we have three glass jars of oil. The three oils in the ambry 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 pastor of the particular church, blesses the oils, which will be used in the sacramental celebrations throughout the year in the Church.
According to the Early Church Fathers, an 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. It is the Holy Spirit that sanctifies the people of God.
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 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 the house of the Father.
Once the Prayer after Communion is prayed, we then have 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 with Satan and sin. The oil gives them strength to continue in their daily battles.
The Holy Chrism is used in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. Through the sanctifying power of the 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. At Confirmation, the oil reaffirms and strengthens the baptized individual to continue as a witness of Christ to the world. In Holy Orders, the Spirit consecrates the hands of the priest, who will distribute the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist – the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
If your diocese has yet to have the Chrism Mass for this year, I would highly encourage you to attend. It’s a great part of the Holy Week Celebrations that the Church has designed for us. Like I said above, the Chrism Mass is an experience that all Catholics should experience at least once, if not many times over.
If you have been to a Chrism Mass before or plan to attend this year, please feel free to share your thoughts and experience in the comment box below.
The Chrism Mass Missal – Diocese of Phoenix. Monday, March, 30, 2015