The Chrism Mass and Sacramental Oils Explained

Last night, I traveled across the city of Phoenix to SS. Simon and Jude Cathedral for the annual Chrism Mass celebrated by the Bishop of Phoenix, Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted. This was the second year in a row I have ever attended the Chrism Mass. As it was last year, it was a solemn and sacred liturgy.

Besides the primary purpose of the Chrism Mass, which is the blessing and distribution of the Sacramental Oils, which I discuss below, there is also another purpose of the Chrism Mass – the Renewal of Commitment to Priestly Service. Bishop Olmsted asks his priests through a variety of statements for their renewal and commitment to the Church. After each statement is read by Bishop Olmsted, the priests in unison, but speaking as individuals respond with, “I am.” Bishop Olmsted then asks for the assembly to stand, and together with one voice, the consecrated religious and the lay faithful pray for their priests and Bishops.

When working at a 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, Bishop Olmsted, the pastor of the particular church of Phoenix, blesses the oils, which will be used in the sacramental celebrations throughout the year in the churches in Phoenix. In other dioceses across the universal Church, this very same thing occurs.

Sacramental Oils

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. The people of God are sanctified, that is made holy, 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 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 your diocese has yet to have their Chrism Mass for this year, I would highly encourage you to attend. It’s one of the great aspects of Holy Week here in Phoenix. As 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 in the comment box.


The Chrism Mass Missal – Diocese of Phoenix. Monday, March, 30, 2015

9 thoughts on “The Chrism Mass and Sacramental Oils Explained

  1. Ever since I moved to Florida I’ve wanted the olive oil to be from trees growing in the diocese (olives do grow in north Florida, and for all I know in south Florida where I now live). I suppose that the original California missions had their own olive trees for holy oils if not for cuisine, and I’m guessing that olive trees would grow and bear fruit near Phoenix.

    Okay, it doesn’t really matter where the oil is from, but…

  2. In the Byzantine Catholic Churches (as well as the Orthodox), the Oil of Catechumens and Oil of the Sick are blessed on the spot by the parish priest as needed.

    The Holy Chrism (used only in Confirmation) is blessed by the Patriarch or other Primate.

  3. Since I converted from Protestantism 3 years ago, I have wanted to attend the Chrism Mass. But it is always early during Holy Week and my Cathedral is 200 miles away in Charleston, SC. I’m going to have to suck it up next year and take a vacation day!

  4. A few more bits of trivia about Holy Chrism:
    (1) It has a distinctive aroma from the others because one adds balsam oil to the olive oil during the blessing of the oil.
    (2) There is one other ceremony in which Chrism was traditionally used: the coronation of Christian monarchs. (I don’t know if it’s still used for Catholic monarchs, but the coronation rite for the English monarch does use it. When Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, the anointing with chrism was one of the moments in which the television cameras cut away, as it was deemed too sacred to be broadcast.)

  5. I attended the Chrism Mass for our diocese in Norwich, CT for the first time yesterday. My son and two of his classmates were the oil bearers and many other Catholic school students were greeters. During the Mass, I was thinking how awesome the Catholic Church is and how blessed I felt to participate in such a beautiful liturgy, with the pews full and the choir sounding so wonderful. When all of the priests gathered behind Bishop Cote during the Liturgy of the Eucharist and prayed in unison, it was so moving.
    It was a great day!

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