The Chrism Mass

In the Archdiocese of Atlanta, on the Tuesday morning of Holy Week, the archbishop, joined by the auxiliary bishops and priests of the diocese, gather at the Cathedral of Christ the King to celebrate the Chrism Mass. This Mass manifests the unity of the priests with their bishop.

In Hebrew the word is Messiah; in Greek, Christos. Translated into English, the word means “the  Anointed One.” At the beginning of his public ministry, in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth, Jesus read aloud the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings …”.  Then, as the Gospel of Luke tells us, while “the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him, he said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing’” (see Luke 4:16-21).

Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One: this title of our Lord anticipates the continual outpouring of God’s mercy through the sacramental anointing with oil in the liturgies of the church. Every year, in every Catholic diocese, these sacred oils are newly prepared, blessed by the bishop, and distributed to the churches during Holy Week. This takes place at the Chrism Mass.

For its abundance, its scriptural history, and its healing properties, olive oil is specified for sacramental use. From ancient times the prophets, priests, and kings of Israel were anointed with olive oil as a sign that the Spirit of God rested upon them (see Isa. 61:1; Ex. 30:30; I Sam. 10:1).

At the Chrism Mass, three separate urns of oil are offered by the faithful and presented to the bishop for the blessing—the Oil of the Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick, and finally the Oil for the Holy Chrism. The Chrism Oil is mixed with fragrant balsam, and, because of its prominent place in the rites of Christian Initiation and Holy Orders, it is blessed with a prayer of consecration.

Anointing with the sacred oils is integral to several of the sacraments and other rites of the church. An infant presented for baptism is anointed with Oil of the Catechumens before the baptism, with the prayer for the protection against the powers of sin and evil. An adult catechumen may receive this anointing several times during the time of preparation. The Oil of the Sick is used in the sacrament of anointing, during times of illness or before surgery; sometimes also during the sacrament of viaticum (see James 5:14-15).

The Sacred Chrism is an integral part of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and ordination. Named after Christ himself (chrism = “Christ-ing”), it bestows a share in Jesus’s own anointing with the Holy Spirit. Just following the washing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the baptized are anointed on the crown of the head, signifying the royal dignity, the prophetic vocation, and the call to holiness of all the baptized. Again at confirmation, the candidate is anointed on the forehead as the bishop says, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” When a bishop ordains a man to the priesthood, following the imposition of hands and the prayer of consecration, he anoints the hands of the priest with the Sacred Chrism, saying: “The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifices to God.”

Following the Chrism Mass, the sacred oils are distributed to representatives of every parish in the diocese. The oils are normally received by the parish in a simple rite prior to the Mass of Holy Thursday. They are to be kept safe but also made visible to the faithful, displayed in an ambry near the baptismal font.

At the Chrism Mass, the gathered priests experience a powerful remembrance of their ordination day as the bishop calls upon them to “renew the sacred promises you once made.” But not only the priests, all the baptized are called to renewal. For in the consecration of the Chrism, the bishop prays that “all who are anointed may be inwardly transformed and come to share in eternal salvation.”

From the Catholic Star-Herald