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  • Writer's picturePeter Kennedy

Chrism Mass: Something Every Catholic Should Experience

So that you don’t have to read to the end of this article, the Chrism Mass for the Archdiocese of Omaha will take place in 2024 at St. Cecilia Cathedral on Monday, March 25th at 11:00am.  Your local cathedral should have an announcement for this event posted in their bulletin if you do not reside in Omaha.

Chrism Mass

The Chrism Mass is a unique experience as Mass goes.  It is certainly an event that every Catholic should experience at least once, if for no other reason than to see the depth of spirituality and tradition poured into the sacraments of the Church. Through this Mass, we get to see how the bishop himself is “present” at various sacraments through the oils he prepares, blesses, and distributes to all of the Churches of his arch/diocese and more importantly, how the Holy Spirit works in and through them.  We get to see the careful preparation and reverence with which every moment takes place in this Mass to create the material elements of our sacramental life, to hear the prayers offered over them and the scriptures proclaimed, to smell the fragrance of the newly prepared oil as it fills the Cathedral… it will renew your love for the sacraments where these blessed sacramentals become the means of through which Christ is made present through the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is perhaps the most charismatic of the Masses in the Western Rite of the Church.  By this, we mean that it is truly a Mass of the Holy Spirit, where the signs and symbols are particularly focused on the role He plays in our spiritual lives, the effects He has on the very world itself! The readings themselves begin with Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me!..”, The Psalm 89, speaks of King David’s anointing, and the reading from Revelation speaks of the very power of God.  The Gospel, from Luke 4, proclaims Jesus as the Lord’s true anointed one and ushers in a time of great Jubilee (extraordinary forgiveness). The clergy will dress in red and the prayers and images will all speak of the spirit, as wind, breath, sanctifier, and strengthener.

The consecration of oils is essential to this Mass and I will discuss more on that below, but what is often missed is that this is a Mass where the Priests of the given diocese renew their vows to their bishop.  It’s another really amazing piece of this Mass that we should all be blessed to witness.  It relays the connectedness we all have to our bishop through our local clergy.

As for the oils, we should be reminded of what these oils are:

Depending on the version of the rite, the first two oils may be in a different order.

The first oil brought forth is usually the Oil of Catechumens.  The person presenting it to the Archbishop in our diocese is ordinarily someone preparing to become Catholic through the RCIA and/or one of their catechists or sponsors.  It was once called the Oil of Exorcism as it is used in the rite of Baptism as a way of strengthening the person against evil and sin.  The bishop will literally pray the following over it: “O God, strength and protection of your people, who have placed in the Oil you have created a sign of endurance, graciously bless + this Oil…” The rite for Baptism of Children essentially offers a prayer that helps the child to avoid temptation and helps to ward off evil. This part of the baptismal ritual is called a minor exorcism in the Church (thus the alternate name for this oil). This should not be confused with a major exorcism which is an entirely different rite for those who are possessed.  The oil is also placed on the heads of adults who are in the RCIA/OCIA when they enter the stage called the Catechumenate (thus the more common name).  The words of this anointing prayer bestow the grace to avoid evil and to give perseverance while the individual is progressing toward Christian initiation as the lure of the world can become stronger during this period of time.

The second oil is the Oil of the Sick. This oil may be brought forth in procession by anyone but frequently in our archdiocese this will be brought forth by someone from the healing professions (a nurse, doctor, dentist, or paramedic).  This oil is simply blessed olive oil as the purity of it is essential to not causing further illness or infection.  It is used in the sacrament of Extreme Unction which is more commonly called “Anointing of the Sick” these days.  In ancient times oil was used for cleansing but also for anointing wounds, burns, and sores as a way to offer comfort and soothing.  The bishop will pray over the oil saying, may it be “a safeguard for body, mind, and spirit, to take away every pain, every infirmity, and every sickness.”

Finally Holy Chrism is brought forth by a deacon or priest (The rite presumes it will be a deacon, but all priests and bishops are also deacons). It is primarily made of good olive oil but with the addition of balm or balsam (a resin or ointment used to soothe the skin that has a rather intense fragrance).  This oil is also used for Baptism to anoint you priest, prophet, and king.  It is further used at ordination to anoint the hands of priest, conforming them to Christ. At Confirmation it is used to seal us with the gift of the Holy Spirit and to usher in our Christian mission.  The Anglicans still use it to anoint kings (you can read about the “horn of oil” used to anoint King David in 1Sm 16:1-13).  The recent coronation of King Charles of England used it as well. Lastly, if you are lucky enough to see a new Church or altar dedicated in your diocese, you will see that altar generously covered in Chrism at the Church’s dedication.  This is another “must see” event for Catholics.

After the Mass, these oils will be distributed to the various pastors who attended the Mass and on Holy Thursday they will be brought forward and presented to the parish where they will be used in the sacraments.  But that is an article for another time…

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