As we celebrate Palm Sunday and begin Holy Week I thought I would describe one of the Holy Week services that we don’t have at our parish, or any other parish in the diocese, except the Cathedral, the Chrism Mass. The Chrism Mass is ideally celebrated on the morning of Holy Thursday at the cathedral of a diocese, as we do here in St. Louis at 10am this Thursday morning. But some dioceses, because of geography or other reasons that it would be very difficult for the clergy and others of the diocese to make that time, celebrate it on another day near to Easter. At this Mass the holy oils of the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of Catechumens, and the Oil of Chrism (thus the name of the Mass) are blessed to be used throughout that diocese in the coming year.
The Oil of the Sick is used for the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. This oil is used for strength and healing of the sick person. Of the three oils this is used most often at a parish and is also the one that, if it ran out or it is not available, a priest can bless oil during the rite of the anointing to use for the sacrament.
The Oil of Catechumens is used for those to be baptized. This oil is to give strength to the person to renounce sin as they prepare to approach baptism. For adults to be baptized it can be used in the months prior to the person’s reception into the Church. For infants it is used in the beginning of the Rite of Baptism.
The Oil of Chrism is used in the sacraments of Confirmation, Ordination, and Baptism. When a person is confirmed they are told by the bishop or priest, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” as a sign of the cross is made with the oil on the person’s forehead. At ordination to priesthood the bishop puts the oil on a priests hands to anoint them to be used to celebrate the sacraments, at the Chrism Mass the priests present will also renew their priestly promises. And at a bishop’s ordination the oil is put on their head as the leader of the local church. For a new church the oil is also used to anoint the altar and the walls of the church during its consecration. You might notice the priest sniffing this oil before he uses it because, unlike the other two oils, the Chrism has perfume that is mixed into it before the bishop blesses it as a sign of the roles of priest, prophet, and king that we share with Christ. This oil is also used on the crown of a child’s head at baptism as a sign of this partaking in the threefold role of Christ.
Actually the oil blessed at the Mass will be taken, as soon as it is blessed, to be poured into hundreds of little bottles for the priests then to take back to their parishes. That evening, at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at our parish, we will be bring forward these oils to be used at the Easter Vigil and throughout the year. I would encourage you to participate in our parish services throughout Holy Week, and maybe this year or another time even come to the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral.