On Tuesday of Holy Week we will celebrate the Mass of Chrism at the Cathedral. Two meaningful rituals occur during the Crism Mass. The first is the renewal of their priestly vows and commitment to the priesthood by all the priests and the Bishop. The second is the blessing and distribution of the Holy Oils.
The gathering of the Bishop and his priests together with the people symbolizes the fullness of the Bishop’s ministry as chief shepherd of the diocese. Since the celebration was originally in the morning of Holy Thursday, it anticipates the celebration of the institution of the episcopate and the priesthood by Jesus at the Last Supper.
Our priests will prepare for their renewal of priestly vows by a day of reflection on the mystery of their vocation. After the gospel, in a series of responses to the Bishop’s questions the priests renew their dedication to Christ as priests of the New Covenant, promise to sacrifice their own pleasures and ambition to bring peace and love to their people and to be faithful ministers of the sacraments, teachers of the faith and imitators of Jesus Christ.
Finally, the bishop asks the people to pray for their priests and for him that he may become more like Jesus, the High Priest and Good Shepherd.
Following the renewal ceremony, three containers are brought forward to the Bishop. Each contains oil, one to be consecrated as Sacred Chrism, the other two to be blessed as Oil of the Sick and Oil of the Catechumens.
The Liturgy takes its name from Sacred Chrism, the consecrated oil that is used at Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination which together with the other Holy Oil is blessed every Holy Week by the Bishop.
Chrism is the Greek word for oil. Oil is one of the great symbols of the Church. Christos is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah, the anointed one. Thus, Jesus Christ means, Jesus the anointed one or Jesus the Messiah. The early Church adopted the ancient custom of anointing kings, priests and prophets with oil to designate them as chosen ones. In the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders the anointing with Sacred Chrism recognizes the fact that the Sacrament celebrates the chosen-ness of the ones being anointed and their sharing in the kingly and prophetic priesthood of Jesus.
When the Bishop consecrates the Chrism he prays: “Father, by the power of your love make this mixture of oil and perfume a sign and source of your blessing. Pour out the gifts of your Holy Spirit on our brothers and sisters who will be anointed by it.” Similar prayers are used in the blessing of the Oil of the Sick: “Make this oil a remedy for all who are anointed with it; heal them in body, soul and spirit.” When he blesses the Oil of Catechumens the Bishop prays the anointing will “give wisdom and strength to all who are anointed.”
The Chrism Mass brings together these two important rituals of Holy Week, separate from yet connected to the Triduum. The connection, of course, is that the Chrism Mass celebrates Jesus’ institution of both the episcopate and the priesthood, the Sacraments of those anointed to continue the celebration of the same Eucharist as other Christs.
At the conclusion of the Liturgy, each priest takes a portion of the newly blessed oils to his own parish to be used in the celebration of the Sacraments.