“The Chrism Mass, which [the Bishop] concelebrates with priests from various regions of the diocese and during which he consecrates the sacred Chrism and blesses the other oils, is among the principal manifestations of the fullness of the Bishop’s priesthood and is considered to be a sign of the close bond of the priests with him. For it is with the sacred Chrism consecrated by the Bishop that the newly baptized are anointed and those to be confirmed are signed. It is with the Oil of Catechumens that catechumens are prepared and disposed for baptism. Finally it is with the Oil of the Sick that those who are ill are comforted in their infirmity.” — The Order of Blessing the Oil of Catechumens and of the Sick and of Consecrating the Chrism (OBO), No. 1
Scripture references the use of oil in nourishment, medicine, ritual anointing of guests, and preparation for burial, and the Church blesses three types of oil during Holy Week.
The Chrism Mass takes place at Christ Cathedral at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, March 29. During the Mass, which will be livestreamed but is open only to priests and invited ministers, the oils to be used throughout the Diocese of Orange will be consecrated and blessed and then disseminated.
The rite of blessing the oils and consecrating the Sacred Chrism begins after the Renewal of Priestly Promise as the oils are brought forward in procession by deacons who carry glass vessels containing the Oil of Catechumens, Oil of the Sick, and the oil for the Sacred Chrism.
“Two things happen at this Mass that are out of the ordinary,” says Lesa Truxaw, director of the diocese’s Office for Worship.
“One is the recommitment to priestly vows in the context of the Mass,” Truxaw explains. “The priests resolve to be more closely united with Christ and to be faithful stewards of the mystery of God, and we the people commit to pray for them.”
The second thing that makes the Mass special, she adds, is the blessing of the oils: The Oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Infirm, and Sacred Chrism, which is used in the administration of the sacraments throughout the diocese for the year.
The first two types of oil are simply blessed. The Sacred Chrism is consecrated when the Bishop invokes the power of the Holy Spirit in blessing upon the oil, which is used in confirmation, during ordination to anoint the hands of priests and upon the heads of bishops, and the anointing of altars and walls in churches when they are dedicated.
Before saying the Prayer of Consecration, Bishop Kevin Vann will breathe upon the opening of the vessel of the Chrism. According to the USCCB, Chrism is a sign of the Holy Spirit, and this action by the Bishop recalls the Spirit of God “moving over the face of the waters” at creation (Genesis 1:12) and Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the disciples in which “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). The Bishop then will invite the people to pray before he consecrates the Chrism and scents it with balsam.
“As evidence of their fruitfulness and importance in our sacramental life, oils take center stage when they are blessed and consecrated just before Easter, at what is called the Chrism Mass, says Michael Heinlein, editor of Simply Catholic. “This provides for the new oils to be used at the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil.”
The word “chrism,” like the Greek chrisma, originally described any substance used in anointing, such as various kinds of oils, unguents, and pigments. Unadulterated olive oil is used. After the oils are blessed and consecrated, a preparation team assists in pouring them into 8-ounce vessels, which are distributed to parishes through the deaneries.
In many Catholic dioceses, the Chrism Oils are blessed the morning of Holy Thursday, Truxaw observes, but the Diocese of Orange traditionally holds the Mass on Holy Monday. Before or during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, parish priests may receive the holy oils and explain their meaning, especially for the benefit of those who could not attend the Chrism Mass, the bishops note.
Truxaw says the Chrism Mass has always been one of her favorites. “I was usually so busy preparing for Holy Week that it was my opportunity to take a break and pray, preparing myself for Holy Week,” she says. “The oils used are so significant during the initiation sacraments of Easter Vigil, the high point of our liturgical year, and the unity of the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ continues to shine forth. The Chrism Mass is key to who we are and what we celebrate every week.”