One of the unique events in Lent is the celebration of the Chrism Mass at the cathedral in every diocese. At that Mass, the bishop blesses the oils for sacramental use throughout the coming year. At. St. Thomas More, these oils are stored in the ambry, the little cabinet just to the left of the tabernacle.
The three sacramental oils are the oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick, and the Sacred Chrism. These are all olive oil, but the Chrism is perfumed with a fragrance called balsam. It symbolizes the sweet odor of the presence of Christ. The first two are blessed by the bishop whereas the Chrism is “consecrated.” The Chrism gets its name from “Christ.”
The Oil of the Catechumens is used for a pre-baptismal anointing. The catechumens are anointed with it during morning prayer on Holy Saturday in the Daily Mass Chapel. Infants are anointed with it in the Gathering Area just before the procession to the baptismal font.
The Oil of the Sick is used for the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. At St. Thomas More, we have an anointing Mass once a year when we invite anyone who is elderly or has ongoing illness to present themselves for the anointing. An anointing Mass is held at Via Christi Village twice a year. In addition, people are often anointed before surgery or when they are in the emergency room of the hospital. Those in advanced age can be anointed more than once. This is not just for the dying. It is a prayer for healing, both in body and in soul. Anointing of the Sick is for strength to combat both illness and sin. Like the Sacrament of Reconciliation, it forgives all the person’s sins.
The Sacred Chrism is used for a post-baptismal anointing. Only those who are baptized can be anointed with it, because they have become members of Christ’s body. In infant baptism, the child is anointed right after the water baptism. It is also used in the Sacrament of Confirmation. The role of the Holy Spirit in our salvation is to join us to Christ. In the sacrament of Holy Orders, a priest’s hands are anointed with Chrism. As part of the Dedication of a Church and an Altar, the altar is anointed with Chrism. As St. Augustine pointed out: “The altar is Christ.”
One of the things being symbolized by the Chrism Mass is that the sacramental life of the diocesan church flows from the bishop, who is our pastor. Priests and deacons get their commission from him; they are extensions of his ministry. Every pastor, along with several lay people from the parish, goes to the Chrism Mass to get the oils and bring them back for the parish’s use. At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Hoy Thursday, the oils are processed into the church and placed in the ambry.
Making the trip to Salina for the Chrism Mass is well worth it. All the priests are there, and they renew their commitment to priestly service. People from around the diocese are there. It is one of the most beautiful liturgies of the year. Lunch is served in the Hall of Bishops afterward, to which all are invited. This year it is on April 11 at 11:30 a.m.