Monday, April 02, 2007

The Chrism Mass

One celebration in Holy Week that is largely unknown to most people is the Chrism Mass. This is meant to be celebrated on the morning of Maundy Thursday in the Cathedral, although for good reason it can also take place at another time and another place. In our Diocese of Westminster it is celebrated on the Tuesday of Holy Week at Westminster Cathedral.

At the Chrism Mass, the Bishop gathers with all the priests of his diocese for a joyful celebration. It is not often that all the priests of a diocese can get together, so the Chrism Mass is usually a time of great conviviality, a celebration of the unity of the diocese with its bishop.

The Cardinal and his auxiliary bishops: Bernard Longley, George Stack, Alan Hopes and John Arnold

There are two parts to the Chrism Mass. The first is the Renewal of Priestly Vows. This is a fairly recent addition to the ritual, and one of the fruits of the liturgical renewal following the Second Vatican Council. At the Easter Vigil we all renew the promises of our baptism, because we have died and risen with Christ. On Maundy Thursday we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist at the Mass of the Lord's Supper, and also the Lord's commandment for us to love and serve one another. It is particularly appropriate therefore for priests to reflect on this day on their vocation, which is to love and serve God's people, and care for them especially through the celebration of the sacraments. It is also a good day for all the People of God to pray for their priests, and to pray for vocations to the priesthood.

The second part is the blessing of the oils which will be used in the coming year. The oil used is always the purest olive oil and it is blessed at the Chrism Mass to make the three holy oils:

  1. The Oil of the Sick - used in the Sacrament of Healing. Whenever we are seriously ill (the condition being serious is important: hayfever or a blocked nose is not really serious!) we should ask a priest for this sacrament. It is a reminder to us that God never abandons us and is always longing to save us and raise us up.
  2. The Oil of Catechumens - used to anoint those who are preparing for Baptism. It is a sign of God's strengthening those who are seeking to follow his son, and a rejection of Satan who is exorcised from those approaching baptism.
  3. The Oil of Chrism - used to anoint the baptised at their confirmation, and those being ordained. A sweet smelling perfume is mixed with the oil, and the bishop breathes over it during the consecration prayer. Christ means the anointed one, Christian is a follower of Christ, an anointed one as well. This is the great sacrament by which we are indeed anointed, chrismated. Priests are anointed on their palms at their ordination, and bishops on their heads, a sign of their consecration to God's service. (Interesting aside: when the sick are anointed, their palms are anointed. Priests, however, are traditionally anointed on the back of their hands, because their palms were anointed at their ordination).

The ordination of Bishop John Arnold in 2006. Bishop John will be visiting Newman House to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation on 29th April this year.

After the Chrism Mass the priests all collect their supplies of oil for use in their parishes for the coming year. We then welcome the Holy oils at the beginning of the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper on Maundy Thursday.

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