Chrism Mass - 6th April 2014

This Thursday evening, 10th April, the Archbishop will preside at a special service known as the Chrism Mass.

At the Chrism Mass, the oils that will be used in the celebration of the sacraments throughout the diocese in the coming year are blessed. The ritual takes place in the cathedral towards the end of Lent so that the oils will be ready for the Easter sacraments. Oil is an especially important liturgical symbol during the Easter season which is the traditional and appropriate time for initiation.

In the Catholic tradition three different oils are used. Anointing with chrism occurs in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and ordination and in the dedication of churches and altars. Because chrism is used in rites which impart a sacramental character, it is consecrated rather than blessed and gives its name to this special Mass.

The oil of catechumens is used to anoint people who are preparing for baptism and the oil of the sick, as the name suggests, is used in the sacrament of anointing the sick.

The holy chrism used in Brisbane and several other Queensland dioceses is a blend of aromatic oils, fragrances and pure olive oil. The final product is a rich, red-coloured oil with a characteristic perfume. Once an anointing has taken place, the worship space is filled with a beautiful aroma. One early church writer described the perfume of chrism as “the Easter-smell, God’s grace olfactorally incarnate!”

One of the ingredients of chrism is myrrh which has a long history of use in worship. It was the principal ingredient in the holy chrism used by Moses to anoint the Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle), the Ark of the Covenant and the altars for worship. Myrrh was used to anoint prophets. In Matthew’s gospel it is presented as a gift to the infant Jesus as a symbol of his prophetic ministry.

When taken to the parish, the oils should be placed in attractive glass containers and stored in an ambry, a receptacle in a church for the holy oils. Because of the importance of the oils, it does not seem appropriate to hide them away in a cupboard or drawer in the sacristy.

The Book of Blessings states: "The vessels used to hold the holy oils should be worthy of their function and be closed in such a way as to prevent the oils from being spilled and to ensure that they remain fresh".

Oil needs to be used well: carried in its special container, poured out into a shallow dish and applied liberally. As with all symbolic actions, rituals using oil must be performed strongly and with power so that God’s action is revealed more clearly. Through the liturgy of the Church, Christ acts to strengthen and protect, to heal and restore, to set apart and seal for ministry. When we are caught up in sacramental signs, we begin to touch the spiritual reality they contain.

The Bishop celebrates the Chrism Mass with his presbyterate, the priests of the diocese. The Missal describes this as “a manifestation of the Priests’ communion with their Bishop”. As well as the blessing of the oils, the Chrism Mass includes a renewal of priestly promises and prayers of the people for their priests and Bishop.

Elizabeth Harrington