The Blessing of the Oils

The Blessing of the Oils

Next Thursday evening, in the week before Holy Week, the Archbishop will bless the holy oils in the cathedral at a special service known as the 'Chrism Mass'. Holding the blessing of the oils at the end of Lent arises from the need to have the oils ready for the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil.

The Introduction to the "Rites of the Blessing of Oils and Consecrating the Chrism" states: "The chrism Mass is one of the principal expressions of the fullness of the bishop's priesthood and signifies the close unity of the priests with him."

The celebration of all the sacraments during the year ahead is in one way or another connected to the blessing of the holy oils. The newly baptised are anointed and confirmed with the aromatic chrism consecrated by the bishop. It is used also in the sacrament of ordination and in the dedication of churches. The oil of catechumens is used to anoint people who are preparing for baptism. Those who are ill are anointed with the oil of the sick.

The theology of the holy oils is found in their use. In liturgical celebrations involving the oils, the church prays that, through their use, God's grace may be poured forth upon the Church.

In the prayer of blessing for a new repository for the oils (called an 'ambry') or vessels for storing the oils, the celebrant prays that the "gracious and loving God, who anointed priests, prophets and kings of old with the oil of gladness,…. will let this repository remind us always of his sacramental mysteries".

Then he prays:

May the holy oils kept here,

the oil of the sick, the oil of catechumens, and holy chrism,

confirm our unity in faith and prayer with our bishop

and with all the members of your Church,

and be effective signs of the love

that you pour forth into our hearts.

The ambry is ideally located in the baptistery, or near the place where baptisms are celebrated, since two of the three oils are used in the celebration of this sacrament. If this is not possible, some other appropriate place in the church is chosen. 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".

There are a number of ways in which this can be achieved. Glass flagons with stoppers might be used, each different is design to distinguish between the oils. In the celebration of the rites, the oil could be poured directly from the flagon onto the person being anointed or into a small glass bowl from which the minister takes the oil.

Our use of oil in liturgy is a sign of our sharing in the mission and ministry of Jesus the Christ, the 'anointed one'.

Elizabeth Harrington