WASHINGTON (CNS) — The annual chrism Mass during Holy Week is one of the most solemn and significant liturgies of the Catholic Church.
For many U.S. dioceses, this year marked the first chrism Mass to draw a capacity crowd of congregants since before the pandemic. For the last two years, COVID-19 turned most in-person liturgies into livestreamed events.
Concelebrated by a bishop and the priests of his diocese, the chrism Mass is marked by the blessing of the oil of catechumens and the oil of the sick and the consecration of the oil of chrism.
The oil of the sick is blessed for the healing of body, mind and spirit. The oil of catechumens is blessed for the anointing of those preparing for baptism.
The chrism oil is consecrated to anoint infants after baptism, those who are to be confirmed, and bishops and priests at their ordination. It also is used to anoint altars and churches at the time of their dedication.
During the Mass, bishops also typically lead priests and deacons of the diocese in renewing their promises of service to the church.
Filling the church
In Portland, Maine, every pew of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was filled, and Bishop Robert P. Deeley joyfully welcomed priests, deacons, religious and the lay faithful from around Maine to the special Mass April 12.
“How grateful we are that we can gather — bishop, priests and people together — as we mark this special day when we bless the oils that we will use for the sacraments during the year and witness our beloved priests renew their priestly commitment,” Bishop Deeley said during his homily.
“The last two years we have gathered only in smaller numbers. We were constrained by the regulations given for the safety and health of all,” he said. “With successful vaccinations and new medicines, we are able this year to return to inviting us all to gather and filling the church. What a joy that is.”
Blessing the oils
During the late afternoon Mass, Bishop Deeley consecrated the sacred chrism by adding balsam, which is a symbol of the sweetness of Christian virtue, to olive oil, a rich oil symbolizing the richness of God’s grace. Then he blew into the urn holding the oil as a sign of the Holy Spirit.
Bishops are the only ordained ministers who can consecrate chrism, but he does so in union with his priests who are present.
“We beseech you, O Lord, that by the power of your grace, this mingling of fragrance and oil become for us a sacrament of your blessing,” prayed the bishop. “Pour out in abundance the gifts of the Holy Spirit on our brothers and sisters anointed with this oil.”
Bishop Deeley then blessed the oil of the sick, praying: “Send forth from the heavens, we pray, your Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, upon this oil in all its richness, which you have graciously brought forth from the verdant tree to restore the body, so that by your holy blessing, everyone anointed with this oil as a safeguard for body, soul and spirit, may be freed from all pain, all infirmity and all sickness.”
Finally he blessed the oil of the catechumens — individuals preparing for baptism in the Catholic Church — to strengthen them avoiding sin and growing in faith.
“Grant courage to the catechumens who will be anointed with it so that receiving divine wisdom and power, they may understand more deeply the Gospel of your Christ, they may undertake with a generous heart the labors of the Christian life, and, made worthy of adoption as your sons and daughters, they may rejoice to be born anew and to live in your church,” Bishop Deeley prayed.
Once consecrated and blessed, respectively, the sacred chrism and oils were prepared by a small group of oil caretakers for distribution to Maine parishes.
At the end of the Mass, the oils were distributed to representatives from 10 parishes, symbolizing the many parishes, hospitals and ministries of the Diocese of Portland.
During his homily, surrounded by nearly 100 priests and deacons in and around the sanctuary, Bishop Deeley offered his gratitude for their faithful service.
“My brothers, I know well how challenging these last two years have been for you. It has been particularly hard to limit participation at Mass,” he said. “As priests, we draw strength from the participation of those who gather with us for the Eucharist. Despite the difficulties, I am grateful that you worked with the guidelines we were given, and together with me and my staff, we have worked to keep people safe.”
“God bless all of you for your dedication and your creativity during this time,” he added.
A large choir, the thunderous music, an assembly of the faithful and scores of clergy flooded Portland’s cathedral. and once again, the chrism Mass served as a gathering of beauty, peace and unity.
Like a reunion
In the Diocese of Nashville, Tennessee, Bishop J. Mark Spalding, dozens of priests, deacons, seminarians and religious, and nearly 2,000 laity gathered in Sagrado Corazon Church at the Catholic Pastoral Center for the annual chrism Mass April 12.
Totaling more than 2,500 people, it was the largest gathering for the diocese’s chrism Mass, beating the pre-COVID-19 number of 2,100, said Bill Staley, diocesan director of new media evangelization.
In his homily, Bishop Spalding shared memories of reunions with the Spalding family, then he turned to the importance of the family reunion of the church.
“It’s a wonderful thing, family reunions, and we as a family must remember those kinds of gatherings,” Bishop Spalding said.
“Tonight, in the chrism Mass, one of my hopes and dreams, which is very much coming true by your presence here tonight,” he continued, “is that each year, we have to get together and remember who we are around this table because we bring everything. … We bring our very selves, we bring our families with us, and then we unite in Christ Jesus.
“My dear people, my dear priests, deacons and wives, religious, seminarians, lay leaders, lay faithful, the whole of this diocese, we need to experience Christ and our world needs to experience him.”
And it is even more important after two years of COVID-19, he said.
“It is not good for us to be alone. It is not good for us to be separated, as we found out the last few years,” Bishop Spalding said, but he noted the creativity and resiliency of the priests at their parishes and the schools during the pandemic.
Just as reunions bring different foods to share, we all have our own gifts to share, he said.
“It’s what we have to have as church,” Bishop Spalding said. “We bring the various gifts of all these priests and deacons and religious and seminarians and lay leadership and lay faithful and bring them all together, and we want to unite our church and empower it. And we need to be taking Christ to others.”
Following the homily, Bishop Spalding led the more than 80 diocesan priests in attendance in the renewal of their priestly promises, then the three oils were brought forward to the bishop for his blessing and consecration.
This ritual is what draws such a large crowd to the chrism Mass, Staley believes.
“These are the oils that will be used for all the sacraments, whether you’re being baptized, confirmed, ordained or anointed before you go see Jesus,” he told the Tennessee Register, Nashville’s diocesan newspaper. “This Mass is the kick-off for the next sacramental year.”
Contributing to this story was Katie Peterson, who is on the staff of the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.