Mass of Chrism 

By Sister Elissa Rinere, CP, JCD, Office of Worship

Each year, every diocese in the world, celebrates the Mass of Chrism during Holy Week. In the Diocese of Norwich, this unique and singular event will take place on Tuesday, April 15th, at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Norwich.

The Mass of Chrism is rich in symbols which speak about the true nature of the Church as a community of believers. As the name implies, this Mass is a celebration specific to “chrism,” which is a mixture of olive oil, balsam and other fragrances. Chrism is used to anoint; and anointing, from ancient times, is a sign that something or someone is set apart for a special purpose. In stories of the Old Testament, the kings of Israel were anointed. The title given to Jesus of “the Christ” comes from the Greek work for chrism and means “the anointed one.”

In our Catholic tradition, chrism is used to anoint those who receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders. Chrism is also used to consecrate churches, altars, chalices, and even altar stones. In other words, chrism is a sign and means of consecrating people and objects for the service of God. Everyone who has been baptized is thus consecrated to God’s service.

Because of its great importance in the sacramental life of the People of God, and as a sign of unity, only a bishop may bless the chrism which is used in his diocese. This blessing takes place just once each year, at the Mass of Chrism.

Participating in a special way at this Mass are the priests of the diocese, the presbyterate. Every priest, each anointed with chrism at the time of his ordination, ministers in the diocese in virtue of his relationship with the diocesan bishop. The people are a vital part of this pastoral relationship, not only through Baptism, but through the entire sacramental and liturgical life of each parish. Chrism, blessed by the diocesan bishop and distributed for use in every parish in the diocese, is both symbol and transmitter of this web of unity which extends through the entire Church.

At the Mass of Chrism, the priests of the diocese concelebrate with their bishop, and also renew their commitment to ministry in the diocese, under the leadership of their bishop. All the people are asked, as part of the renewal ceremony to pray for both priests and bishop. The renewal prayer concludes with these words spoken by the diocesan bishop: “May the Lord keep us all in his charity and lead all of us, shepherds and flock, to eternal life.” Amen.

Also blessed by the diocesan bishop at the Mass of Chrism and distributed to all parishes in the diocese are the Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of the Sick. The first is used, as they name indicates, during the rites of the RCIA, to anoint those catechumens who are seeking baptism. The second is used in the celebration of the Sacrament of the Sick. Each use of these holy oils is a reminder to us of the unity of the community of believers. Bishop, priests, deacons, religious and laity together form the one People of God, united in faith and prayer.

As one author put it, the Mass of Chrism is unique since it focuses on the sacred oils, which teach us about the three great charisms or gifts of the Church. The gift of the Church to heal in both body and soul is symbolized by the Oil of the Sick. The gift of building faith is signified in the Oil of Catechumens. Finally the great gift of the Church to unify, consecrate and sanctify is symbolized in the sacred chrism.

Even if the realities of life prevent us from participating in the Mass of Chrism, we can take a few minutes to appreciate its importance in the life of our diocese and in our life of faith.