There will be several important and significant differences at this Mass that only occurs once a year in each diocese throughout the world. Firstly, all the concelebrating priests, because they share in the fullness of the priesthood which comes from the Bishop of the diocese, will renew their pledge of obedience to the Bishop. This action manifests the unity of the priests of the diocese with the Bishop.
The other significant feature of this Mass is the blessing and consecrating of oils used in the pastoral and sacramental life of the Church. One of these three oils, the oil of holy chrism, gives the reason why today’s Mass is called the Chrism Mass. At this Mass, the bishop will bless three oils – the oil of catechumens, the oil of the infirm, and he will be consecrating holy chrism, which gives today’s Eucharistic celebration its name.
The feature of oil in both the daily and spiritual life of people is well documented in Scripture. Used in cooking in our day, it was similarly used by the people in the Bible as well, and not only in cooking, but also as fuel for keeping lamps alight and as healing salves in medicine and homeopathy. Oil was used to make one’s appearance bright and beautiful, as well as to prepare bodies for burial.
In the spiritual life, oil was used when offering sacrifices, when consecrating the meeting tent and the Ark of the Covenant, and when symbolising a choice made by God to lead his people. In the 16th chapter of the Book of Samuel, the young David is anointed by Samuel as king over Israel. And when Jesus opens the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah in the Temple as he begins his public ministry, Jesus echoes the words of the prophet and says, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, and he has anointed me”. Oil then, is symbolic of bringing one sanctification, wellness, strength, beauty, consecration and sacrifice.
The oil of catechumens is principally used with the sacrament of baptism, which will take place in many churches all over the world at the Easter Vigil Mass. The Elect will be anointed with this immediately before baptism. Some of the Elect may have been anointed with this oil during their period of the catechumenate leading up to their baptism in two days’ time.
The oil of the infirm is used in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, where the priest administering this sacrament anoints the forehead of the person as well as his or her hands. Other parts of the body may also be anointed if one’s hands are not accessible or if the priest is able to anoint the part of the body that is in need of healing.
The prayer over the oil of Chrism is preceded by a special gesture of the bishop, and I will be bringing this to your attention when it occurs. This oil is mixed with a perfume, and will be used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and holy orders. These sacraments impart an indelible sacramental character on those who are anointed with Holy Chrism. This oil is also used in the dedication ceremony of a church, where the bishop anoints the altar, together with the walls of the church in 12 places that are marked by crosses. You will notice these crosses easily in the nave of the Cathedral walls, and two of them will be seen at the walls of the Sanctuary.
When the bishop consecrates the Holy Chrism, he will also breathe over the vessel containing the Chrism, a gesture which symbolises the Holy Spirit consecrating the oil, giving it the life-giving nature which the sacraments associated with Holy Chrism bestow on those being anointed with it.
During the consecration of Holy Chrism, the con-celebrating priests will extend their right hands toward the Chrism as the bishop prays the consecratory prayer, a sign of their union with their bishop and their sharing in his authority by which Christ himself builds up, sanctifies and rules his Body, the Church.