The Bishops of the Society will be holding 16 Chrism Masses this year and we hope that all clergy and laity will join them for these important celebrations.
The Mass of Chrism comes just once a year when the bishop blesses the oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick, and the oil of chrism. We use the first for adult catechumens and infants, the second for anointing the sick, and the sacred oil of chrism for baptism, confirmation, the ordination of priests, and the consecration of altars. All three are basically just olive oil but chrism is scented with perfume, traditionally balsam.
Bishops have blessed oil ever since the early church. They baptized catechumens at the Easter Vigil and prepared chrism fresh for the occasion. While they were blessing chrism, they blessed the other oils as well. Rather than overburdening the Vigil with this ritual, bishops blessed these oils at the previous celebration of the Eucharist, Holy Thursday. This also allowed time to transport vessels of oil from the cathedral to all the churches in the diocese. For more than one thousand years, bishops blessed the oils at the cathedral Holy Thursday liturgy, but in 1955 a separate Mass earlier in the day at the cathedral for that purpose, the Mass of Chrism was established.
Since the bishop is the only priest who may consecrate chrism, this Mass highlights the bishop’s ministry and his union with his clergy and people. The bishop cannot baptize everyone in the parishes under his care or anoint the sick and the dying but will be symbolically present in the chrism which the priests and deacons will use. In recent years, this Mass has also acknowledged the ministry of priests and deacons. It invites them to renew their commitment of service and to receive the prayers and support of the people. The Mass of Chrism gathers the clergy and people with their bishop to prepare for celebrations of Christ in all our churches in Holy Week and throughout the year.
While it is a Mass which focuses particularly on the ministerial priesthood, nevertheless the focus must also be on each one of us, married, single, widowed, religious, and ordained in the sharing of the mission of Jesus Christ. This is a celebration of our Sacramental life as a Society. The oils which are blessed at these Masses are used in the Church as a sign of our sharing in Christ’s mission, through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Do please continue to pray for your bishops, priests and deacons. There are heavy burdens on us all at this time in the life of the Church of England and we cannot continue without the positive help which we receive from each other in so many ways.