Catholic Classroom: Chrism Mass
During Holy Week, bishops from dioceses around the world celebrate the Chrism Mass. Though the Chrism Mass is usually on the morning of Holy Thursday, it can fall on another day of the week if need be. During the Mass, three types of oil are blessed for each church in the diocese to use throughout the coming year. In addition to the blessing of the oils, all the priests and bishops of the diocese publicly renew their priestly promises at the Chrism Mass.
The three oils blessed at the Chrism Mass are the oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick, and chrism.
Oil of the Sick
This is the oil used in the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. During this sacrament, the priest anoints the forehead and hands of the recipient. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the oil in this sacrament expresses healing and comfort (CCC 1294).
Oil of Catechumens
This is the oil used before the sacrament of Baptism. Right before a catechumen is baptized, the priest anoints their chest with the oil of catechumens to signify cleansing and strengthening (CCC 1294).
Holy chrism is the most important of the three oils because it is used in Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. Made of olive oil and balsam, chrism serves as a sign of consecration, and its distinct smell is meant to symbolize the "aroma of Christ" which our lives are meant to give off (CCC 1294). In Baptism and Confirmation chrism is used to anoint the forehead, and in Holy Orders it is used to anoint the hands (for priests) or head (for bishops). During the Chrism Mass, the celebrating bishop breathes on the vessel of chrism just as Jesus breathed on the apostles when he gave them His Holy Spirit.
The act of anointment is found throughout Sacred Scripture and carries rich significance and meaning. Psalm 23:5, Luke 4:18, and 2 Corinthians 1:21 are a few verses that use the language of anointment. According to the Catechism, anointing is a sign of abundance, joy, cleansing, strengthening, healing, and consecration (CCC 1293).
Join Pope Francis as he celebrates the Chrism Mass from the Vatican on Thursday, April 18 at 3pm ET, and check out our full Holy Week schedule here!