For the first ten years of my ministry in the Church, I functioned as a Cantor at Cathedral liturgies and learned early on to appreciate and love those rituals that are particular to the diocesan Mother Church. The yearly Chrism Mass is one of those forgotten or unseen by most regular Catholics because it it is only celebrated at a Cathedral and usually at a time deemed most inconvenient for working folks. Originally meant for the morning of Holy Thursday, at least in the United States it is usually moved to an early time during Holy Week to allow all clergy in a diocese to attend without having to hurry back to their parishes for the evening start of Triduum. Of the six Dioceses that are within an hour of my home, two of them (Providence & Springfield) celebrated this ancient rite on Monday evening while the other four (Boston, Fall River, Norwich and Worcester) chose various times on Tuesday for their rituals. This year, due to my work schedule, I was unable to attend in person but thanks to those wonderful folks at CatholicTV (you really should sign their petition to bring that great channel to your cable system or, better yet, watch them on the web) I was able to record and playback the Mass yesterday while I was home practicing for the three days ahead.
The Chrism Mass serves a dual purpose in the life of the Catholic Church – to renew the promises made by priests at their ordination and to bless and consecrate the Holy Oils (Oil of the Sick, Oil of Catechumens and Sacred Chrism – the latter from which is ritual takes its name) used by parishes during the year. Unfortunately, because it is probably the largest clergy gathering of the year (in my estimations it usually surpasses most ordinations – your mileage may vary) it has and continues to become a lightening rod for supporters of women’s ordination. Ok, here’s my rant of the day (please feel free to scroll down if you’re not interested – thanks) –> Ladies, as one of you who can understand your pain, let’s be rational here – the Church is not going to change its mind on this issue any time soon so picketing, shouting and processing down the middle aisle at any point during this celebration just serves to make things worse. I learned early on that no one – male or female – has a RIGHT to ordination. It is a CALL to service and while it is not open to us at this time we as women ARE called to service in this Church and in more areas now than ever before in its history. Let us focus on that, do our very best at what God is calling each of us to do and wait upon the Spirit to move in its time, not ours. This is a time in our Church where we need to be united with our clergy, not heaping more coal upon their heads as they try to do what they are called to do. (“Have I said too much? There’s nothing more I can think of to say to you…”) Rant complete for today.
Back to the ritual – After the Homily, the Bishop asks the priests to stand and renew their priestly commitment before the assembly, who he then asks to support himself and these priests in their ministry. This exchange takes the place of both the Creed and the General Intercession. After this, the Procession of the Oils and the Gifts of Bread and Wine takes place so that the oils may be blessed and consecrated at this time. There is a little known (and hardly ever used in these parts) tradition that has the Oil of the Sick blessed at the end of the Eucharist Prayer while the others are blessed and consecrated after Communion but I believe most dioceses in this country prefer the ritual after the Liturgy of the Word and before the Eucharistic Prayer. So, once the procession reaches the sanctuary, those who are carrying the vessels with oil – and there are usually two bearers for each container because they are usually large, ornate and decently heavy once filled – wait to be called forward to place their vessel on the table setup somewhere appropriate in the space. Both the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of the Catechumens are blessed, while the Sacred Chrism is first mixed with balsam which gives it its distinctly sweet smell and then breathed upon by the Bishop in a calling down of the Holy Spirit. Then all the priests extend their right hands toward the Chrism in solidarity to finish the prayer yet it is the Bishop who actually consecrates this most sacred of oils. Once this is done, the Mass continues as usual.
Of all the Masses I’ve ministered or attended in my adult years, this one is up there as one of my favorites and I try my best to attend when I can. Since this blog appears on Thursday afternoon, I hope my humble musings will make you think about possibly attending your own diocese’s ritual next year. Put a reminder in your iDevice now with an alarm set for the beginning of Lent so that you can give yourself a chance to visit your Cathedral and experience this sacred tradition.