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Chrism Mass and the anointed of the Lord

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Whenever we come to Mass, we respond to God’s call to gather together for prayer, to listen and respond to His Word, to join in the offering of the sacrifice, to partake of Christ’s Body and Blood, and to be sent forth to do His work in the world. In the annual Chrism Mass, the diocesan church answers this call in a special way by gathering around our bishop to worship God and receive his abundant graces.


In the Chrism Mass, we offer vital prayers for our priests, who faithfully give themselves in sacrificial service and on this day renew their priestly promises. Holy oils are blessed, and the Sacred Chrism is consecrated. These blessings provide each of us with the opportunity to renew our commitment to holiness and missionary discipleship, for all the baptized share in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly work of Christ, the Anointed One.


The renewal of priestly promises follows the homily. Introduced after the Second Vatican Council, its aim is to strengthen priests in their ministry. This is especially poignant when the Chrism Mass is celebrated on Holy Thursday, the special remembrance of the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood. Yet even in this exceptional year, it is fitting that priests make this public renewal, for day in and day out during these challenging times, often in unseen ways, they have continued to serve God and His church.


Standing as brothers, our priests affirm their resolve to unite to Jesus each day. They renew their promise “to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist and the other liturgical rites, and to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching” for those in their care. Next, the whole community stands and asks God to bless these men, that they may be effective in leading us to Christ. The community also prays for our bishop, that he may be an ever more perfect image of Christ in your midst.


After the renewal of priestly promises, oils, bread and wine are brought forward in solemn procession. First walks a deacon carrying the balsam, a mixture of fragrances. Then more deacons process carrying olive oil for the Oil of Catechumens, Oil of the Sick and Sacred Chrism. Finally come gifts of bread and wine.


The church’s long tradition witnesses to blessing these oils during Mass. In today’s practice, they may be blessed immediately after the procession. The Oil of the Sick is blessed first, followed by the Oil of Catechumens. Finally, the bishop consecrates the Sacred Chrism.


Before beginning the prayer of consecration, the bishop pours the fragrant balsam into the olive oil. Then, he breathes over the oil, for the Spirit purifies. During the prayer, at the plea for God to sanctify the oil and instill in it the power of the Spirit, all the priests extend their right hand over the Chrism — a striking image of their sacred ministry.


Anointing with this Holy Chrism signifies and effects the Spirit’s anointing. New altars and churches are sanctified. The newly baptized are anointed in the priestly, prophetic and kingly work of Christ. In Confirmation, spiritual gifts strengthen the recipients to be effective witnesses for Christ. Priests are guarded and preserved for the work of sanctifying and making sacrificial offering. Bishops are given an abundance of spiritual blessings.


Importantly, all the oils blessed and consecrated at this Mass are poured out on those in our diocese who seek the Lord. Therefore, the church blesses the holy oils annually, ordinarily on Holy Thursday. Yet, these are exceptional times. Sacred Chrism, which must be consecrated by a bishop at the Chrism Mass, is especially important for our church’s life. Thus, we celebrate this liturgy now, when we can come together as a community.


Given these extraordinary times and limitations on gathering, a final unique rite will be celebrated this year. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge will offer a papal blessing with an attached plenary indulgence, (which requires prayer for the intention of the Holy Father and the desire to receive Communion and Confession, with reception at the next possible opportunity). As with the pope’s “Urbi et Orbi” blessings, the blessing and indulgence on this occasion is extended to those who cannot be present physically, but who unite spiritually with the Mass through livestreaming. A special conclusion to the Penitential Act takes place, and we pray for the Holy Father and the church in the intercessions. The blessing itself takes place at the conclusion of Mass.


The Chrism Mass — this year celebrated Oct. 5 at 10:30 a.m. at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington and livestreamed at youtu.be/_LLnE1PGPgM — offers the faithful the chance to join our local church in praying for our priests, renewing our commitment to holiness, and receiving God’s abundant blessings so that we, who have received the Spirit’s anointing, may become the pleasing fragrance of Christ and be resplendent with His light.


Starke is director of the diocesan Office of Divine Worship. 

Find out more


The Chrism Mass will be livestreamed at youtu.be/_LLnE1PGPgM, Oct. 5, at 10:30 a.m. Call 703/525-1300.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020