The Chrism Mass celebrated annually by the Church typically takes place on Holy Thursday, or at least on one of the days leading up to it. This year I decided to move the Chrism Mass to the early summer—June 24, to be exact—so that more priests of the diocese may be able to attend amidst ongoing COVID precautions.
As we prepare for this yearly celebration, it is important to keep in mind that whether the Chrism Mass is held on Thursday of Holy Week, the last Thursday in June, or any other day of the year, its life-giving mysteries remain real.
First, the Chrism Mass is the occasion to bless the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of the Catechumens and to consecrate the Sacred Chrism. The Oil of the Sick, of course, is used by priests when anointing those who are in danger of death from sickness or advanced age. The Oil of Catechumens strengthens both infants and adults before their baptism. As a sign of strength, this blessed oil will enable those to be baptized to grapple with the devil, escape his grasp, and emerge victorious from the font. Lastly, the Sacred Chrism—which, unlike the previous oils, has a fragrant balsam added to it—signifies Christ in an especially beautiful way. Those things anointed with Sacred Chrism—such as altars and churches, and especially the newly baptized, the confirmed, and the ordained—bear a special resemblance and relationship to Jesus, whose Spirit anointed him and anoints us.
These supernatural truths of the Holy Oils appear particularly meaningful this year as we continue to emerge from pandemic conditions and prepare ourselves for a return to some semblance of sacramental normalcy. In Psalm 92, recited during Morning Prayer on Saturdays, the psalmist praises God because “The just will flourish like the palm-tree and grow like a Lebanon cedar. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God, still bearing fruit when they are old, still full of sap, still green, to proclaim that the Lord is just.” Despite the hardships of the past 14 months, we are called to “flourish” and to “bear fruit” in the Church and in the world. In some mysterious way, the sacred oils of the Chrism Mass are the “sap” that gives us true life in Jesus’ Mystical Body.
A second life-giving remedy also shows itself in the very celebration of the Chrism Mass. Recall that usually the Chrism Mass is celebrated on the doorstep of the Easter Triduum, which begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. These Easter feasts commemorate the great priestly work of Jesus: his suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. And to prepare priests—and, with them, the entire priestly people—the Chrism Mass invites my brother priests to concelebrate the Mass with me, their Bishop.
Along with the Holy Oils, the office which will be administering these precious ointments over the course of the coming year—the priesthood—is a central theme of the Chrism Mass. The entrance antiphon of the Mass invokes the Book of Revelation: “Jesus Christ has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father” (1:6). All priests in attendance renew their priestly promises on this, the “anniversary of that day when Christ our Lord conferred his priesthood on his Apostles and on us.” Following this renewal, I ask the faithful to pray for their priests—who nourish, forgive, comfort, and lead God’s people—even as I offer my own prayer that “the Lord keep us all in his charity and lead all of us, shepherds and flock, to eternal life.”
As we in the Diocese of La Crosse prepare to return to the full celebration of the Mass and the sacraments, let us call to mind the great mysteries of faith that God shows us in the Chrism Mass! May the anointing of the Holy Spirit conform us ever more closely to Jesus. And may our beloved priests always radiate the love of Jesus to those in their care.
I’ll see you at Sunday Mass!