Holy oils flow from this special Lenten Mass


BLENDED: Cardinal Robert W. McElroy pours a cruet of balsam fir oil into an urn of olive oil to make holy chrism during the diocesan Chrism Mass in this file photo. (Credit: The Southern Cross)

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SAN DIEGO — Cardinal Robert W. McElroy will celebrate the annual Chrism Mass at 4 p.m., Thursday, March 21, at Good Shepherd Church in Mira Mesa.

Noreen McInnes, director of the diocesan Office for Liturgy and Spirituality, explained that one of the purposes of the Chrism Mass is to celebrate the institution of the ministerial priesthood, which took place at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, when Jesus instructed the Apostles to “do this in remembrance of Me.”

Traditionally, the Chrism Mass is celebrated on the morning of Holy Thursday, with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper held that evening, evincing a close connection between these two liturgies. But because Holy Week is a busy time for priests, many dioceses hold it earlier. A large number of local priests concelebrate the Mass.

“You could see up to 200 priests of the diocese gathered together, which is such a powerful image of the brotherhood of the priesthood,” McInnes said.

After the homily, during which the cardinal often directly addresses the gathered priests, he invites the priests “to renew, in the presence of your bishop and God’s holy people,” the promises that they made on their ordination day. And he exhorts the people to pray for the priests as well as for him.

During the offertory procession, in addition to the bread and wine, three urns of olive oil are presented to the cardinal. These include the oil of the sick, which is used in the sacrament of anointing of the sick; the oil of the catechumens, which is used as a preparation for baptism; and the oil that will become holy chrism, which is used to anoint the newly baptized, to sign those who are to be confirmed, to anoint the hands of priests and the heads of bishops at their ordinations, and to dedicate churches and altars.

At the Chrism Mass, the cardinal blesses the oil of the sick and the oil of the catechumens, and he consecrates the holy chrism. For the latter, he pours a cruet of balsam into an urn of olive oil; he then prays over it with extended hands, with all of the concelebrating priests also extending their hands for the duration of that prayer.

“We use glass urns, so you can see the mixing of the dark balsam into the golden olive oil,” said McInnes. “You see it swirling around as you smell the perfume.”

McInnes said that, in the offertory procession, transitional Deacon Sean Embury will carry the urn with the oil that will become chrism. He will be anointed with chrism at his priestly ordination this June.

After the Mass, representatives appointed in advance by each pastor in the diocese will receive the holy oils allotted for their parish.  At each parish, the oils will be solemnly presented during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. They will be used at the Easter Vigil and in sacramental celebrations throughout the year.

The holy oils are used for one year only. After next year’s Chrism Mass, the old oils will be burned and can be used to fuel the sanctuary lamp that hangs near the tabernacle.

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