by Paul Turner

The Mass of Chrism comes once a year to your cathedral. If you've never celebrated it, you're missing one of the most solemn and significant liturgies of our church. During the Mass, your bishop will bless the oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick, and the oil of chrism. We use the first for adult catechumens and infants, the second for anointing the sick, and the sacred oil of chrism for baptism, confirmation, the ordination of priests, and the consecration of altars. All three are basically an olive oil; chrism spices the air with the scent of a perfume, traditionally balsam. For pastoral reasons, another vegetable oil and perfume may be used.

Bishops have blessed oil ever since the early church. They baptized catechumens at the Easter Vigil and prepared chrism fresh for the occasion. While they were blessing chrism, they blessed the other oils as well. Rather than overburdening the Vigil with this ritual, bishops blessed these oils at the previous celebration of the Eucharist, Holy Thursday. This also allowed time to transport vessels of oil from the cathedral to all the churches in the diocese. For more than one thousand years, bishops blessed the oils at the cathedral Holy Thursday liturgy, but in 1955 we added a separate Mass earlier in the day at the cathedral for that purpose, the Mass of Chrism. Today it may be celebrated on a different day shortly before Holy Thursday to give the celebration independence and so that more people like you may attend.

Since the bishop is the only minister in the diocese who may consecrate chrism, this Mass highlights his ministry and our union with him. He will not baptize and confirm everyone in the parishes of the diocese, but he will be symbolically present in the chrism which the priests and deacons will use. In recent years, this Mass has also acknowledged the ministry of priests. It invites them to renew their commitment of service and to receive the prayers and support of the people. The Mass of Chrism gathers the faithful of the diocese at their mother church with their shepherd to prepare for celebrations of Christ in all our churches throughout the year.

(This bulletin insert originally appeared in MODERN LITURGY, copyright (c) 1997, Resource Publications, Inc. It may not be reproduced without permission. Send permission requests to

(Paul Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, holds a doctorate in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University.)