The annual Chrism Mass never used to make sense to me. It seemed rather disjointed. There is the renewal of priestly promises and then, the reason Chrism Mass is called Chrism Mass, the blessing of the oils and consecration of Chrism. At first glance, these two actions don’t seem related. Then, I’m reminded that the Church is smarter than I am and she knows what she is doing.
Unlike a regular Mass, the Chrism Mass includes the renewal of priestly promises, when the priests of the Archdiocese resolve to renew the promises they made at their ordinations. The people gathered are then asked to pray for the priests and the bishop that they may continue to do the work God has called them to do.
At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, the Oil of the Sick is blessed, so that “everyone anointed with this oil as a safeguard for body, soul, and spirit, may be freed from all pain”. Then, after Communion, the Oil of the Catechumens is blessed so that it will “grant courage to the catechumens who will be anointed with it”.
Finally, the Chrism is consecrated. The oils that have been blessed are just that, oil. Chrism, though, is oil mixed with fragrances; it is special and different from the other two. The bishop prays that God will “bless and sanctify this oil; may those who are signed with it outwardly be inwardly anointed and made worthy of divine redemption.” Chrism is the oil by which people are set apart, anointed, to participate in the three-fold mission of Christ, as priest, prophet and king. We are anointed with Chrism at baptism and confirmation, and men are anointed with it at their ordination.
The question remains though, what does all this oil have to do with the priests? The Chrism Mass exemplifies the fullness of the bishop’s priesthood because it is through Chrism that Christ, through the Church, claims his people. It is through the Oil of the Catechumens that people are made ready to be brought into the Church and through the Oil of the Sick that the mercy and love of God is shown to those in need. Through these blessed oils, the mission and vocation of the Church is fully expressed.
In the Chrism Mass, priests, united with their bishop, live out their vocation of service to the Church. The bishop, and in turn the priests, are set apart to minister to God’s people in a special, sacramental way. That is seen in the blessing of oils and the consecration of Chrism.
At the end of the renewal of priestly promises, the bishop makes two requests of the lay faithful, to pray for the priests and to pray for him. On the day that is set aside to strengthen the Church by strengthening our priests, it seems only right that we pray in a special way for those men called to service in the Church. In the end, it all makes sense to me now.
Mary, Queen of the Clergy, pray for our priests.