Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"Behold, the Holy Chrism...."

Yes, Holy Week is the most exhilarating moment of the liturgical calendar. And one of those moments which gives it its unique feel is quickly drawing near....

If I could make a recommendation, it would be this: if you've never been to your diocese's Chrism Mass and have the time and interest, make this your first year. You'll be happy you did. Unlike the other events in the immediate run-up to Easter, the exact date and time of the annual rite depends on the local church, so you'll have to find out when it happens in your neck of the woods.

It's the preference of the rubrics that, where possible, the Chrism Mass should be held on Holy Thursday morning, to commemorate the institution of the ministerial priesthood at the Last Supper. However, in recognition of those sprawling dioceses where travel time would be a factor, there is a good amount of flexibility in planning it so that the greatest-possible number both of the clergy and of the people who wish to be present may do so. Ergo, most dioceses of the United States and Canada hold their Chrism Masses on either Monday or Tuesday of Holy Week, with the early entries taking place either tonight or tomorrow night... some may have even taken place already.

At the liturgy -- which is usually the largest annual gathering of clergy and faithful most dioceses have -- the presbyterate renews the commitments its members made at their ordination, and the Mass takes its name from the most eminent of the three holy oils which the bishop commissions for his local church's use over the following year.

While the Oil of the Sick, used for those who seek the anointing, and the Oil of the Catechumens, which is imposed on those preparing for baptism, are simply "blessed," the Sacred Chrism is "consecrated," and all the priests present participate in the latter moment by extending their hands toward the vessel containing it as the bishop says the prayer of consecration.

The Chrism is used at the ordination of priests and bishops, baptisms, confirmations, the consecration of altars and the blessing of churches, where the walls are smeared with it in the shape of the sign of the cross.

And the smell of it..... As part of the consecration of the Chrism, balsam is poured into the oil, which gives it a sweet smell intended to remind those who encounter it of the "odor of sanctity" to which those people and things who are marked with it, and by extension all of us, are called to strive for.

Our friends over at Catholic Sensibility have posted an "Armchair Liturgist" post about the Chrism Mass, asking when it should be held.

If I could comment from here, for as difficult as it could be in some cases, there's nothing like having Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday morning. It just provides such a great threshold to the Triduum, and there really is something to be said for beginning the day in the Cathedral church with one's diocesan family, and going forth from that to the parishes for the evening liturgy, the Mass of the Lord's Supper. When it can be done in the same day, it's a beautiful thing.

Of course, the Chrism Mass also provides an opportunity to show support for our priests, many of whom continue to suffer much and do such good work in spite of the many challenges. For a lot of our guys, it's a real B-12 shot to see a big crowd of the faithful on hand -- here in Philadelphia, as one would expect, the always-overpowering crowd turns the recessional route into the Canyon of Heroes as the exiting clerics get a 25-minute ovation while they wend their way down the main aisle and through the North Gallery of our Cathedral-Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul.

(The event is also infamous in many places for the presence of the women's ordination supporters outside. Often, they're vested in albs and violet stoles in "mourning for the church's misogynistic, chauvinistic, prejudicial" whatever.... We have a time-honored strategy for dealing with that, too: roll down the windows, loudly sing a verse of "Long Live the Pope" to them, drive on -- and, most of all, keep it nice; you are, after all, speaking for the Magisterium....)

Yes, the Chrism Mass could easily lend itself to the excesses of triumphalist clericalism, but when it's done right it's simply a beautiful experience of communion with our local churches as we prepare to journey through the emotional roller-coaster of the Triduum toward the dawn of Easter day.

So do show up if you can -- and have a blast if you do.