The Chrism Mass, a celebration of blessing and unity

Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. blesses the Oil of Chrism to be used in baptisms, confirmation or ordinations in the coming year. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception glows with light at night. On the evening of March 22, the Knights of Columbus Honor Guard stood at attention as two by two, priests, transitional and permanent deacons and seminarians processed between them. Wearing white and gold vestments, Bishop Johnston approached the altar.

It was the light-filled celebration of the Chrism Mass, when priests, religious and laity gather together for the blessing of the oils to be used during the coming year, and priests renew their commitment to priestly fealty in the service of God and His people.

The First Reading (Isaiah 61:1-3, 6, 8-9) speaks of giving oil of gladness instead of mourning, and the Second Reading (Revelation 1:5-8), proclaimed in Spanish, reminds us that “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his Blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.”

In his homily, Bishop Johnston welcomed all those in attendance, the many laity from parishes across the diocese, priests, women and men religious, “even a posse of some of our seminarians” and “especially, those of you who are catechumens and candidates who are about to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church at Easter. The Chrism consecrated tonight will be used specifically for when you are baptized and then confirmed.” Likewise, he continued, in a few weeks, several deacons will have their hands anointed with the chrism as they are ordained for priestly ministry. The other oils: of Catechumens and the Sick, will be used in the sacraments of Baptism and the Anointing of the Sick.

He recalled that, like many of those in attendance, he had never heard of the Chrism Mass growing up. “As a child,” he said, “I lived hours from my Cathedral, and so no one in my family had ever been there for anything, much less a Chrism Mass. But, since then, I have come to love the Chrism Mass. It is the one time of the year which brings together not only the members of many of our parishes, but also most of our priests and deacons. The oils we bless and consecrate tonight will be used throughout the diocese in the sacraments which build up, heal and strengthen the Body of Christ. The Chrism Mass is a beautiful sign of our unity and communion in Christ.”

Since ancient times, oil has been used to heal and strengthen, the bishop continued. The Oil of Chrism is blended with a strong, sweet-smelling essence—an apt sign for the giving of the Holy Spirit. “Oil pervades things; it soaks in and remains.” Adding that often after a confirmation, the scent of Chrism stays on his thumb for days, he said “it permeates, as the Holy Spirit permeates the… person.”

He focused on the reading from the Book of Revelation: ‘To Him who loves us and freed us from our sins by His own blood, who has made us a royal nation of priests in the service of His God and Father—to Him be glory and praise forever and ever!’ This refers to “Jesus Christ, … the one who loves us. … the one who has freed us from our sins by his own blood. … the one who has made us a royal nation of priests in the service of his God and Father. … this last reference pertains to us in a special way tonight at this Chrism Mass: that we have been made a royal nation of priests for the service of the Father.”

“Have you ever put that on your resume? ‘I belong to a royal nation of priests.’ It’s not something many think about, but we should, … this is a key part of our identity as Christians—we are a royal nation of priests.”

“We typically think of priests as those who offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the parish community, absolve sins in confession, lead and shepherd our parishes. This is true, which is why our priests’ presence tonight is important. They are not simply here to pick up their oils. In a few moments, they will stand before you and renew their priestly promises to set their own interests and ambitions aside to serve you, the People of God, the Family of God, the Mystical Body of Christ. Giving one’s life for others is often not easy, and it requires a steady intentionality, a strong faith, and a good measure of perseverance. We are truly grateful for our priests.”

“But along with our ordained priests, our ministerial priests, all who are baptized are also priests—the priesthood of all the faithful. You were not ordained, but you were anointed at your baptism as ‘priest, prophet, and king;’…a royal nation of priests! Each member of the Church has a special dignity in Christ, and each member is anointed to offer a sacrifice of praise, with both words and deeds. You do this by your works of mercy, … by offering your lives to the Father in thanks ‘through, with and in’ Christ at the Mass. When you turn to the Father to pray for others and for the salvation of the world you are acting as priests. To sum up, as we try to grow in likeness to Christ, to become holy, we are making a priestly offering.”

“All of us are royal priests because we are in Christ through the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. It is the Holy Spirit that brings this about. The Holy Spirit forms Christ in us…the Holy Spirit forms the image of Christ in whoever receives him. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit: to form Christ in each one of us.”

The bishop reminded the assembly that the first reading from Isaiah speaks of Christ as the anointed one, the Messiah, and in the Gospel reading, in which we find Jesus back in his hometown synagogue, he proclaims this very same reading from Isaiah and then adds that he is its fulfillment.

Bishop Johnston explained that the same Spirit is given to us, so Isaiah’s words describe our lives as Christians:

— ‘That we bring glad tidings to the poor’ whenever we serve the poor, not only materially but spiritually. He said that the materially poor are very visible, the spiritually poor not so much.

“We live in an unusual age in which many do not believe in anything…a great poverty. Our age needs someone to tell them about Jesus. This is what our anointing is for…to bring the glad tidings of Jesus Christ to the poor.”

—We are to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners: of ‘bad memories, bad habits, abusive pasts, structures of sin’.

“No matter who we are, Jesus frees if we go to him, and we can help Jesus free others because of our anointing.”

—Bring recovery of sight to the blind. Bishop Johnston said that knowing Jesus and embracing the life of the Gospel allows us to see things as they really are, that life is a gift from God and we belong to him and have a future full of hope and see that suffering has even been transformed by the cross and resurrection of Christ. Our anointing allows us to see our purpose in life, and that everything in our lives takes on a new meaning in Christ…a royal nation of priests in service of our God and Father.

Following the homily, the priests seated behind the altar all stood. In answer to the bishop’s questions about their resolve to renew their ordination promises; to be more united with Jesus and more conformed to him; to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Eucharist and other liturgical rites, to teach and follow Christ as Head Shepherd, the unanimous reply was “I am.” Bishop Johnston also asked the assembly to pray for the priests.

Following the presentation of the gifts at the Offertory, large silver vessels of the oils were brought forward to be blessed. The consecrated Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of the Sick will be used during the Sacrament of Baptism, and the Oil of the Sick will be used for the Sacrament of the Sick, formerly Extreme Unction. The Oil of Chrism, olive oil mixed with balsam to give it its sweet fragrance, was ritually stirred in a big pot by the bishop, then he blessed and breathed upon the oil, as Jesus breathed upon the apostles, infusing them with the Holy Spirit.

The consecrated oils were then removed to be available at the Chancery for the priests to pick up and take to their parishes. Mass continued, with all the priests concelebrating, both at the altar with Bishop Johnston and from the pews behind the sanctuary.

The Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of Chrism would be used in Baptism and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil the next week.


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October 26, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph