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The Chrism Mass, which [the Bishop] concelebrates with Priests from various regions of the diocese and during which he consecrates the sacred Chrism and blesses the other oils, is among the principal manifestations of the fullness of the Bishop's Priesthood and is considered to be a sign of the close bond of the Priests with him. For it is with the sacred Chrism consecrated by the Bishop that the newly baptized are anointed and those to be confirmed are signed. It is with the Oil of Catechumens that catechumens are prepared and disposed for Baptism. Finally it is with the Oil of the Sick that those who are ill are comforted in their infirmity.
— The Order of Blessing the Oil of Catechumens and of the Sick and of Consecrating the Chrism (OBO), no. 1
The Order of Blessing the Oil of Catechumens and of the Sick and of Consecrating the Chrism, implemented in the United States as of Lent 2019, presents a rich catechesis on the use of holy oils in the liturgical life of the Church. These oils are ordinarily blessed once a year, during the Chrism Mass celebrated by the diocesan Bishop together with his priests. The ritual edition to be used exclusively in the United States contains not only the poetic new translations, but also musical settings of the various prayers.
The following music and texts may be reproduced free of charge in printed form, for non-commercial purposes, in publications not for sale, by parishes, dioceses, schools, and religious communities, provided that the copyright acknowledgment which appears at the foot of each page is included.
At the Chrism Mass—celebrated either on Holy Thursday morning or an earlier day near Easter—the rite of blessing the oils begins after the Universal Prayer (Prayer of the Faithful), as the oils are brought forward in procession in the prescribed order: ministers carry the "vessel of fragrances, if the Bishop wishes to prepare the Chrism himself", Oil of Catechumens, Oil of the Sick, and "oil for the Chrism is carried in the last place by a Deacon or a Priest. They are followed by the ministers who carry the bread, wine, and water for celebrating the Eucharist" (OBO, no. 16). The procession is accompanied by the hymn O Redemptor (O Redeemer) or another appropriate hymn.
After the procession is over, the rite allows for the blessing to occur in one of two ways. "In accord with the traditional practice of the Latin Liturgy, the Blessing of the Oil of the Sick takes place before the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, and the Blessing of the Oil of Catechumens and the Consecration of the Chrism after Communion" (OBO, no. 11). For pastoral reasons, however, the bishop may bless all the oils at once following the Liturgy of the Word.
Saint James bears witness to the use of the Oil of the Sick. It offers the sick a remedy for infirmity of body and soul, so that they can bravely endure and fight against evils and obtain pardon for sins.
— OBO, no. 2
The matter for all three oils is olive oil or another plant oil (see OBO, no. 3). Each prayer of blessing includes an explanation of the power and effect of each oil. The Bishop prays that in God's blessing of the Oil of the Sick, "everyone anointed with this oil as a safeguard for body, soul, and spirit may be freed from all pain, all infirmity, and all sickness" (OBO, no. 20).
The Oil of Catechumens extends the effect of the baptismal exorcisms: it strengthens the candidate with the power to renounce the devil and sin before they go to the font of life for rebirth.
— OBO, no. 2The Oil of Catechumens is the second oil to be blessed by the Bishop. The prayer of blessing asks for three effects on "the catechumens who will be anointed with it": that they "may understand more deeply the Gospel of your Christ… may undertake with a generous heart the labors of the Christian life, and… may rejoice to be born anew and to live in your Church" (OBO, no. 22).
[S]acred Chrism shows that through Baptism, Christians have been incorporated into the Paschal Mystery of Christ. Having died, been buried and risen with him, they are sharers in his kingly and prophetic Priesthood. Through Confirmation they are given the spiritual anointing of the Holy Spirit.
— OBO, no. 2
The high point of the ritual is the consecration of the Chrism, which is made by mixing the oil "with fragrances or other aromatic material" (OBO, no. 4), usually balsam. The Chrism may be prepared privately "or by the Bishop during the liturgical action" (OBO, no. 5).
Before saying the Prayer of Consecration, "the Bishop, if appropriate, breathes upon the opening of the vessel of the Chrism" (OBO, no. 25). Chrism is a sign of the Holy Spirit, and this action by the Bishop recalls the Spirit of God "moving over the face of the waters" at creation (Gen 1:12) and Jesus' resurrection appearance to the disciples in which "he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (Jn 20:22). The Bishop then invites the people to pray in silence before he consecrates the Chrism.
There are two options for the consecratory prayer. In the first option, the Prayer of Consecration asks God "to sanctify with [his] blessing this oil in its richness, and to pour into it the strength of the Holy Spirit, with the powerful working" of Christ (OBO, no. 25-1). The second option provides a rich description of the uses of holy Chrism: "Pour out in abundance the gifts of the Holy Spirit on our brothers and sisters anointed with this oil; adorn with the splendor of holiness the places and things signed by sacred oils; but above all, by the mystery of this oil, bring to completion the growth of your Church" (OBO, no. 25-2).
At the end of the Chrism Mass, some verses of O Redemptor are sung (see above), or another closing hymn. Following Mass, the newly-blessed oils are poured into smaller vessels and distributed to the parishes of the diocese. Before or during the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, it is appropriate for the parish to receive the holy oils and explain their meaning, especially for the benefit of those who could not attend the Chrism Mass.
The English translation of The Order of Blessing the Oil of Catechumens and of the Sick and of Consecrating the Chrism and chant of O Redemptor © 2016 International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
Other chants © Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. Modified and used with permission.
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