In another venue, some of my colleagues and I have been discussing the odds-and-ends of scheduling, preparing and celebrating the Chrism Mass. Some have already celebrated that liturgy, others will celebrate it sometime next week. The Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana (where I currently reside) will gather tomorrow for that celebration, and our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers will do the same on Monday — which day seems to be a very popular choice, from what I can glean off various websites of various dioceses.
Personally, I am pleased whenever the Chrism Mass (or Liturgy of the Sacred Chrism, or Collegiality Mass, or whatever your local church chooses to call it) is held closely connected to Holy Week: it fits there, though not because of the connection that some make between the renewal of ordination commitments and the institution of the Eucharist: this is a rather recent invention (newborn in the post-Conciliar Roman Missal and only recently adopted by the Episcopal Church). Certainly it fits historically — the idea of a Chrism Mass, once it actually emerges, seems to be attached to Maundy Thursday from the beginning. And it fits in terms of making fresh chrism available for the first baptisms of the Paschal Year at the Easter Vigil.
But I would suggest that it fits theologically as well: the Chrism Mass is one of Holy Week’s many signs of contradiction: it highlights the ridiculously rich, lavish and downright wonderful love of God for the human family. In a culture of scarcity and grabbiness, of hoarding and economic self-interest, oil as a sign of the Holy Spirit — and not just any oil, but costly olive oil, made yet more rich (in the case of Chrism, at least) with fragrant balsam or other perfumes, points to the magnanimity and extravagance of God’s love. And that finds a very welcome, and very proper, place among the other signs of God’s super-generosity that become so evident during the days of Holy Week: the master freely stooping to wash disciples’ feet; a staple-foods meal that becomes a sign of overflowing abundance — having all sweetness within it; the execution of a criminal that raises a fallen world. . . the light that once kindled knows no setting, the drowning unto death that literally saves lives.
Rejoice in these days ahead. Delight in the signs of the abundance of God’s love: sights and sounds, scents and savors.
Remember. And be grateful.