Ridiculously Rich, Lavish and Downright Wonderful

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.


  1. The Diocese of Savannah has traditionally celebrates the Chrism Mass on Holy Tuesday. Many parishes in our geographically far flung diocese travel several hours with bus loads of parishioners, catechumens (elect) and candidates to celebrate this Mass with the Bishop and to see and hear all the priests of the diocese renew their priestly promises/vows. It is a lavish celebration but also marked by Holy Week sobriety. Different members of the Catholic family bring the oils to the bishop to bless, catechumens for the Oil of Catechumens, ill people and those who care for them for the Oil of the Sick (when I was MC I chose a Cathedral parishioner suffering from AIDS to do it, back in the middle 80’s when this was really feared) and usually those to be ordained, kids to be baptized or confirmed and those who will have their Churches consecrated bring up the Chrism to be consecrated. Normally this Liturgy should be on Holy Thursday morning, but Holy Tuesday is more convenient for all.

  2. I am very glad that we have retained having the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday morning. We may be one of the last holdouts. Our diocese is the two suburban counties on Long Island and so even though we are now the 4th largest in the country according to the new USCCB numbers, we are not that spread out.

  3. I was looking at the timing of the Chrism Mass a few years ago, and found the two descriptions below. RM’s is found also in Alcuin, and maybe Isidore. (my notes say yes, but I have not found it) I think we all know how practical Aquinas’ suggestion is, though it is the commonly accepted explanation.

    On the day of the Lord’s Supper holy chrism is also made, because two days before the Passover, Mary is said to have anointed the head and feet of the Lord with oil. Rabanus Maurus, On the Institution of Clerics.

    Since solemn Baptism, for which chrism has to be used, is celebrated on Easter Eve, it was rightly decreed, that chrism should be consecrated by the bishop two days beforehand, that it may be sent to the various parts of the diocese. Thomas Aquinas, Summas Theologica

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