Educating about the Chrism Mass is a mainstay of the courses I teach in ecclesiology and sacramental theology. Here is the seventeen-page handout I give to my students, so you can track the following observations. This handout ends in a meditation on the chrism mass that contains the theology that follows.
The way the Chrism Mass is celebrated in some dioceses distorts its ecclesiology. Even though the entrance antiphon refers to all of the baptized as priests (“Jesus Christ has made us a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father: glory and kingship be his for ever and ever. Amen.” [Rev. 1:6]—also the second reading of the Mass), the procession is often made up of clergy only. ALL of us are this kingdom of priests and all of us should be in this procession.
(By the way, the Psallite collection has a glorious setting of this antiphon at A-124.)
A processional emphasis on the clergy can distort the meaning of the collect as well: the “us” in “you have given us a share in his consecration to priestly service in your Church” is ALL of us, and not just the ordained. (The old collect was : “Lord God, to regenerate Your people You make use of the ministry of priests; grant us faithfully to observe Your plan of salvation so that by the gift of Your grace the people dedicated to You may in our time increase both in merit and number.”)
The nuptial imagery in the first reading (diadem, oil of gladness, glorious mantle), the gospel, and the communion psalm is often ignored. Jesus recites the Canticle of Isaiah, the nuptial hymn that begins with Isaiah 61:1 and ends at Isaiah 62:5 (“as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you”). The communion psalm sings the bridegroom portion of the wedding psalm.
The new rubric (“8. After the reading of the Gospel, the Bishop preaches the Homily in which, taking his starting point from the text of the readings proclaimed in the Liturgy of the Word, he speaks to the people and to his Priests about priestly anointing, urging the Priests to be faithful in their office and calling on them to renew publicly their priestly promises.”) is much better than the old (“In his homily the bishop should urge the priests to be faithful in fulfilling their office in the Church and should invite them to renew publicly their priestly promises.”)—but will bishops even notice?
The insertion by Pope Paul VI of the Renewal of Commitment to Priestly Service skews the liturgy in the direction of the ordained. Some dioceses still insert renewals of commitment to diaconal service, religious service, seminarian commitment, lay leadership, and the like. The loss of the universal prayer is a further deterioration in the role of the lay faithful at the Chrism Mass.
The current translation of the hymn for the procession of the oils hides the inclusive nature of the Latin text. [Has anyone access to the new translation? I can’t find it.]
The preface of “the priesthood of Christ and the ministry of priests” does mention the royal priesthood but then emphasizes the ministerial priesthood. The ancient preface was much more inclusive:
It is truly fitting and proper, right and profitable to salvation to call upon Your goodness with suppliant prayers so that You may make of this Chrism, Your creature, an effective sign of life and salvation for those who are to become new creatures in the sacred font of baptism. So that the corruption belonging to original birth being destroyed, each of them, sanctified by this anointing, may give forth, as from a living temple, the pure odor of a life pleasing to You. Invested with the dignity of king, priest and prophet, by the sacred rite which You have instituted, by Your gift, may they be clothed with the garment of immortality; through Christ our Lord. Through whom the Angels praise Your majesty, the Dominions worship You, the Powers are in awe before You. The Heavens and the heavenly Hosts and the blessed Seraphim join together in a hymn of praise. We pray You that our voices, too, may be joined with theirs as we sing with humble praise: